Week one of my game by game predictions saw the Florida Gators blast the hopelessly outmatched Idaho Vandals. Coming off the big win, the Gators face the Eagles of Eastern Michigan next, so let’s get to it. Just one quick thing to keep in mind going forward: all predictions, between strategy and numbers, are assuming complete accuracy with all prior games. I know that’s not always going to be the case, but hey, that’s why they’re predictions!
Eastern Michigan Eagles
2013: 2-10 (1-7 MAC)
Last Meeting (2004): Florida 49, Eastern Michigan 10
All Time Series: Florida 1-0
Coach: Chris Creighton (1st year)
Who Are You?
The Eastern Michigan Eagles are the latest MAC team the Gators will face after playing Miami (OH), Bowling Green and Toledo in three of the last four years. Normally, this is a conference that gives Florida major problems (Florida defeated those three teams by an average of 17.7 points- not what Jeremy Foley has in mind when he schedules out of conference teams), but this time should be different. You think Florida’s 4-8 record last year was bad? Only once since 1995 has Eastern Michigan won more than four games, and only once since 2008 have they won more than two games. The Eagles figure to be marginally better with a first year head coach and little talent to build a team around. And that’s being optimistic.
You guys remember how after Kansas State crushed Miami 52-13 a couple years ago, former Canes player Dan Sileo went on a rant? You remember how he claimed the real reason he was so upset wasn’t because Miami just got beat, but because nobody respected the Canes? That the real problem was “being looked down on like we’re Eastern Michigan”? That about sums up EMU’s national prestige.
Returning Starters: 9
Kalen DeBoer left Southern Illinois to join Creighton’s staff as the offensive coordinator. He runs a pass first, run second offense- which is going to be a major problem at first since Eastern Michigan’s offensive strength (if they have one) is their running game. Think of John Brantley running a Tebow-esque spread or Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps in a pro style offense. Though different, that’s about the extent of how different the offense the Eagles are most suited to run is from the offense they’re going to run.
The key to the pass-heavy offense is sophomore QB Brogan Roback. With four stars coming out of high school, Roback was immediately thrown into the fire as a freshman. Predictably, the results were horrendous. Thanks in part to an incredibly weak offensive line, and very little help from his receivers, he threw more picks than touchdowns. That’s a bad omen for a team that returns four of those five offensive linemen. The line’s one bright spot is their right tackle, Lincoln Hansen, a third team all-MAC selection in 2013. If DeBoer is smart, he’ll run the ball behind Hansen some. He’s got good running backs to do it, too- Bronson Hill and Ryan Brumfield combined for 1,610 yards last year.
Keep in mind, everything you just read, good and bad, came in the MAC. Not the SEC. Which means the Gators should have no trouble shutting down the Eagles’ offense- which, for what it’s worth, scored a measly 18.8 points a game last year in said MAC- in their second joke game of the season.
Offensive Grade: D+
Eastern Michigan’s offense is ever so slightly better than Idaho’s because they have two decent running backs and a good right tackle for them to run off of. But it’s not better by enough to make the game any more interesting because of the lack of receivers.
Returning Starters: 6
If this sounds eerily similar to what I wrote about Idaho’s defense, you’re right. EMU’s defense is similarly awful. In nine of their 12 games last year, they surrendered 42 or more points, and in four of those games, they gave up 55 or more. This defense also gave up 546 yards or more in eight of its 12 games. One of those four teams to reach double nickels was Toledo- the same Toledo team the Gators held to 6 points. Toledo also put 729 yards on Eastern Michigan, which is 524 yards more than they got against Florida. That’s right, seven hundred and twenty nine yards of offense- 395 passing, 334 rushing– and a lot of it was with their backups. The Eagles lose virtually half that defense this year. Any questions about how putrid this “defense” is?
The one thing this defense can do is invade the backfield. That doesn’t mean they can produce sacks and turnovers that most teams who can invade the backfield will produce, but they’ll get back there. The problem is that their best pass rusher, Kalonji Kashama, is gone. The best returning pass rusher on the defensive line is Pat O’Connor, but after that, there’s a gigantic drop off. Alex Jones and Omar McFarlane will be counted on to provide some help on the ends to complement O’Connor, Mike Steals and Aaron Pipkin on the inside. Hunter Matt will also look to contribute some at the middle linebacker position. The secondary is a mess. Willie Creear is the only starter from last year back in 2014. Though the players who wind up starting figure to be seniors, they lack game experience, and with very little experience back there, Jeff Driskel could have a field day.
I think it’s fair to say that this is going to be a rough year for the Eagles on defense. It might very well reach rock bottom in the second week of the season.
Defensive Grade: F
Flip a coin. Heads, Idaho’s defense is worse. Tails (for the eagle), Eastern Michigan’s defense is worse.
Florida Key: Offense
I get bored of issuing the standard warnings against penalties and turnovers, but I’m going to do it again here because that’s the only possible way I can even imagine Florida losing this game. Don’t turn it over and don’t penalize yourselves out of field position. Having said that, I’d like to see Florida unveil a new staple or two to the offense, not for this game, but for the future. Florida can win this game by doing anything they choose to offensively, but running Kelvin Taylor up the middle 20 times likely won’t work against LSU and FSU the way it will against EMU, and it’s never too early to start preparing for those teams. Once upon a time, Dan Mullen would introduce a new wrinkle to the offense almost every week. First it was the Bubba Caldwell reverse option, then it was the shovel pass to the tight end, then came the Tebow jump pass, and so on. Of course, Kurt Roper runs a totally different type of offense than the one Mullen ran, but the idea is the same. Give the offense the Idaho game to get their feet wet running the offense in real live action, and then start to make some innovations and test the first ones out against the Eagles.
Florida Key: Defense
Easy. Load the box, take away the Eagles’ admittedly decent running game and dare Brogan Roback to beat them through the air. I guarantee you he won’t make enough plays in the passing game to beat Florida, and if he tries, he’s going to be going up against a strong secondary headed by lockdown corner Vernon Hargreaves, possibly the best in the country. EMU is going to have to throw sometimes, and stuffing the running game will increase the number of plays in which they’ll be forced to do so. Constantly sending seven rushers will undoubtedly test Roback’s confidence, and if he fails that test, he might gift Florida with enough points to pass an academic test by fumbling or throwing ill-advised picks.
Key Matchup: Eastern Michigan running game vs. Florida front seven
Eastern Michigan has to shorten the game by running the ball a lot, bleeding the clock and moving the chains. The more effective the Eagles are at running the ball, the more they can afford to do so with the down and distance. Fail to gain yards on the ground, and EMU will be forced to throw, which plays into Florida’s hands.
What Does This Game Mean?
The short answer is nothing, as long as Florida doesn’t lose. It means Florida will have finished their preseason schedule at 2-0, with the real season beginning the following week against Kentucky (not that they’re so much better, but I digress). I’ll paraphrase and shorten my warning from the Idaho preview: looking good against a bottom of the barrel team from the Mid-American conference, or even blowing them out by a historical score, is no indication of how the Gators will perform against Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. And while much of Gator Nation understands that, (or says they do, anyway) there’s going to be a percentage of the fan base who claim the Gators are back based solely on beat downs of Idaho and Eastern Michigan- two of the worst teams in the FBS, who combined for three wins last year and together were responsible for 21 losses; beating them is about as impressive as breathing. Save the “We’re Back!” cries for something like winning the SEC East.
Now, I’m not saying Florida won’t be a better football team in 2014 than they were in 2013. I am saying that you can’t make these sorts of judgments and comparisons with two of the three worst teams on Florida’s schedule as a sample size. That’s all.
Having said that, 2-0 would be a better start than last year…
Take your pick between Florida’s first two games as to which is going to be the most anticlimactic football game you’ll ever see. Even Eastern Kentucky will put up a better fight in November. Idaho and Eastern Michigan are two bad, bad football teams. The difference is that Florida will have likely worked out the first game kinks that most teams face in their season openers. The biggest improvements from week to week generally come between week one and week two, which is why this game will probably be even more lopsided than the Idaho game.
Jeff Driskel will throw for a career high, Kelvin Taylor will get a touchdown or two, Andre Debose will finally look like the deep threat Florida fans have been dreaming he would be since he committed in 2008, and the offensive line will gain some confidence from being able to consistently push back the EMU front. Eastern Michigan does have a running game, which might keep things interesting for awhile. Like a drive or two. After that, superior talent will take over. After getting gashed early, the Gators’ defense will come alive, making Roback rue the day he was born. Here’s a bold prediction: Dante Fowler will pick off a pass. That’ll make him one of a half dozen Gators to record a turnover, another one being Vernon Hargreaves. Florida will eclipse 500 yards of offense while holding Eastern Michigan to less than 150.
To summarize all that, Florida’s going to run away with its second big win in as many weeks.
Projection: Florida 52, Eastern Michigan 7