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October 11, 2013

Ohio prep: CMU offense vs. Ohio defense

After a 21-9 win at the Miami RedHawks last weekend, Central Michigan is heading into what is likely their toughest two-game stretch of the season: a road game at the Ohio Bobcats and a home game against the Northern Illinois Huskies (on Homecoming). Ohio sits at 4-1, with their only loss coming in their opener on the road at the hands of Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals, who have been ranked in the top ten all season. Since that loss, head coach Frank Solich and the Bobcats have won four in a row, including wins over Marshall, who has a top-ten defense, and North Texas, who beat Ball State a week after falling at Ohio. The Bobcats are coming off a 43-3 win at Akron.

Against Miami, the Chippewas ran the ball well, racking up 184 yards on 41 attempts, but only beat the RedHawks by 12 because they only had 110 yards on 21 attempts, an average of 5.2 yards-per-attempt. CMU will have to have more production from their passing game if they want to get the upset in Athens.

CMU Rush Offense vs. Ohio Rush Defense

The Chippewas are ranked 103rd in the country in rushing offense, but that number is somewhat deceiving. In their two conference games, against Toledo and Miami, they have averaged 170 yards-per-game on the ground. CMU ran for 156 against Toledo and 184 at Miami. The only games that they have rushed for 100 yards were at Michigan and at N.C. State. Saylor Lavallii has emerged as a pretty good runner after the injury to All-MAC running back Zurlon Tipton. Lavallii rushed for 144 yards on 24 carries against Toledo and 151 yards on 25 carries at Miami. Redshirt freshman Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore could be emerging as the No. 2 back. The situation is still in flux, but Shoemaker-Gilmore ran for 50 yards on 10 carries against the RedHawks, after he picked up 63 yards on five carries at N.C. State.

Ohio has the No. 31 rushing defense in the country. After giving up 199 yards on the ground to Louisville, the Bobcats have only given up an average of 107.75 rushing ypg in the last four games. They are also 17th in the country in yard-per-carry, allowing opponents to gain just 3.1 ypc. Take that with a grain of salt though. None of the four teams they faced have great running offenses. North Texas is 107th in the country, Marshall is 59th, Austin Peay is 108th in FCS and Akron is 114th in the nation. Ohio runs a defense that will show 4-3 and 4-2-5 sets. Their best player up front is weakside linebacker Keith Moore, a fifth-year senior. Moore is an All-MAC talent, but he hasn't played much this year, finally returning the lineup last weekend at Akron. Starting middle linebacker Ben Russell, a sophomore, leads Ohio in tackles this season, and junior starting safety Josh Kristoff is second on the team in tackles. Juniors A.J. Grady and Nathan Carpenter split time at the hybrid strongside linebacker/strong safety spot.

The Bobcats have a relatively inexperienced defense line, with only 18 career starts, compared to 60 career starts for the CMU offensive line, and it's possible that the Chippewas could lean on that defensive line, which would keep the Ohio linebackers from making plays. It almost goes without saying that if CMU can't run the ball, they're probably not going to win and that won't change in this game. However, this is a matchup that the Chippewas can win. CMU probably needs 150-plus yards on the ground to keep this game competitive.

CMU Pass Offense vs. Ohio Pass Defense

Assuming the Chippewas can run the ball, the key player for the CMU offense is going to be redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Rush, who has struggled after lighting up New Hampshire in his debut. Against UNH, Rush was 19-of-32 for 326 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions, in 2 1/2 quarters. Since beating UNH, Rush has completed exactly 50 percent of his passes and averaged only 188.5 passing yards, with three touchdowns and eight interceptions. Those four teams (UNLV, Toledo, N.C. State and Miami) have varying levels of pass defense. UNLV is fifth in the country in pass efficiency defense and N.C. State is 47th, while Toledo is 84th and Miami is 109th. Against Miami, the Chippewas passed the ball 21 times, compared to 41 rushes. If that ratio continues going forward, there will be less pressure on Rush and it would also mean that CMU is competing in games. If Rush can return to the form that he showcased against UNH, he can still throw to arguably the best receiver in the conference, Titus Davis, who leads a talented receiving corps.

The Bobcats are 88th in pass efficiency defense. If not for Louisville and Marshall, that ranking would be a lot higher. Against Louisville (third in pass efficiency), Ohio gave up 416 passing yards and against Marshall (47th in pass efficiency), they gave up 366 yards through the air. They held a solid North Texas passing attack to 195 yards. Austin Peay has one of the worst offenses in FCS and only threw for 143 yards against the Bobcats, while Akron is 85th in the nation in pass efficiency and only threw for 101 yards.

The most talented player in Ohio's secondary is sixth-year senior cornerback Travis Carrie, who was on the All-MAC second team in 2011, before missing all of 2012 because of a preseason injury. Carrie was also on Phil Steele's All-MAC second team in 2010. He will likely cover Davis in what will be one of the best wide receiver-cornerback matchups of the season in the MAC. The other starting cornerback is Devin Bass, who is listed at 5-foot-9. None of the corners for Ohio are very big, which could bode well for CMU's bigger receivers if Rush can get comfortable in the pocket. That could be a problem, as Ohio has been very good at getting to the quarterback, ranked 11th in the country in sack percentage, while the Chippewas are 96th in sack percentage allowed. The Bobcats will blitz their linebackers. Three of Ohio's eight sacks this season are from linebackers, including two by Russell.

As in every game, turnovers are crucial. CMU is 110th in the country in turnover margin and Ohio is seventh in turnover margin. The Chippewas have the weapons on the outside to move the ball on Ohio, but Rush has to be comfortable in the pocket and not turn the ball over, which might be a tall order.

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