CFB PREVIEW: UMass @ Eastern Michigan
By Simon Carroll
The talking heads would have you believe that Week 3 in College Football is lacking in pulling power. In some respects, this is a natural conclusion to come to – after all, there’s no Texas-Alabama headlining the action. But as always, there’s a solid Group of Five matchup that is certainly worthy of your attention. We turn our focus to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where the Eagles welcome the Minutemen of Massachusetts to the grey turf of Rynearson Stadium:
The Story So Far...
For too long now, UMass have been considered one of the worst teams in the FBS. This will be the Minutemen’s 12th season at this level, having made the jump from the FCS ranks back in 2012. The step up in competition has not been easy; UMass have a record of 21-103, and never won more than four games in a season.
Current Head Coach Don Brown, a Massachusetts native, has already matched his win total from last season with a Week 0 win against New Mexico State. Beating the Aggies won’t move the needle for a casual consumer of college football, but it’s a start. Brown is synonymous with UMass football, having been defensive coordinator earlier in his coaching career – and there’s a vibe in and around the program that he’s making headway.
Their opponents this Saturday are Eastern Michigan, a football program that has enjoyed much more recent stability. Head Coach Chris Creighton is in his tenth year with the Eagles, and his 46-61 record in that time gives him a win percentage of .430. For context, that makes him the most successful EMU coach since Ed Chlebek graced the grey sidelines back in 1972…
Despite building a team that is much more competitive in the MAC, The Eagles have never made it to the championship game in Chreighton’s tenure, let alone won the conference. Last year’s win total of 9 saw them come as close as you can to getting to that promised land – and EMU fans will be hoping they can go one step further in 2023.
Week 2 Review
After a commendable performance in a defeat to SEC powerhouse Auburn, UMass will be disappointed with their performance last Saturday against Miami (OH). Quarterback Brett Gabbert and electric receiver Gage Larvadain were red hot, and the RedHawks’ offense simply had too much firepower for the Minutemen to keep pace. In a 21 point hole after the first quarter, UMass did rally in the second half with a spirited performance. They’ll be looking to use that as a platform to bounce back this week.
EMU also head into this contest on the back of a loss – although not many would have expected the Eagles to come away from Minnesota with any kind of result. A 28-6 scoreline doesn’t tell the full story however; Eastern Michigan were more than competitive in the first half and went into the locker room down just 4 points. An inability to move the football after the break will have frustrated Creighton, and he’ll be hoping this offense shows more teeth on Saturday.
After stepping in for an injured Taylor Powell on four occasions last season before getting hurt himself, Austin Smith has made the EMU starting quarterback role his own in 2023. With a limited resume and two indifferent displays against very different levels of opponent (Howard, Minnesota), the jury is still out on the junior passer. His scrambling ability was evident last season, and adds an extra dimension to an offense that is looking for an injection of creativity.
UMass’ quarterback situation is a little more unsettled after the MInutemen brought in two transfers in the offseason. Taisun Phommachanh spent his first three years at Clemson followed by one season at Georgia Tech. He got the nod against New Mexico State and secured a big win, but got injured in the game against Auburn – and he might not get his job back…
Why? Because the other transfer QB – Carlos Davis (Western Carolina) – stepped in and has taken to the step up in competition like a duck to water. Davis threw the ball 8 times in relief against the Tigers in Week 1, doubling Phommachanh’s yardage (106) and adding a touchdown to boot.
Last week, he got the start and BALLED OUT against Miami (OH). Despite not winning the game, Davis played mistake-free football, throwing for 244 yards and 3 scores. A true pocket passer, Davis has surely done enough to force Don Brown into riding the hot hand this Saturday, regardless of whether Phommachanh is good to go or not.
Prospects To Watch…
EMU – Chase Kline, OLB: Having languished down the depth chart at Michigan State for three seasons, Klein made the 90 minute drive to Ypsilanti and transferred to EMU in 2022. The thumping linebacker made his mark with the Eagles immediately, recording 91 tackles and becoming a real leader on defense. 6’4″ and 245lbs, Kline cuts an imposing figure. Questions about his sideline to sideline speed persist, but if you’re looking for a heavy hitter, he more than fits the bill.
UMass – Mark Pope, WR: Pope is an interesting prospect; after a healthy but inconsistent career in Miami where he put up 680 yards in two seasons, he hit the transfer portal, intending to join the Deion Sanders revolution at Jackson State. He never played a down there, and after a year away from football has resurfaced at UMass. Pope arrives with questions about his character and work ethic, but there’s no denying his blazing speed. After a slow start to his Minutemen career, he found his feet last week against the RedHawks, with 70 yards and a score from just four receptions.
EMU – Samson Evans, RB: After failing to make his mark at Iowa, Evans has become a productive part of the Eagles offense the last four seasons. Last year Samson EXPLODED, recording 1,166 yards as Eastern Michigan leant heavily on their ground game. A physical runner between the tackles, Evans will attract attention from the NFL as a change of pace back and goalline asset – 30 TD’s on his resume attests to that. One final nugget – Evans has thrown five passes on trick plays during his EMU career, and four of them have resulted in touchdowns.
UMass are seven point underdogs in this one, but I think they match up well against EMU. The Eagles excel against the run, but the newly formed combination of QB Davis and WR Pope could be the x factor in this contest.
The jury is firmly out on the Minutemen’s defense, but Chris Creighton’s offense is also not firing on all cylinders as of yet. Their home advantage still has me favouring EMU to win, but UMass should cover in what has the potential to be an exciting, high scoring affair.
Prediction: UMass 41-45 Eastern Michigan
Feature Image Credit: Darryl Webb / Associated Press
PREVIOUSLY THE FOUNDER OF NFL DRAFT UK, SIMON HAS BEEN COVERING COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND THE NFL DRAFT SINCE 2009. BASED IN MANCHESTER, SIMON IS ALSO CO-CREATOR & WEEKLY GUEST OF THE COLLAPSING POCKET PODCAST.