NEW BRITAIN - Ryan McCarthy knows what Eastern Michigan is capable of doing.
It’s not just that the Eagles play at the Division I FBS level, a tier above the Central Connecticut football team, in the Mid-American Conference. It’s what Eastern Michigan has shown against Big 10 schools.
“They’re not only well coached, but they’re talented,” the Blue Devils head coach said. “They beat a Big 10 school in Illinois last week and the last three Big 10 schools they played they won. That gets your attention right away.”
Last Saturday, the Eagles (2-1) beat the Illini - a team that just beaten UConn by eight points the week before - 34-31. Last season, Eastern Michigan topped Purdue, which later knocked off Ohio State, 20-19. In 2017, the Eagles dispatched Rutgers 16-13.
Eastern Michigan has certainly shown it is capable of playing up to its competition. It will just be a matter of if CCSU (3-0) will be as well.
The last two FBS opponents the Blue Devils have played have not ended favorably for CCSU. Against Syracuse in 2017, the Blue Devils lost 50-7. Against Ball State, another MAC school, last season, CCSU fell 42-6. But even despite some recent history, the team is confident and optimistic, especially with the Blue Devils being able to play looser than a usual matchup.
“I told our players, ‘all the pressure is on Eastern Michigan,’” said McCarthy, as the program looks for its first 4-0 start since 1970. “‘They’re supposed to win this game. They’re paying us money to come out there and play. You can go out there and cut it loose.’ But what we need to do is not play a mistake-filled game. We need to play smart, clean football. If we do, we have a chance to go out there and be in the game and possibly win it.”
Although CCSU has yet to lose this season, mistakes have been a problem. Last week against Valparaiso, the Blue Devils had two punts blocked. The week before against Merrimack, CCSU turned the ball over twice on interceptions. The team has also had issues either closing out teams or simply being consistent through four consecutive quarters.
While the Blue Devils were able to get away with those types of mistakes against Fordham, Merrimack and Valparaiso, Eastern Michigan likely won’t be as forgiving.
The Eagles enter the game averaging 385.7 yards of offense and 27 points per game - the numbers would be higher if not for a lopsided loss to the SEC’s Kentucky - and feature plenty of playmakers.
Quarterback Mike Glass III is completing 69.37 percent of his passes for 841 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Against Illinois last week, Glass threw for 316 yard and three scores. Receiving wise, Arthur Jackson III (10 catches, 159 yards, 2 touchdowns), Mathew Sexton (12 catches, 156 yards, 1 touchdown) and Dylan Drummond (14 catches, 135 yards, 2 touchdowns) have been the primary benefactors of Glass’ throws. But Eastern Michigan has three other wideouts with at least eight catches, 94 yards and a touchdown.
Glass has also proven to be an effective runner, rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown this season. Sahq Vann (33 carries, 111 yards) is the team’s leading rusher.
“Offensively, they do a lot of things and do them well,” McCarthy said. “Usually when you’re a grab bag on offense, the execution suffers. That’s not the case with them. The quarterback is an outstanding athlete. He can throw and he has some wheels. They’re going to line up in some heavy sets and some empty formations and give you a lot of things to look at like jet motions try to mess with our guys’ eyes.”
Defensively, Eastern Michigan doesn’t get too complicated, McCarthy said. The Eagles generally play a 4-3 defense and try to out technique and out execute opponents while playing a quarters look in the secondary, which also happens to be were the Eagles’ best defender, safety Vince Calhoun, plays. Calhoun leads the team with 31 total tackles and is a player McCarthy believes has a legitimate chance to be in the NFL next season.
Linebacker Kobie Beltram and defensive lineman Turan Rush, who leads the team with two sacks, are also players the Blue Devils are going to have to keep an eye on.
“We know this team has a lot of ability and that aspect of them having a lot more talent than we’ve seen before show that we’re really going to have to bring our A game,” CCSU quarterback Aaron Winchester said. “We can’t have a game like we did against Merrimack where we allowed a team to hang around.
They blitz a lot and bring the heat. They’re confident in the back end and they should be. They have really good corners and safeties and front seven is stout. It’s going to be about protections and being able to identify blitzes and where it’s coming from. It’s going to be key for us and making sure I get the ball out of my hand quickly.”
And when Saturday’s game rolls around, the Blue Devils will get a chance to see how they stack up against what will most likely be their most difficult test of the season.
“We have to stay within ourselves and execute the game plan that’s put in place,” Winchester said. “If we do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or email@example.com