Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton is justified in feeling good going into Saturday's game at Camp Randall Stadium versus Wisconsin in Week 2 of the 2021 college football season. After all, Eastern Michigan won its season opener 35-15 versus St. Francis (Pa.). And Eastern Michigan has been successful against the last three teams from the Big Ten the Eagles have faced, defeating Rutgers (2017), Purdue (2018), and Illinois (2019).
Previewing the matchup with Wisconsin, Creighton stated, "This is the best football team that I'll have ever coached against in my entire life. ... These guys are phenomenal. It's not this year. They've been great for over a decade." Indeed, if Eastern Michigan is able to pull off the upset, it will mark the greatest win in program history.
Wisconsin is eager to place a 'W' in its win column for the first time in 2021 after a close 16-10 home loss to Penn State last Saturday. The season-opening loss at home was the first for the Badgers since the 1995 season. Turnovers and failures within the red zone contributed greatly to the Badgers falling to the Nittany Lions. Acknowledging the self-inflicted mistakes the Badgers made versus Penn State, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst noted, "You can't do anything about what happened. But what you are trying to do is prepare yourself for the next time something comes up."
This game will mark the fourth time that Eastern Michigan and Wisconsin have played. The Badgers are 3-0 against the Eagles, with the last victory coming in 1996 (24-3).
Eastern Michigan at Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Wisconsin -26
When Eastern Michigan Has the Ball
The Eagles are similar to Wisconsin in that both teams like to run the ball. In last week's win over St. Francis (Pa.), Eastern Michigan leaned on running backs Darius Boone Jr. (22 carries for 107 yards) and Jawon Hamilton (15 for 70 and a TD). Samson Evans also got into the act, making the most of his five attempts with three of them going for touchdowns.
The Eagles used two quarterbacks against the Red Flash, with Cincinnati graduate transfer Ben Bryant and Preston Hutchinson both getting snaps. Creighton was non-committal about who will start versus Wisconsin, or if it will be a tag-team approach. From a passing perspective, Bryant completed eight of 10 attempts for 126 yards, while Hutchinson went 7-for-12 for 63 yards and an interception.
No matter who is at quarterback, Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said his unit will be ready. "They make you identify a number of different things that can be challenging if you're not quick to get calls and settled into those moments. They also use two quarterbacks. They have a quarterback who has made a lot of plays with his feet, getting in and out of the pocket. They have a little bit more of a pocket passer. They present two different cans of issues within a game," he said earlier this week.
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
Everyone knows what to expect when facing the Badgers. This season the running game features many options as Chez Mellusi (31 att., 121 yds., TD) and Isaac Guerendo (13, 56) led the way in the season opener. It's also possible that Jalen Berger, who led the team with 301 rushing yards last season, will be in the mix on Saturday.
An area Wisconsin needs to improve on is execution in the red zone. Despite winning the total yards battle (359 to 297) against Penn State, the Badgers managed just 10 points thanks to a blocked field goal, a fumbled exchange between Mellusi and quarterback Graham Mertz, and a game-clinching pick late in the fourth quarter when the Badgers were driving for what could have been the winning touchdown.
Eastern Michigan had four sacks, seven tackles for a loss, and two turnovers in the win over St. Francis (Pa.). Defensive lineman Alex Merrit recorded a fumble recovery, while junior defensive back Russell Vaden IV had an interception. It will be imperative that the Badgers take better care of the ball against the Eagles than they did against the Nittany Lions.
As Creighton has made known, this is the best team he has ever coached against, and Eastern Michigan will have its hands full. The Badgers are looking for redemption and will be eager to atone for their mistakes in the season opener. The Eagles may be able to keep it close for a little bit, but Wisconsin's depth and size will result in a convincing victory Saturday night in Camp Randall Stadium.
Prediction: Wisconsin 42, Eastern Michigan 21
Podcast: Week 1 Recap