The second opponent for the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2021 season is the Eastern Michigan Eagles. While a bit of a step down in intensity from the opening game against Penn State, the Eagles will still provide a stiff test for the Badgers early in the year.
Our guest today is Patrick Mayhorn, writer and creator of the excellent and informative The Outside Zone newsletter which focuses on Group of Five teams throughout the college football season. You may also recognize Patrick from, and don’t hold this against him as he is a nice guy, his role as the associate editor of the Buckeye Sports Bulletin.
2021 G5 Preview: Eastern Michigan's offense is going to be awesome! The defense is... also playing football! https://t.co/jZoo8CiQIl— Patrick Mayhorn (@patrick_mayhorn) March 31, 2021
Who is your EMU player to watch on offense?
It has to be quarterback Preston Hutchinson. This Eastern Michigan team is going to be heavily dependent on its offense, and this offense can go as far as Hutchinson can take it. He has a good arm and flashed a ton of accuracy last season, but he was a first-year starter in every sense of the word. He took quite a few risks that an older player probably wouldn’t have and got himself into some trouble because of it, throwing six pretty bad interceptions.
However, that confidence was frequently his greatest strength, too. Eastern Michigan’s offense has been a bit hesitant about going down the field at times under Chris Creighton, and Hutchinson really opened it up with his willingness to launch the ball to vertical receivers, even against pretty solid coverage. If his decision-making takes a step forward this season and he can cut those interceptions down just a tad, he’s one of the best MAC quarterbacks, and it’s a really strong season for MAC quarterbacks.
The passing attack will be crucial here in general. I don’t hate the rushing attack, led by Darius Boone and Samson Evans (with a few too many Hutchinson carries sprinkled in), but Hassan Beydoun (40 receptions, 508 yards), big-play threat Tanner Knue (27 for 413) and possession receiver Quian Williams (24 for 322) all return at receiver. EMU isn’t in a position to pass up that kind of talent and will need to have one of the best passing attacks in the conference to live up to the potential that I think it has.
Who is your EMU player to watch on defense?
I say that about the offense because this defense is not going to be good. EMU will need an explosive and consistent offense to reach bowl eligibility – not impossible or even unlikely, but still crucial for determining the ceiling here because the defense is not going to kick in much of anything. It allowed 36.0 points per game last season and got toasted on the ground, allowing 245.5 rushing yards per game. I’ll designate safety Blake Bogan (pictured below) as the player to watch because he was awesome in 2019 but missed much of 2020 with an injury, though I don’t think his return is going to do a whole lot to fix a rushing defense that should still be among CFB’s worst in 2021.
He may be able to bolster the passing defense though, which may be the best-case scenario for this group. Cornerback Kempton Shine returns as well, and the hope is that the secondary and an active pass rush can force enough turnovers to make up for the inability to get off of the field consistently. It didn’t happen in 2020, though.
Why will Eastern Michigan beat Wisconsin this year?
It would have to be a case of timing and poor matchups, which I don’t think is impossible – just unlikely. Eastern Michigan has the benefit of a capable rushing attack and a good passing game from the jump, which a lot of teams can’t say this early in a season. If it is able to plug and play the few new pieces that are here and generate a top 40 offense from the jump, it could present some issues for Wisconsin’s defense – even though I expect that the Badger defense will be one of the nation’s best – because defenses usually come along a bit slower than offenses do.
On the other side of the ball, EMU’s best hope is that Graham Mertz is “not that guy, pal” and that he’s overly confident throwing into a bad but opportunistic defense. Wisconsin will be able to run the ball at will, but a few turnovers could keep EMU in the game, especially if the offense is clicking from the start. A huge game from Hutchinson and a bad game from Mertz gets it done for Eastern Michigan, though I’m sure I don’t have to note that that’s asking a lot.