Finally, football season is back and a new year is upon us!
This year, Eastern Michigan says goodbye to it’s graduated starters from last season. WR Daniel Lentz, C Brian Atkins, OT Donald Zimmerman, DE Kyle Whitten, LB Brayden Winters, CB Cayden Mason, SS Shia Russ, K Simon Hand, and P Matthew Guy leave nearly half of the roster in need of new starters. Luckily, there are capable backups for most of those positions. We will get into each position groups later on, but first a look at how Rice changes things.
EMU may be catching Rice a year too early. Almost all of their graduating seniors are being replaced by more talented underclassmen, with the exception of FS, and LOLB where an out of position, but aptly named ILB Bruce Rice will take over. After going 12-2 last year and winning Conference USA, Rice looks poised for an even bigger 2022 season, which is a scary proposition to take on in week 1.
Rice Offense vs. EMU Defense
For Rice, everything offensively revolves around star QB Eric Mclean. With over 4000 yards and 46 TDs last season, it is truly a bummer that he did not decide to go pro. Instead he looks to rewrite his schools record books and has a great chance at doing so. A great crop of young wideouts is on hand and ready to make life miserable for opposing corners. While they do lose big play TE Jamari Redmond, the expectation is that the other offensive skill players progress more than enough to make up for it. While RB Jasiah Braxton is the starter this year, and looks to be a slight upgrade over last years Nate Wooten, Rice really doesn’t seem to lean much on the running game as they averaged only 40 YPG last year and it’s doubtful they switch up such a winning strategy.
For EMU the outlook is not quite so rosy. While last years defense came up with stops when it mattered, they were not great statistically, and lose out on 6.5 sacks from DE Kyle Whitten. On the flip side, the secondary should improve a little bit with Ibrahima Griggs taking over at SS and the return of CB Julian Gaines and his 5 interception 2021 season. For this matchup, EMU has to look at how to stop an extremely big-play air raid offense. While Rice has some good offensive line play, the entire right side of the line including center is breaking in new starters and they are definitely the weak point. If OLB Brian Pearson can step up and create some havoc, they can get to the QB if the OL hasn’t yet gelled. The best hope for a W here is to play aggressively, hope to create some pressure and have the CB’s jump some routes and come up with a few turnovers. Mcclean did throw 9 INTs last year so he isn’t impervious to bad decisions, and if the safeties keep things in front of them, they might force enough throws for those to occur.
EMU Offense vs. Rice Defense
Defensively, Rice loses a lot of production from OLB Marcus Kaplan and has relatively meh production from the rest of the unit last year. Their cornerbacks however were phenomenal, with Gerald Sykes coming up with 6 INTs and Arthur Bales snagging 4 on the other side. This season though, Bales appears to have been beaten out by more talented JR Kahale Laupepa. The hope is that the talent doesn’t manifest itself in the first game and the secondary is open for targeting. The linebackers seem fairly strong, while the defensive line is just about average. Overall, this side of the ball is most definitely not Rice’s strength and I anticipate them playing a number of shootouts this season.
On the EMU side, QB Giovanni Shaw is welcomed back for his last year after a great second half of 2021 where he really started to take control of the new offense. After the running game lay dormant all year they welcome new 5-star RB Tyler Pearson who looks to shake things up a little bit. The WR’s are a fairly mediocre corp with Declan Blanton as the big 6-4 target receiver.
The offensive line is made for pass-blocking which should lead to some nice chemistry, but unfortunately at center they are starting converted OG Bobby Borden, and it remains to be seen how well he will take to the position. While they have a great backfield, EMU really has to hope that their OL plays above their potential or they could suffer from another lackluster year. With that in mind, long methodical drives seem unlikely to have success, and with no speed WRs for big plays, a lot is going to be riding on the tandem of Shaw and Pearson to lead this team.
Once again, this is not the strength of the Rice team. Very average players here, although they are all quite young and I would anticipate them improving in the future into a solid unit. For EMU losing K Simon Hand will really hurt as he played great last season. In his stead comes freshman Donald Bray and they hope not to rely on him for many clutch moments. In the return game, Ibrahima Griggs was a nice surprise last season and he is coming back hopefully even better. To win this game they may need him to make some surprise plays.
Yikes, this looks like just too much for EMU to handle to start the season. This will be by far the best team they have played in coach tsweezy’s tenure thus far and I don’t think it will be close. While the possibility exists for some big plays and turnovers to lead to an upset, particularly with a ton of new starters for Rice I just don’t think that is very likely at this time. All signs point to a Rice blowout sadly, with hopefully enough learning for EMU to grow going into the rest of the season.
Final prediction: Rice over EMU 42-17