As the Mid-American Conference transitions to Saturday games, we take a look at some of the best performers for the first half of 2020
MACtion 2020 lived up to its reputation. The first MAC game of the year started off with a bang as the Akron Zips attempted an onside kick. Things just got better from there as a number of players and units turned in memorable first-half performances.
As we transition from MACtion to a Saturday schedule for the remaining games of the COVID-shortened season, we had a few extra days to look back those memorable performances. These are some of the best individual and unit performances of MACtion 2020.
WR, D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan
Eskridge’s numbers through three weeks are absurdly good, like video game good: he has 735 yards combined receiving and kickoff returning. His 32.6 yards per catch leads the FBS for any receiver averaging two or more catches per game according to sports-reference.com. He has six touchdowns.
Eskridge has elite speed and it shows. Western Michigan’s website reports he was clocked in the 40 in 2018 at 4.33 seconds. In week one vs the Akron Zips, ESPN Analyst Dustin Fox summed up how Eskridge’s speed shows on the field: “look at how fast he is…Eskridge is playing at a different level than everyone else.”
And while Eskridge has NFL-level speed, he is more than speed but a complete player. Eskridge has reliable hands and great body control, adjusting to off-target throws with ease. In week one, Eskridge was seen blocking 40 yards downfield on a long run, pancaking an Akron defensive back. He is also a valuable special teams contributor, averaging almost 28 yards a return. Against Central Michigan, he recovered a teammate’s fumble on kickoff return team and an onside kick on the hands team to preserve the victory.
Eskridge has the attention of NFL scouts, having recently accepted an invitation to the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl. If he runs in the 4.3s at the combine, my feeling is he’ll be selected on the first or second day of the NFL Draft.
RB Jaret Patterson, Buffalo
A 1,000-yard season for a running back used to be the gold standard of production due to rarity, but not so much now. Over about the last 30 years, the percent of FBS teams (and former Division 1-A) that had a 1,000-yard rusher has increased significantly, from 24% of teams in 1990 to 47% of teams in 2019.
But what about rushers who could break 1,000 yards in only half a season’s worth of games? Now that would be impressive. And that is just what Jaret Patterson is on pace to do, rushing for 511 yards in just three games. Patterson is ranked 7th in the FBS in yards per carry at 7.2 for backs with at least 50 carries and is tied for 20th in the FBS in TDs with eight, which is all the more impressive when you consider the MAC was the last conference to begin play in 2020.
RB Teon Dollard, Akron
Teon Dollard transferred to the Zips from Independence Community College for the 2020 season and has made an unbelievable impact. What Teon Dollard accomplished in three games against MAC contenders (Kent State, WMU, Ohio) has been nothing short of miraculous. Operating behind an offensive line starting four redshirt freshman, Dollard has rushed for 434 yards on 6.6 yards per carry and four touchdowns. To put into context the impact Dollard has made on Akron’s offense, his 434 yards rushing in three games is the same amount of rushing yards Akron’s top three running backs in 2019 had COMBINED in 12 games.
Dollard is an explosive playmaker, with runs of 39, 45, and 59 yards this season.
LBs Brandon Martin and Jaylin Thomas, Ball State
Martin and Thomas rank first and fourth in the MAC respectively in tackles, combining for incredible 70 stops in just three games. Projected over a complete season, Martin and Thomas would be on pace to make a combined 280 tackles.
Martin was recognized for his great play in week two when he was named the MAC West’s Defensive Player of the Week.
QB Dustin Crum, Kent State
Kent State’s QB gets better and better year after year and has the numbers to prove it. Crum’s passing efficiency rating improved from 159.7 in 2019 to 196.4 in 2020. Crum’s 2020 passing efficiency ranks sixth in the FBS. The Kent State signal caller has completed 75.3% of his passes for 838 yards and nine touchdowns with only one interception.
Crum also leads the MAC in yards rushing by a QB with 164 and added three scores on the ground.
Crum’s offensive awareness is off the charts and his physical toolbox is good enough to execute his vision. Play after play, Crum makes the right decision and executes.
His decision-making and execution skills are all the more impressive when you consider the up-tempo style of offense Kent State runs. The plays often come rapid-fire, with little time to think or process; yet, Crum still makes the right decisions and executes the vast majority of plays.
Kent State leads the MAC in scoring, averaging 52 points per game.
RB Caleb Huntley, Ball State
Ball State has a lot of offensive talent, scoring over 30 points in each game this year, but the catalyst is Huntley. Teams game plan to minimize the damage done by Huntley in the running game. With the focus on Huntley, Ball State can take advantage with play action passing to great effect.
Despite all the attention, Huntley is a workhorse, leading the MAC with 80 carries on his way to 437 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Huntley set a Ball State record last week with his seventh consecutive 100-yard game, rushing for 103 against Northern Illinois.
LB Bubba Arslanian, Akron
As a general rule, you won’t find a defensive standout on a team that allowed over 50 points in a game twice in the first three games of the season, but Arslanian is the exception to the rule. Undersized for a MAC linebacker at 5’9 and 205 pounds, Arslanian is all over the field making plays for the Zips. Whether its recovering a fumble on punt team, making a tackle on kickoff team, or sacking the quarterback, Arslanian is doing a lot for the cause. He enters the second half of the season ranked tied for fourth in the MAC in tackles with 34, including two sacks.
The Bulls (3-0) have played the best defense through the halfway point of the season by several measures. Buffalo has allowed the lowest points per game with 19.
Of the 57 total points allowed this season, the majority of the points (31) were surrendered in the fourth quarter, when the games were effectively over due to sizable Buffalo leads (scores after 3 quarters: 35-3, 35-7, 42-16).
The Bulls lead the league in turnovers with seven and are third in sacks with seven.
The team doesn’t rely on a few stars but functions well as a unit, with a lot of contributors.
Some of the top contributors include defensive end Malcolm Koonce, who leads the team in sacks with three and recently accepted an invitation to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Senior LB Kadofi Wright has only played two games but has five passes defensed and a 65-yard pick six.
LB James Patterson leads the squad with 24 tackles.
Western Michigan, Offense
The Broncos had the best offense through the first three games based on strength of schedule and best overall position groups. Kent State made a heck of a case for best offense, scoring 60+ points in back-to-back games. However, WMU scored over 50 points twice and played two strong MAC West contenders in the first three games while Kent State played two of the worst defenses in the league, Akron and Bowling Green.
WMU’s offense starts with the offensive line, who have been spectacular, in competition with Buffalo for best in the league. From left to right, WMU features starters Jaylon Moore, Mike Caliendo, Wesley French, Dylan Deatherage, and Mark Brooks. If I had a vote, at least four of these linemen would make an All-MAC team this year if the vote was taken today. Include as part of the offensive line TEs like Brett Borske, who has significantly contributed to the success of the running game.
The offensive line has been the backbone of the operation. In the first game of the season against Akron, with WMU breaking in new starters at QB, RB, and TE, WMU ran the ball 17 times on the first three drives, scoring two touchdowns and a field goal.
When Central Michigan took an early 14-0 lead, WMU hit the reset button, getting things back under control by running the ball. On the next two drives, WMU ran the ball 11 of 14 plays for a total of 106 yards and two touchdowns. Back on track, WMU exploded for 38 straight points in route to a 52-44 win.
Regarding playmakers, WR’s Jaylen Hall, D’Wayne Eskridge, and Skyy Moore have been the most productive trio in the league through three games, combining for 774 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hall and Eskridge are as explosive combo as you’ll find in the MAC this year, averaging 30.5 yards per catch.
Behind a great line and with the most productive weapons to throw to, QB Kaleb Eleby has blossomed in his first year as a starter, completing 67.7% of his passes for 928 yards and 11 touchdowns against only one interception. To say Eleby is off to a fast start is an understatement, considering his passing efficiency rating of 240.4 is video game number. To understand how great Eleby’s passing efficiency rating is, recall 2019 Heisman Trophy Joe Burrow’s passing efficiency rating was 202 and Burrow completed 76.3% of his passes for 5,671 yards, and 60 touchdown passes with only six interceptions.
Rounding out the offense, WMU’s backfield trio of La’darius Jefferson, Sean Tyler, and Jaxson Kincaide have combined for 579 yards rushing and 6.1 yards a carry and five scores.
Did we get it right? Anyone we missed? Let us know in the comments below.