The Bull Run Inquisition: Eagle Totem

We've come for your Tim Horton's sandwiches!

Ontariosandwich_medium This weeks opponent used to be a pushover, hell if UB had gotten a crack at them during the Gill era then EMU might not be the only MAC team Buffalo has never beaten.

Even last season they were 'at par' with Buffalo, but all that has changed, for the worse.

EMU is winning football games and has a crack at an eight win season. That would put the Eagles into a bowl. What started as a cut curiosity feature week one and two wins over FCS teams has turned into a pretty good story, almost a perfect one but for a recent Ball State comeback.

Carter Addler from Eagle Totem Came up with the Ontario Sandwich Trophy (Pictured Left).

Last year they came to Amherst and too the inaugural trophy so this week its up to the Bulls to do the the torturing when they line up in front of three thousand or so EMU fans and take the trophy back! While they are at it they can scuttle the Eagles best shot at going to a Bowl game since Ronald Regan was president.

In his usual detailed well thought out style (what the hell is he doing making most of us bloggers look bad) Mr. Adler fields the questions below. It turns out that Winning the Ontario Sandwich trophy is all the motivation Carter needed to supply the inquisitor with this weeks answers

Because he came east there is no reason to torture this weeks visitor. Instead we had doughnuts and coffee while waiting for the lunch menu to come up at Tim Horton's

1) With the heartbreaking loss to Ball State what do you make of EMU's chances at going Bowling this season? Should a seven win EMU get the nod over a six win team that only played one FCS game?

Well, in your hypothetical case, EMU would be 5-5 in FBS, while the other team would be 5-6, so I think that might be in EMU's favor. I think if the Eagles win out, at 8-4 they'll get a bowl invitation. If they finish at 7-5, it's a tricky question, and I see four key factors that come into play.
 
The first factor that probably works against EMU is the fan base, specifically the lack thereof. A team that is averaging 4,354 fans per home game (include one game with free admission!) is not attractive to a bowl committee. Tickets are not going to get sold.
 
EMU's style of play also works against them. This is something our friends at the Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries wrote about earlier this year. All else being equal, there appears to be a bias against teams with strong defenses and in favor of teams with strong offenses. EMU is more likely to be part of a grinding 9-6 game than a 66-63 shootout.
 
On the other hand, one big factor in EMU's favor is the potential Bowlpocalypse. Right now it looks like there will be between 68 and 72 bowl-eligible teams, which means that all, or almost all will get invitations. If there had always been this many bowls, since moving to the top level of play (University Division/Division I/Division I-A/FBS) in 1976, EMU would have gone to six bowls, including four straight in the late-1980s, instead of just one (1987).
 
The last key factor that will play into whether a 7-5 EMU team gets invited to a bowl is the story. You know, the worst I-A/FBS team over the past 10 years finally gets it together. Just two wins in the previous two years, during which time the defense was absolutely appalling. Ron English, who, after interviewing to be the head football coach at Michigan, wound up seven miles down the road in Ypsilanti, where he's introduced Big Ten-style play. Dominique White, the unlikely star who took two years off from football to focus on academics before joining the team as a walk-on, who is raising two younger siblings.

2) On paper your current season looks a lot like UB's 2007 year, close losses and competitive in the division but just not enough to get over the hump.

That's probably a fair comparison, though EMU had an easier non-conference schedule this year than Buffalo did in 2007 (which, hopefully, will lead to a better final record). Another key difference is that EMU is a run-first, run-second, and run-third team. Everything is built around the running game, from the offensive line (great at run blocking, mediocre in pass-protection) to the quarterback (142 pass attempts, 120 runs) to the receivers (just watch the blocks they throw). It gives me great hope for the future, because EMU is not heavily reliant on a single player the way Central Michigan was on LeFevour.
 
The defense is significantly improved also; what was the worst defense in the country the last two years is now one of the better MAC defenses. Part of this is driven by the offense -- and in fact, may be the reason for the offensive style -- which shortens games by keeping the clock moving by running, limiting turnovers by running, and lessening total possessions by putting together long drives on the ground. I was looking at the defensive splits for EMU this year, and they're allowing 36.8 points per game on the road (11th in the MAC) but just 16.4 points per game at home (third in the MAC). (Of course, that has a bit to do with the schedule also, since they've played at Michigan, at Penn State, and at Toledo while hosting Howard, Alabama State, and Akron.)

3) Attendance still seems to be lagging. With the season you're having did you expect more out of the fans by this point?

Yes. Yes, I did.
 
An average of 4,354 fans per home game for a winning team -- the first winning season in 16 years -- is downright pathetic. That's even more pathetic when you learn that, because it was postponed from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon, admission to the season opener against Howard was free.
 
There are efforts underway to try to improve attendance and general fan interest, including marketing targeted to local schools and to the Big 3, but between the mascot change (yes, it was 20 years ago, but people still get in heated arguments about it), 15 consecutive losing seasons, and the 114,000-person hole in the ground in Ann Arbor, EMU has a long way to go to build a MAC-caliber fan base.

4) What from Buffalo have you seen that gives you pause about this game?

I haven't really watched Buffalo this year, but any team that can throw the ball effectively, particularly mid-range (7-10 yards), probably has a chance against the Eagles. Penn State, Toledo, and Western Michigan's receivers were generally able to get a fair amount of separation to make catches. Ball State's receivers got less separation, but when they made catches, they were often able to make a move and get past the nearest EMU defender. Also, EMU's defense is susceptible to giving up big plays occasionally.
 
If Buffalo can jump to a commanding early lead, or if they can turn the game into a shootout, it's unlikely that the Eagles would be able to stay in the game. This EMU team is built to win grinding, low-scoring games, and big comebacks and shootouts are not really in their DNA.

5) What, in particular, should the Bulls be worried about?

Running. As I mentioned, this EMU offense is built around the run, but the defense is solid at stopping the run also. That leads to fewer than 55% of opponents' red-zone possessions resulting in touchdowns.

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