For every Ohio football game, Speakeasy Sports will be going into the den of the opponent to get first-hand analysis. By reaching out to team beat reporters and opposing players, Speakeasy provides a unique look-in at how the ‘Cats will fare against their adversaries. In a question-and-answer format, Speakeasy chats with another team’s reporter to gain a new perspective on Ohio’s opponents.
This week, Speakeasy talks to Derrick Vergolini, football beat reporter at The Eastern Echo, Eastern Michigan University’s independent student newspaper. You can follow him on Twitter at @derrickvergo.
Speakeasy Sports: After winning the initial game of the season against Howard, Eastern Michigan has been blown out by its past five opponents. The faults have definitely come from a defensive standpoint, as the unit has given up over 250 yards on the ground per game, but EMU has the third-ranked pass defense in the MAC. What do you have to say about the struggles of the defense thus far?
Derrick Vergolini: Honestly, and coach Ron English has been saying it himself, but it’s simple technique stuff. They’re not making tackles. The line, too. it’s honestly just a big problem with the team. Especially running. Their pass defense has been okay. It’s been fairly decent, but their run defense has been killing them. Last week against Army they gave up a 96-yard touchdown run. Before that they gave up a 67-yard touchdown run to the same guy. It’s just big holes in the defensive line. They’re not making tackles.
SS: Have the problems with the defensive line been because of graduating seniors or just youth on the front line?
DV: Personally, I believe it’s the youth. I guess lack of experience. It’s a younger defensive line.
SS: Now as far as time of possession goes—with EMU ranking second in the MAC—is this trend caused by blowout games or the team not being able to finish drives? With the second-worst red zone offense and a -6 turnover ratio, what does quarterback Tyler Benz need to do to get this offense to click and finally finish drives?
DV: You said it right there: They need to finish drives. Countless times I’ve been watching and they’ve been putting together six- or seven-minute drives, and in the red zone they’ll turn the ball over. Or, they’ll set up for a field goal, and they’ll miss that. So they don’t even get points from that. They put together these long drives, and they don’t get anything from it. So that’s why they’re second in the MAC in time of possession for that reason right there—they just don’t hang onto the ball. To finish drives, they need to keep an even balance of running and passing. EMU has seen a lot of success with Bronson Hill running the ball—not a great amount of success compared to any of the other teams in the MAC. But consistently mixing up passing and running, things are going to work out. If something’s working, I don’t see why you’d stop it.
SS: One interesting thing is that Benz and Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton have similar targets, because guys like Tyreese Russell, Dustin Creel, Jay Jones and Demarius Reed are in the 20s or teens in receptions. Ohio has relied on big-play threats like LaVon Brazill in the past, but this season they’ve been relying on multiple threats much like you guys. Do you see those similarities between the successes that these two quarterbacks have had with multiple targets?
DV: Absolutely. He has seven touchdown passes this year, and they’ve been to six different receivers. He’s got good pass efficiency; he’s throwing 64.5 percent. He’s got a good arsenal of receivers.
SS: Now who has been a member of the secondary that has been a great contribution to the stellar pass defense for the Eagles this season?
DV: Honestly, the corners are doing well, it’s not anyone in particular, I don’t think. The corners have been doing well with coverage and they’ve been doing it the right way without penalties and stuff like that. Their cornerbacks are definitely doing pretty well.
SS: Who is an x-factor on Eastern Michigan who can really ruin Ohio’s day on Saturday in Ypsilanti?
DV: I would go with their tight end Tyreese Russell. He has been slowing down. He only had one reception for five yards last week against Army, but when he gets the ball thrown to him, he’s been very dynamic, and it’s yards after the catch that he’s been good at. I think if Benz can get him the ball, I’d watch out for him. He’s a big guy and he’s a junior. He has 28 catches, and he still leads the team with 290 yards in that aspect. If he can get the ball, he can be a big part of the day on Saturday.
SS: And with Ohio coming off of a very tough loss on Saturday against Central Michigan, can you give me a final score prediction for EMU’s matchup with the Bobcats?
DV: I’ll probably give Ohio the edge. I’ll give them a 38-17 win.