Rutgers coaches preview Eastern Michigan
With a 30-14 loss to No. 8 Washington in the rearview, the Rutgers football team shifts focus to its next opponent in Eastern Michigan.
The Eagles went 7-6 last year, with an appearance in the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl to cap off their season. They are led by fifth-year senior quarterback Brogan Roback, who is in his third season as the team's starting quarterback.
He leads an offense that likes to move up-tempo, something that the Scarlet Knights struggled with against the Huskies last week. Rutgers head coach Chris Ash said that he had looked at a lot of film of the Eastern Michigan offense which has translated to a lot of respect for the team.
"They go really fast. Quarterback is a good player, plays with a lot of poise and composure, understands their offense, executes exceptionally well," Ash said.
Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann is tasked with game-planning for Roback and had similar things to say.
"I've been impressed with him. He's a big guy, he's strong, he runs well, he throws the ball accurately ... He's a playmaker," Niemann said. "He's definitely what makes their offense tick."
As a member of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) team, a non-power five league, the Eagles relish the opportunity to go on the road and knock off a Big Ten team.
Rutgers offensive coordinator Jerry Kill, who has experience as a head coach in the MAC, noted that Eastern Michigan will play this game as a bowl game, meaning it will hold extra importance on an otherwise mediocre schedule.
"We'll get their best shot," Kill said. "Eastern (Michigan) will come in here and play their best game, I guarantee that."
One key for Kill's offense on Saturday will be the running game, as the Eagles gave up 166 rushing yards on 4.7 yards per carry to Charlotte, a team that just recently joined the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and has not had much success.
By now, Rutgers fans know all about Miami graduate-transfer Gus Edwards, who took the starting running back job this fall. But with that, some may have forgotten about senior Robert Martin, the most experienced back on the team who had 55 yards against Washington and ran as hard as he has in his four years on the Banks.
"Rob Martin probably ran as hard as Rob has since we have been here," Ash said. "And I think it's competition in the room. They're fighting for reps and opportunities. And when they go out there they've got to make the most of them. And I think both Gus and Rob did that."
Edwards had 79 yards on Friday, but averaged just 3.3 yards per carry. But Edwards strung together multiple important zero and one-yard runs just to keep the offense out of the endzone when it was backed up at its own one and two-yard lines.
And Ash wasn't the only coach to notice the improvement in Martin, as Kill praised him for stepping up his game against one of the best teams the Knights will face this season.
"He ran very hard and physical. Competition does a lot for you," Kill said. "Either you fold in it or you take it on."
Martin clearly took it on, as he looked just as good as Edwards on Friday and now gives Rutgers a very formidable one-two punch at running back.
As for the game on Saturday, the Knights only opened at 3.5 point favorites, a number that had many people perplexed considering they looked like a much better team against the Huskies.
The bottom line is that there is simply more parity in college football between both power five teams and non-power five teams as well as the FBS in general and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). The opening week of college football saw UNLV Rebels upset by FCS-team Howard, Baylor upset by another FCS team in Liberty as well as upset scares for USC by Western Michigan of the MAC and South Florida and FCS-team Stony Brook.
While Ash said he does pay attention to scores around the country, he is really only focused on his own team.
"We've got our own issues. We need to keep developing and improving and working hard and staying focused on us and what we do," he said. "And that's it. That's what we talk about more than anything else."