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.”