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EMU’s got a pass rush, but can the Eagles stop even Missouri’s run game?

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The EMU offense has quite a bit of promise. The defense has been lagging behind.

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Toledo Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Through three quarters against Mississippi Valley State, EMU had allowed 76 yards in 52 snaps. Even by Mizzou’s low standards, the MVSU offense is dreadful in every possible way, but at the very least, EMU will come to Columbia with more confidence in its defense than it’s had for quite some time.

Head coach Chris Creighton hired UTSA’s Neal Neathery (his DC at Drake in 2008-09), and Neathery is in the process of installing the 4-2-5 defense that brought him sporadic success in San Antonio.

Defensive line

DT

  • Luke Maclean (6’5, 285, Jr.) — 0.5 tackles, 1 QBH
  • Dion Dawson (6’0, 351, Sr.)
  • Chris Hendricks (6’5, 307, So.)

NT

  • Mike Brown (6’2, 297, Sr.) — 0.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL
  • Kwanii Figueroa (6’2, 284, So.) — 0.5 tackles
  • Oddie Granger (6’3, 325, Jr.)
  • Derrick Dunlap (6’0, 292, Jr.) -- 0.5 tackles

END

  • Pat O’Connor (6’4, 270, Sr.) — 4.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL (2 sacks), 1 FF, 3 QBH
  • Clay Holford (6’2, 251, RSFr.) -- 1.0 tackles, 2 QBH

BULL

  • Jeremiah Harris (6’5, 258, So.) — 3.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL (0.5 sacks), 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU, 2 QBH
  • Maxx Crosby (6’5, 265, RSFr.) — 0.5 tackles, 1 FR, 1 QBH

Injuries and transfers have created maybe the most talented EMU line in some time. O’Connor and Harris both missed 2015 after relatively promising 2014 campaigns (O’Connor had 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks), and now they team up with Pitt transfer Luke Maclean to create an active front. And if nothing else, there’s decent size at nose tackle.

Injuries and general ineffectiveness helped to create maybe the worst run defense in FBS last year. The Eagles should be able to rush the passer pretty well, but if Mizzou’s ever going to begin establishing its ground game, it will happen this week.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Pittsburgh
Luke Maclean with Pitt
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Linebacking Corps

MIKE

  • Ike Spearman (6’0, 229, Sr.) -- 2.5 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack)
  • Jaylen Pickett (6’0, 222, So.) -- 3.0 tackles, 1 QBH

WILL

  • Kyle Rachwal (6’3, 231, So.) — 7.0 tackles, 1 TFL
  • Tyler Onda (6’0, 229, So.) — 1.5 tackles

Rachwal had a decent 2015, managing 6.5 tackles for loss in nine games, and the two-man linebacking corps certainly did the job against a bad MVSU team. Still, you figure Mizzou can create advantages here.

Secondary

CB

  • Ross Williams (5’11, 169, So.)
  • Austin Sanders (5’7, 187, Sr.) — 1.5 tackles

FS

  • Vince Calhoun (5’11, 175, Fr.) — 1.0 tackles
  • Justin Moody (5’10, 174, So.) — 5.0 tackles

DAWG

  • Jason Beck (6’1, 201, Jr.) — 1.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL (0.5 sacks)
  • Ikie Calderon (5’9, 180, Jr.) — 3.5 tackles

ROVER

  • Juan Giraldo (5’11, 202, Jr.) — 1.5 tackles, 1 PBU
  • Brody Hoying (5’11, 209, RSFr.) — 2.0 tackles

CB

  • DaQuan Pace (5’10, 169, Sr.) -- 2.5 tackles, 1 PBU
  • Jalen Phelps (5’10, 165, Fr.) — 5.0 tackles, 2 PBU

Between the pass rush, reasonably experienced pieces in the back, and a couple of star freshmen (relatively speaking), EMU has to feel pretty good about its pass defense. Calhoun and Phelps were three-star recruits, and Pace had six break-ups last year. With such an awful run defense, the EMU secondary was pretty constantly stressed. But if Mizzou is finding itself in too many passing downs, the Eagles might be able to make some stops.

Really, this will be a “movable force vs. resistible object” matchup. In EMU’s last six games against power conference opponents, the Eagles have allowed 47.2 points per game; meanwhile, in Mizzou’s last 12 games against FBS opponents, the Tigers have averaged 11.7. If the Tigers don’t crack 30 in this one, it might take a while.

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Northern Illinois
Ross Williams
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams

K

  • Paul Frianco (5’10, 192, RSFr.) — 8-8 PAT, 1-1 FG under 40, 0-1 FG over 40

P

  • Austin Barnes (5’11, 217, Jr.) — 2 punts, 46.5 average, 1 inside 20

KO

  • Brendan Renius (6’1, 240, Sr.) — 10 kickoffs, 61.8 average, 2 touchbacks

KR

  • Shaq Vann (5’10, 213, So.)
  • Blake Banham (5’10, 185, So.) -- 2 KR, 45.5 average (long: 69)
  • Austin Sanders (5’7, 187, Sr.) -- 1 KR, 51 yards

PR

  • Blake Banham (5’10, 185, So.) -- 1 PR, 5 yards
  • DaQuan Pace (5’10, 169, Sr.)

Nothing to complain about regarding EMU’s special teams. The Eagles ripped off huge kick returns in two of three attempts, and Austin Barnes did a good job in the punting department.