The Eastern Michigan Eagles are set to travel west to face the San Diego State Aztecs in an under-the-radar non-conference clash. Both squads have knocked off a Power 5 opponent, and both have the potential to compete for championships in their respective leagues. Now, both aim to carry momentum into the meat of their conference schedules.
The Eagles, 2-1 with a marquee win over Purdue in Week 2, will be playing their third straight road game after losing 35-28 at Buffalo last week in the MAC opener. San Diego State, also 2-1, has won two in a row including last week’s dramatic, controversial finish against Arizona State.
Eastern Michigan at San Diego State
Kickoff: Saturday Sept. 22 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: San Diego State -12
Three Things to Watch
1. San Diego State RB Juwan Washington
Not to take anything away from Donnel Pumphrey or Rashaad Penny, but the San Diego State running back position has become plug-and-play. The new leading ball carrier — and the next potential 2,000-yard rusher — for the Aztecs is Washington. So far this season, Washington has averaged 150.7 rushing yards per game, totaling 452 yards and five touchdowns, all of which lead the Mountain West and rank among the top 10 nationally.
Assuming he shakes off what appears to be a minor toe injury, Washington should have success against an Eastern Michigan run defense that has allowed more than 230 yards per game and 5.91 yards per carry. The Eagles were particularly bad stopping the run against Purdue, which is worth noting because the Boilermakers are arguably the closest match to San Diego State from a talent standpoint among EMU’s opponents to date. Eastern Michigan allowed 341 yards and 8.12 yards per attempt, but won 20-19 in messy, rainy conditions.
2. Eastern Michigan QB Tyler Wiegers
Eastern Michigan hasn’t had nearly as much success running the football as the Aztecs, but the Eagles are in a better position to succeed through the air thanks to quarterback Tyler Wiegers. The Iowa transfer has completed 46 of 60 passing attempts for 614 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in his first season as a starter. Though he hasn’t put up eye-popping raw numbers, Wiegers ranks third nationally in completion percentage (76.7 percent) and 11th among FBS signal-callers in yards per pass attempt (10.2). His top target, Blake Banham, leads the MAC and ranks in the top 10 in the country with 23 receptions and 361 receiving yards. Banham has hauled in two touchdowns.
Given the Wiegers to Banham connection, the Eagles should also be in position to move the football. Though the San Diego State defense ranks fourth nationally against the run (46.3 rushing yards allowed per game), the Aztecs are susceptible to the pass. Rocky Long’s secondary has surrendered 284.7 passing yards per game so far this season, which ranks 10th in the Mountain West and 109th in the country. Opponents have posted a 7:1 TD-to-interception ratio.
3. Takeaways, or lack thereof
On that note, San Diego State’s typically aggressive defense has failed to create turnovers in 2018. In fact, defensive end Noble Hall’s interception against Stanford in the season opener is the only takeaway the unit has forced all year. Only East Carolina and North Carolina, both of whom have played just two games, have forced fewer turnovers. But Eastern Michigan hasn’t been much better. The Eagles have recovered three fumbles but have also intercepted just one pass this season — Kyle Rachwal’s pick against Monmouth in Week 1.
This late-night, inter-regional non-conference matchup offers plenty of intriguing storylines. The Aztecs’ offensive strength matches up well against Eastern Michigan, which is great news since senior starting quarterback Christian Chapman is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Likewise, the Eagles’ strength on offense matches up well against San Diego State’s biggest weakness.
Though the two squads are fairly evenly matched, San Diego State has two major advantages: First, the Aztecs have the ability to shut down Eastern Michigan’s run game and make the Eagles one-dimensional on offense. But perhaps more importantly, Eastern Michigan must make a cross-country flight across three time zones, in what will be its third consecutive week away from home. SDCCU Stadium doesn’t give the Aztecs the typical college football home-field advantage in the big-game atmosphere sense, but San Diego State has a major advantage given the Eagles’ travel schedule.
Prediction: San Diego State 28, Eastern Michigan 20
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
(Photo by Ernie Anderson/SDSU Athletic Media Relations)