YPSILANTI – At his weekly media luncheon Monday, Eastern Michigan head coach Jeff Genyk reduced all preseason preparations into a simple statement.
"The hay is in the barn. We've just got to see how we perform in a game," Genyk said.
Since he was hired December 1, Genyk has installed a new staff, new offensive and defensive systems, recruited a slew of new players, and run both spring and fall practice camps. Thursday night, the Eagles open the season at home against Buffalo (6:45 p.m. on 89.1, WEMU)
Genyk says he is spending the last couple of practice days making sure the players and coaches loosen up and enjoy the opportunity.
"Coming out of camp, our players have worked so hard," Genyk said. "We have no injuries and a team that has worked its butt off. Now we need to make sure they don't get too tight, and we need to make sure it's fun."
Buffalo finished last season 1-11, and has won just five games over the past three years. Sports Illustrated recently ranked the Bulls last among the 117 Division I-A teams.
"We're more worried about ourselves," Genyk said when asked the importance of beating Buffalo. "I'm more looking for us to be a physical team. We need to play with poise and composure and know that we have a good team."
Offensively, starting quarterback Matt Bohnet's poise will likely set the tone for the entire unit's efficiency. Genyk noted that Bohnet has not started a game in four years, after seeing limited backup duty for two years at Iowa and sitting out last season after transferring to EMU.
"Matt needs to know that he's our guy," Genyk said. "If he throws two interceptions (returned) for touchdowns on the first two series, he's going out there again."
Defensively, the Eagles will focus on limiting Buffalo's straight-ahead running game.
"They like to run the ball between the tackles," Genyk said.
The Bulls ran for more than 2,000 yards as a team last year, and return a pair of junior running backs, Dave Dawson and Aaron Leeper, who each gained more than 500 yards a year ago. EMU will feature some new faces up the middle of the defensive front. Senior Matt Kudu has moved from defensive end to defensive tackle, where he will start along with returning starter Eric Pettway. True freshmen Greg Egbuogu and Joe Charles are listed second on the depth chart. And junior Steve Bednarik takes over for the departed David Lusky at middle linebacker.
With 20 seniors and loads experience returning, the Eagles have high hopes for the season opener. Still, Genyk knows the offseason overhaul will lead to a few rough spots Thursday night.
"It's not going to be pretty," he said. "But we've just got to respond and move on to the next play."
Click on the audio icon above to hear comments from Coach Genyk's Monday media luncheon.
More Frosh: In addition to Egbuogu and Charles, six true freshmen are listed in contributing positions on the EMU depth chart. Wide receiver Duan Bracey, tackle Brian Guimon and tailback Darren Matthews may see time on offense. Defensive backs Blake Smith and Tyler Griffin will also play.
And then there is true freshman Jason Jones. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Jones came into camp as a defensive end, but has moved to offense and may challenge for the starting tight end job.
"He's going to play (at tight end) on Thursday," Genyk said of Jones. "He might not be the number one guy, but he'll play."
RB Roulette: The eternally-positive Genyk is excited about the prospects of building a strong running attack. But, he warns, it will include more talibacks than returning starter Anthony Sherrell. Genyk says Nelson Drew will likely start along with Sherrell in a two-back formation, and sophomore Pierre Walker will also be in the mix. Sherrell carried 126 times in EMU's final three games last season. Genyk briefly demoted Sherrell during fall camp, though the senior regained his starting role after improving his pass-blocking technique.