Chuck Martin looks at the Eastern Michigan Eagles and sees a very familiar football team.
“They’re a really good (Mid-American Conference) team,” the fourth-year Miami coach said. “They’re coming off a good year. They’ve got some good players, but they don’t have anything to show for it.
“They’re a lot like us.”
The RedHawks enjoyed a turnaround 2016 season, winning their last six games to earn a bowl berth, but they’ve proven unable to build on that as well as they’d like, going 4-6 overall and 3-3 in the MAC.
Eastern Michigan enjoyed a turnaround last season as dramatic as Miami’s, going 1-11 overall and 0-8 in the MAC in 2015 and 7-5 and 4-4 last season, but the Eagles have reverted. They go into Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game against the RedHawks at Miami’s Yager Stadium 3-7 overall and 1-5 in the MAC. Six of their seven losses have been by seven or fewer points, including a double-overtime loss to Ohio, a four-point loss at Kentucky, a one-point loss at Army and overtime losses to Western Michigan and at Northern Illinois.
The Eagles are coming off a 42-30 loss at Central Michigan in which they committed five turnovers.
“They outplayed Central Michigan by a wide margin,” Martin said. “Their kids and their coach (Chris Creighton, like Martin, in his fourth season at Eastern Michigan) are still searching. They played really good. They could have won the game.”
Senior quarterback Brogan Roback leads the Eagles’ offense. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Roback ranks second in the MAC in passing yardage and total offense. His favorite target is 6-foot, 190-pound senior wide receiver Sergio Bailey.
“Their quarterback is an NFL prospect,” Martin said. “He’s got a lot of (Green Bay great Brett) Favre in him. Bailey has been one of the best receivers in the MAC for years.”
Sophomore safety Vince Calhoun, a 5-11, 180-pound Middletown product, leads Eastern Michigan in tackles. Another sophomore safety, 5-11, 205-pound Coldwater graduate Brody Hoying, is tied for the MAC lead with three fumble recoveries.
“Their defense is really strong up front,” Martin said. “They have a pretty complete team. Their record could be flipped. Nobody in the MAC wants to play us. When you look at Eastern, you could say the same thing.”
The RedHawks have won two of their last three games, both by 24-14 scores, and go into Wednesday’s game needing to win their last two – they are scheduled to finish the season at 2-7 and 0-5 Ball State next Tuesday – to be eligible for a bowl berth. That’s a long way from the 0-12 overall and 0-8 MAC records in 2013, the first Miami season for fifth-year seniors Heath Harding, Randy Heideman, Jared Murphy and Grant Niemiec. They are all that’s left from the 22-member 2013 recruiting class.
“It’s not much of a class when you look at the numbers,” Martin said. “They started out at the bottom of the ocean, but they were willing to stay and claw and fight and be part of the growth of the program. It’s amazing what they went through to get the program turned around.
“It’s not purgatory to play at Miami any more. It’s exciting.”
Eastern Michigan at Miami, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 980, 1450
Who: Eastern Michigan (3-7, 1-5 Mid-American Conference West Division) at Miami (4-6, 3-3 MAC East).
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m..
Where: Yager Stadium (24,286), Oxford.
Series notes: Miami leads, 18-4, and has won the last nine games, scoring exactly 28 points in each of the last three meetings. The Eagles’ last win in the series was 15-9 at Miami in 1993.
Coaches: Eastern Michigan, Chris Creighton, 21 seasons, 152-80, 13-34 in four Eastern Michigan years; Miami, Chuck Martin, 10 seasons, 89-39, 18-37 in four Miami years.
Stat pack: Eastern Michigan – QB Brogan Roback 225-371, 2,546 yards, 16 TDs, 13 ints; RB Ian Ericksen 589 rushing yards, 4.3 average, 5 TDs; WR Sergio Bailey 47 catches, 772 yards, 6 TDs; DB Vince Calhoun 70 tackles, 44 solo; Miami – QB Gus Ragland 113-210, 1,633 yards, 15 TDs, 6 ints; Kenny Young, 696 rushing yards, 5.3 avg., 4 TDs; WR James Gardner 44 catches, 886 yards, 10 TDs; LB Brad Koenig 79 tackles, 50 solo.
Local flavor: So. DB Vince Calhoun, Middletown; Fr. QB Preston Hutchinson, Mason; Fr. WR Edgar Cooks, Ponitz CTC; So. DB Brody Hoying, Coldwater.
The facts: Eastern Michigan assistant coach Jay Peterson was a Miami running back in the early 1980s and the RedHawks’ linebackers coach and defensive coordinator from 2011 through 2013. Eagles wide receivers’ coach Herb Haygood was a Miami offensive intern working with wide receivers in 2011 and 2012. Three current RedHawks’ coaches worked at Eastern Michigan – Martin, defensive coordinator Matt Pawlowski and safeties coach Joe Palcic. … Miami will honor 15 seniors before kickoff of its home finale – Ikeem Allen, Jordan Diamond, Alec Greene, Heath Harding, Randy Heideman, Zach Hovey, Sam Martin, Jared Murphy, Grant Niemiec, Tony Reid, Kyle Row, Liam Sallquist, Ryan Sandles, Ryan Smith and Zach Swarts. Diamond, Harding, Heideman, Murphy and Niemiec are redshirt seniors. Diamond is a transfer from Auburn. … The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. … Roback set Eastern Michigan’s record for career touchdown passes in the Eagles’ loss to Central Michigan on Nov. 8. He has 54. He needs 90 passing yards to set the career record.
Quote: Harding on his thoughts with his last home game approaching: “We’ve been here a long time. There’s only four other seniors from my class. It’s been tough, but we’ve grown used to being together. We would like to have had more wins, but this group of guys is unlike any other. They’re not just teammates. They’re family.”