By Charles Post / WLAA
The Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-1) will stay on the road for the third straight game as they face the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-0) on Saturday, Sept. 14 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. The Eagles are coming off a 38-17 loss against Kentucky, while Illinois if fresh off a 31-23 victory over Connecticut.
Eastern Michigan comes into the game averaging 23.5 points per game behind 525 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions from senior quarterback Mike Glass III.
“Every week you come up with a plan offensively, defensively, and special teams against your opponent. Every week we are planning on having success. We don’t mind being on the road and having two five or six hour road trips and going to Illinois for an early kick off is something you just have to deal with,” said Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton. “But we really don’t mind playing on the road.
“Our guys are going to be excited because we haven’t played a full football game yet and there’s an excitement about it.”
The Eagles showed signs of success against Kentucky, but weren’t able to keep up for all four quarters. The defense played very well in the first half, allowing just 17 points, but the offense could only muster up three points at halftime.
However, in the second half, the script was flipped as the offense picked it up, scoring 14 points. Meanwhile the defense allowed 21.
There were moments here and there where it looked like EMU had what it took to pull off the upset, but they weren’t able to sustain that throughout the game.
Eastern Michigan will look to play a solid four quarters against Illinois and Saturday, and potentially beat a Big Ten team for the third year in a row. The Eagles hadn’t beaten a Power Five opponent in 126 years, but have done so in each of the last two seasons.
The game against Illinois will be their last chance to do so this year. The Fighting Illini, who have brought in former Michigan quarterback Brandon
Peters, look improved on the offensive end. Peters has 390 yards, seven touchdowns, and one pick through two outings.
“We have to sure up our defense and we have to get more pressure on the quarterback. It’s another program we’re going up against that is really good. I would add to that there quarterback has thrown seven touchdowns and one interception so they’re very balanced,” Creighton said. “We have to defend the whole field. It’s going to be a full defensive effort. We have to stop the run and the pass and keep the ball in front of us.”
As for the EMU offense, they will look to finish drives with scores and become more consistent on third downs. The Eagles have a 44 percent third down conversion rate, compared to 52 percent by the Fighting Illini. Eastern Michigan scores on 75 percent of their red zone trips, while Illinois
scores at an 82 percent rate. EMU must raise those numbers if they plan to compete with Illinois.
Quian Willaims, redshirt sophomore wide receiver, will be key for the Eagles as he is second on the team with eight receptions and 96 yards.
“We need to play good, have fun, and everything else will take care of itself. I think sometimes we try to do a little too much. Just making plays, having confidence in all of the receivers and running backs. We’re all pretty confident in what we’re doing, we’re not going to let that Kentucky loss bother us,” Williams said. “Personally, I’ve become more of a student of the game and not relying on my talent. We’re just going to play our game and hopefully we end up on the right side of the scoreboard.”