Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: First Look At The Eastern Michigan Eagles

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: First Look At The Eastern Michigan Eagles

Bowl Season

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: First Look At The Eastern Michigan Eagles

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Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: First Look at the Eastern Michigan Eagles


San Jose State will face an Eagles team having one of the best seasons in program history. Here’s a first look at how EMU got to Boise.


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The Eagles are soaring.

The San Jose State Spartans will close out the 2022 season with an appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on December 20, where they will face off with the MAC’s Eastern Michigan Eagles.

If you’re a college football history buff, you may know that these teams have only played each other once before. That was way back in 1987’s California Bowl, which became a highwater mark for the EMU program before decades in the abyss: From 1988 to 2013, the Eagles had a .300 winning percentage. Their recent fortunes have been much improved, but the team is still looking to secure its first bowl victory since that upset win over these very same Spartans 35 years ago.

So what should SJSU fans expect when they prepare for Tuesday? Here is our first look at Eastern Michigan.

2022 Eastern Michigan Eagles — Team Profile

Conference: Mid-American

2020 Record: 8-4 (5-3 MAC)

SP+ ranking: 90th (75th offense, 90th defense)

FEI ranking: 103rd

Sagarin rating: 101st

Head coach: Chris Creighton (ninth year at Eastern Michigan; 45-61 with Eagles, 184-107 overall)

2022 in a nutshell: Is it better to be lucky or good? Sometimes, teams like Eastern Michigan have the good fortune to capture a little bit of both.

After surviving an upset bid against FCS Eastern Kentucky to start the year, the Eagles got blown out in a road loss at Louisiana and then pulled a road upset at Arizona State before dropping their conference opener at home against Buffalo. Once they clawed their way back from a double-digit halftime deficit against Massachusetts, however, EMU secured the Michigan MAC Trophy for the first time since 2012 with convincing wins over Western Michigan and Central Michigan and eked out a handful of narrow wins en route to a 5-1 record in games decided by eight or fewer points.

Only a three-point loss to Toledo kept the Eagles out of the MAC championship game, but the team nonetheless wrapped up its most successful year since the aforementioned 1987 campaign.

Best wins: at Western Michigan (5-7), at Ball State (5-7), at Kent State (5-7)

Key Players

DE Jose Ramirez

San Jose State isn’t the only team who can boast a defensive player of the year in this contest. Ramirez became the first Eagle ever to win such an individual honor by leading the MAC with 19.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, in addition to notching 63 total tackles and two forced fumbles. Needless to say, the Spartans offensive line is going to have its hands full slowing him down.

OG Sidy Sow

Sow is Eastern Michigan’s version of Jack Snyder, a long-time stalwart on the offensive line who now owns the program’s career records for games played and games started. Like Snyder, Sow also happens to be very good at what he does: 2022 marked his third straight year as an all-MAC performer, and his second as a first-team offensive lineman, after he allowed just two sacks and finished second among guards in the conference with an overall PFF grade of 76.2.

RB/KR Jaylon Jackson

The Eagles offense ranked 17th in average starting field position this year thanks in no small part to their ace return specialist. Jackson led the MAC and earned a spot on the all-conference first team after averaging 26.2 yards per kick return and scoring one special teams touchdown this fall. He’s also chipped in here and there as a running back, catching 13 passes for 127 yards, so his game-changing speed could affect more than one element of the bowl game.

RB Samson Evans

There were certain junctures throughout the season where the Eagles put their offense on Evans’s shoulders and let it ride, and those gambles often paid dividends. He had four different games with at least 100 rushing yards and finished the year with 1,084 yards on the ground and 13 touchdowns, figures which ranked third and second among MAC running backs, respectively.

WR Tanner Knue

EMU won’t be mistaken as a prolific passing offense, but the senior from Mason, Ohio had a way of making passes thrown his way count for extra. He led the Eagles with 592 yards and nine touchdowns on 42 receptions, which should give the Spartans secondary something to think about in their preparations.

Overview:

Offense

The best way to describe Eastern Michigan’s offense is as a unit where the whole outweighs the sum of its parts. Despite finishing sixth in the MAC with an average of 5.26 yards per play and seventh with 47 plays from scrimmage of 20-plus yards, the Eagles ranked 57th among all FBS teams in picking up 47.7% of available yards per drive and 48th with 2.52 points per drive.

They managed that feat despite some unexpected shuffling at quarterback: Taylor Powell started seven games and Austin Smith started the other five, but both had injuries at different points throughout the season. Powell is more of a dropback passer who had a 65.3% completion rate and averaged 7.6 yards per attempt with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while Smith enabled the Eagles to be a little more run-heavy and averaged 5.72 yards of total offense per play, accounting for eight touchdowns (six passing, two rushing) himself.

Both quarterbacks, as well as Evans at running back, benefited from rock solid offensive line play from the likes of Sow and offensive tackles Brian Dooley and Marcellus Johnson, who helped the Eagles become one of the better short-yardage running teams in the country with a 86.8% power success rate that ranked third in the FBS and a 4.4% standard downs sack rate (1st down, 2nd-and-7 or fewer, 3rd-and-4 or fewer, 4th-and-4 or fewer) which was just above the national average.

Powell and Smith also got to spread the ball around, as well, because while no EMU pass catcher had 50 catches, five different players had at least 25. It’s a veteran group led by Knue, Hassan BeydounDylan Drummond, and Gunner Oakes, all of whom are listed as graduate students on the official roster and will have started at least 25 games each when they step onto the blue turf next Tuesday.

Defense

The Eagles defense managed to be a bend-but-don’t-break group throughout much of the fall, allowing 5.5 yards per play (fifth in the MAC), a 42.3% third-down conversion rate (10th), a 93.3% red zone conversion rate (last), and 2.50 points per drive to opponents. However, they made up for it by allowing only 151 plays of ten or more yards, tied for first in their conference, and creating 17 takeaways.

However, one potential problem heading to the bowl game is who, other than Ramirez, will step up and make a big play when the occasion calls for it. He’s a genuine star who should be playing on Sundays in the near future, but he also accounted for more than half of the team’s sacks and nearly 40% of its tackles for loss. The Eagles were not a terribly disruptive team despite his efforts, posting a 13.1% stuff rate which is 121st among FBS defenses.

Boston College transfer Joe Sparacio will be a player to watch at linebacker, though, as he started all but one game in 2022 and collected six tackles for loss among 84 total tackles. His running mate at the position, Chase Kline, also made an impact after arriving through the portal from Michigan State and led the team with 87 total tackles. In the secondary, cornerback Kempton Shine notched 11 pass breakups and an interception while safety Quentavius Scandrett stepped into the starting lineup in the second half of 2022 and, according to PFF, finished the regular season as the sixth-highest graded player at the position in the MAC at 73.1.

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