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Missouri’s defensive line could be tested by a strong EMU run game

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Sophomore running back Shaq Vann could be ready for a breakout season for Eastern Michigan. What can he do against a Mizzou defensive front that underachieved a week ago?

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

EMU beat Mississippi Valley State, 61-14, on Saturday in Ypsilanti. That’s quite the pasting! Is this something for Mizzou fans to worry about?

Well ... you can worry about whatever you like, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that MVSU is currently 251st out of 253 teams, per the Sagarin ratings, barely ahead of UAPB and pretty far behind teams like Morehead State, Butler, and upcoming Mizzou opponent Delaware State. The best Division II teams would probably handle MVSU pretty easily.

Does that mean we can’t learn anything about EMU from last week’s game?

Not necessarily! Let’s dive into the Eagles’ depth chart to see what we can see.

Offense

Quarterback

  • Todd Porter (6’3, 204, Jr.) — 15-for-22 (68%), 171 yards (11.4 per completion), 3 TD, 0 INT, 0 sacks (7.8 yards per pass attempt); 4 carries, 13 yards (3.2)
  • James Pensyl (6’6, 237, RSFr.) — 2-for-2, 27 yards

Returning starter Brogan Roback, who threw for 2,300 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, has been suspended to start the season, meaning JUCO transfer Todd Porter got the not when it came to lighting up MVSU. Second-year offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer had Porter throwing mostly short passes, and Porter spread the ball around nicely. That’s rather important when you take into account the Eagles’ inexperience at the receiver position, but it worked against the Delta Devils.

Backfield

Running Back

  • Shaq Vann (5’10, 213, So.) — 20 carries, 156 yards (7.8), 2 TD
  • Ian Eriksen (5’10, 206, So.) -- 12 carries, 97 yards (8.1), 2 TD
  • Blake Banham (5’10, 185, So.) — 3 carries, 11 yards (3.7), 1 TD
  • Breck Turner (6’1, 202, RSFr.)

Fullback

  • Lavonte Robinson (5’8, 237, Jr.) -- 1 catch, 4 yards, 1 TD

Shaq Vann is one of the better young backs in the mid-major universe. He was perhaps EMU’s most explosive skill guy in 2015 while backing up Darius Jackson, and with Jackson gone, he’s the man. And if early indications mean anything, he and fellow sophomore Ian Eriksen could form a nice tandem. Again, though we must take the opponent into account, they did combine for 253 yards (7.9 per carry) last week. And Lavonte Robinson is a sturdy fullback and receiving option.

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Northern Illinois
Lavonte Robinson
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Receiving Corps

WR-X

  • Johnie Niupalau (6’0, 228, Jr.) — 2 targets, 2 catches, 29 yards (14.5)
  • Izaiah Fuller (6’4, 198, So.)

TE / H-Back

  • Dan Buschman (6’3, 243, Jr.)
  • Sam Browning (6’5, 234, Sr.) — 3 targets, 3 catches, 20 yards (6.7)
  • Nigel Kilby (6’7, 239, RSFr.) — 5 targets, 4 catches, 67 yards (13.4), 1 TD

WR-Z

  • Sergio Bailey II (6’0, 186, Jr.) — 5 targets, 3 catches, 33 yards (6.6)
  • Isaac Holder (5’11, 165, RSFr.)
  • Mathew Sexton (5’11, 167, Fr.)

SLOT

  • Eddie Daugherty (5’7, 164, So.) -- 1 target, 0 catches (0.0)
  • Antoine Porter (5’8, 185, Jr.) -- 5 targets, 3 catches, 40 yards (8.0), 1 TD

Of last year’s top five wideouts, Daugherty is the only one listed on this two-deep; he had 37 catches for 557 yards (9.9 per target) out of the slot as a pretty exciting freshman. He wasn’t asked to do much against MVSU, but he had nice games against Wyoming (three catches for 105 yards), Army (five for 109), and Akron (seven for 107) last year.

Beyond Daugherty, we don’t know much about this group. Kilby isn’t technically listed on the two-deep, but I added him after his nice performance last week.

One thing that stands out to me here: Porter made a concerted effort to spread the ball around. X receivers were targeted only twice, but tight ends had eight opportunities, slot receivers six, and Z receivers five. One assumes Mizzou’s secondary will have this unit outmanned from an athleticism standpoint, but EMU comes to Columbia having pretty effectively held its cards to its vest. Other than “They’re going to hand to Shaq Vann quite a bit,” we don’t really know much about what the Eagles will try to do with the ball.

Offensive line

LT

  • Cole Gardner (6’5, 295, Sr.) -- 20 career starts
  • Pete Bergman (6’9, 314, RSFr.)

LG

  • Ka’John Armstrong (6’4, 294, So.) — 3 career starts
  • Jeremy Hickey (6’4, 312, So.) — 2 career starts

C

  • Matt Thornton (6’4, 302, Sr.) — 17 career starts
  • Jake Hurcombe (6’2, 285, Sr.) — 26 career starts

RG

  • Jimmy Leatiota (6’3, 298, So.) -- 1 career start
  • Steve Nielsen (6’8, 320, Fr.)

RT

  • Andrew Wylie (6’6, 311, Sr.) -- 34 career starts
  • Rob Pavletich (6’5, 290, RSFr.)

The offensive line was a relative strength last year -- despite ranking 95th in Off. S&P+ overall, the Eagles ranked 86th in Adj. Line Yards and 84th in Adj. Sack Rate. And there’s quite a bit of experience at tackle and center (and far less at guard).

A scarred Mizzou fanbase afraid that #DLineZou is lost and gone forever might get a little anxious upon reading that, but we have to figure Mizzou’s still got the advantage up front. And that’s good because if Vann gets to the second level with any frequency, the Eagles are going to score some points. Probably not as many as they allow, mind you, but if Vann’s rolling, this game could stay interesting for a while.