Coastal Carolina

Meet Coastal Carolina’s opening-game opponent, which has risen from the ashes of FBS

Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton has turned around one of the historically worst football programs in Division I.

The Eagles endured a 27-game winless streak in the 1980s, were winless in 2009, and went 3-21 in Creighton’s first two seasons in 2014-15.

But the Mid-American Conference program is coming off its second bowl game in the past three seasons, a close loss to Georgia Southern in the Camelia Bowl to finish 7-6 for the second time in three seasons.

The Eagles went 7-6 in 2016 including a 24-20 loss to Old Dominion in the Bahamas Bowl, the program’s first bowl game in 29 years, and have 19 wins in the past three years, including two over teams from Power Five Conferences – Rutgers in 2017 and Purdue in 2018.

It’s the program’s best three-year stretch since it went 23-8-2 from 1987-89, and the Eagles look to open 2019 with a win over Coastal Carolina at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Brooks Stadium.

The Eagles have also recently drastically expanded and improved their facilities, including a two-story, 63,000-square-foot Student-Athlete Performance Center that has been in use since mid-July.

“We absolutely enjoyed being in our new facility, and I think it makes us better,” said Creighton, who was hired from Drake after going 44-22 in six season with the Bulldogs. “It’s more efficient and we are right with our players in terms of the logistics. It has already made us better. I love it and I love our team and the thing I’m most proud of and most excited about is our culture.”

EMU was close to a much better record in 2018, as five of its six losses were by a combined 18 points. That followed a 2017 season in which six of the team’s seven losses were within one possession, including three in overtime.

The Eagles were led by their defense last season, holding opponents to the third-fewest passing yards in the nation at 150.2. EMU was also fifth in the country in red zone defense, and ranked 10th in passing efficiency defense, 11th in turnover margin, 19th in blocked kicks, 20th in turnovers gained, 20th in fourth down conversion defense, 22nd in fumbles recovered, 30th in scoring defense, and 33rd in interceptions.

But they lost seven starters off that defense, including key contributors in defensive end Maxx Crosby, who ranked seventh in FBS in tackles for loss, and linebacker Kyle Rachwal, who was 26th in FBS with 9.8 tackles per game.

EMU is a run-first offense, which is common in the MAC, with 493 rushing attempts in 2018 compared to 388 passes. The Eagles return six starters on offense, though quarterback Tyler Wiegers, who threw for 1,887 yards and 11 TDs while completing 64.5 percent of his passes, and three offensive linemen are not among them.

Senior Mike Glass III threw for 1,024 yards and nine TDs in eight games last year in a platooning situation with Wiegers, while also rushing for 412 yards and six TDs with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games. He’ll start Saturday.

“He was our starter for really the second half of the season last year but didn’t get to play in many of those games due to injury,” Creighton said Monday. “I’m excited to say I think his best attributes are his leadership, his character, his belief in himself and his team. He’s just a winner. The guys love him and believe in him.”

EMU was picked to finish fourth in the MAC’s six-team West Division in the league’s preseason poll.

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