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November 6, 2013

Ball State prep: CMU defense vs. BSU offense

Despite having an 18-day layoff between their last game, a 38-17 home loss to Northern Illinois, and their trip to Muncie, Ind. on Wednesday night, the Central Michigan Chippewas are a 21-point underdog heading into a mid-week, prime-time road contest against the 7-1 Ball State Cardinals.

CMU is 3-5 and 2-2 in conference play. Both of their losses are to MAC West perennial powers in NIU and Toledo. They have won two of their last three games, including an upset win at Ohio, a game in which the Chippewas were 18.5-point underdogs. Against NIU, CMU hung with the Huskies into the fourth quarter. They trailed by seven and had the ball early in the quarter, taking it past midfield before their drive stalled. NIU scored on the next drive, got a CMU three-and-out and scored another touchdown to seal the game. The story of the game was NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, who set the single-game FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 316 yards on 32 carries.

The Chippewas still have a great shot at bowl eligibility, even with a 3-5 record and a road game at Ball State, who received votes in both the AP and Coaches polls this week. After BSU, the remaining three teams on CMU's schedule are Western Michigan, UMass and Eastern Michigan, who are each 1-8 this season and have a combined two MAC wins. A win in Muncie would almost guarantee bowl eligibility and give the Chippewas a great opportunity to get to a bowl game for a second consecutive season.

Ball State is 7-1, with their lone defeat coming at a 6-3 North Texas team. The Cardinals won at Virginia, albeit against a Cavaliers team that is currently 2-6 and might finish the season with a 2-10 record and a vacancy at head coach. BSU's best win is against Toledo, who they beat 31-24 on September 28 in Muncie. That loss is the Rockets only conference loss. If Ball State beats CMU, they will head to NIU next Wednesday night to play an undefeated Huskies team for control of the division.

The Cardinals have the No. 30 total offense in the country and the No. 17 scoring offense. Their defense is ranked 83rd in total defense, but is 42nd in scoring defense, mainly because they are seventh in the country in takeaways-per-game. CMU is 107th in total offense and 112th in scoring offense, along with ranking No. 92 in total defense and No. 102 in scoring defense.


BSU Rush Offense vs. CMU Rush Defense

The last time we saw the CMU rushing defense, they were outmatched against the best offensive line in the conference and allowing Lynch to run for an obscene amount of yards for anybody, quarterback or otherwise. The Chippewas are ranked 102nd in the country in rush defense, but it's been feast or famine for CMU's run defense this season. In their three wins, they've only allowed 129 ypg. Over the whole season, that would put the Chippewas in the top 25 in the country in rush defense. However, in their losses, they have given up 258 ypg, which would be third-to-last in the country this season. In their two MAC wins, CMU has only allowed 115 ypg on the game, but have allowed 344.5 rushing ypg in their two losses.

Ball State is a passing offense, only running the ball 45.6 percent of their plays, 107th in the country, so their No. 92 national ranking in rush offense (eighth in the MAC) shouldn't be a surprise. They do have a decent yard-per-carry average, with 4.4 ypc. Junior Jahwan Edwards has about 50 percent of the carries, redshirt sophomore Horactio Banks has roughly 35 percent and true freshman Teddy Williamson gets the other 15 percent. Edwards is the power back at 5-foot-10, 219 pounds. He has 127 carries for 659 yards and 12 touchdowns in seven games. Edwards is eighth in the conference in rushing ypg and was on the All-MAC third team in 2012. Banks and Williamson are the 'lightning' to Edwards 'thunder'. Banks is 5-foot-10, 184 pounds and Williamson is 5-foot-9 and 171 pounds. Banks has 452 yards and six touchdowns on 84 carries in eight games. Keith Wenning has some mobility, but don't expect an extensive quarterback run game.

BSU is averaging 151.8 rushing ypg in MAC play, but three of their games have been against three of the four worst rush defenses in the conference (Kent State, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan). They've had two games against respectable run defenses: Toledo at home and Akron on the road. Against Toledo, they ran for 128 yards on 36 carries, an average of 3.5 ypc, and against Akron, they had 157 yards on 37 carries, a 4.2 ypc average.

The Cardinals offensive line is solid, but it's anywhere near the level of Northern Illinois. NIU came in with a combined 97 career starts. Ball State has 74, but 35 of those come from two-time All-MAC senior guard Jordan Hansel, who is a mountain at 6-foot-4, 326 pounds. CMU tackles Leterrius Walton and Matt Losiniecki will have their hands full dealing with Hansel. Fifth-year senior tackle Matthew Page is also having an All-MAC season. The BSU line has good size, with the same average size as the CMU offensive line: 6-foot-4, 304 pounds. The average Chippewa starting defensive lineman is 6-foot-3, 273 pounds. As usual, their biggest job in the run game will be to keep blockers off linebackers Justin Cherocci and Shamari Benton, who both have 84 tackles this season and are tied for 12th in the country in tackles-per-game.

BSU Pass Offense vs. CMU Pass Defense

Edwards can be trouble for defenses, but where Ball State really kills opposing defenses is in the passing game, with All-MAC talent at quarterback, wide receiver and tight end. The Cardinals passing attack starts with senior quarterback Keith Wenning, who will make his 43rd career start on Wednesday night. Wenning was on the All-MAC second team last year and is on a bunch of award watch lists this season. He owns almost every career passing record at Ball State and is three touchdowns from breaking Nate Davis' career record for touchdown passes. Wenning had a 24-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio, with 3,095 passing yards, in 12 games last season. This year, he already has 2,865 yards and 23 touchdown passes in nine games, with only five interceptions. If it wasn't for Lynch, Wenning would likely be headed for a spot on the All-MAC first team.

Junior Willie Snead was on the All-MAC first team last fall and is having an All-MAC first team type of season again in 2013. Last year, he had 89 catches for 1,148 yards and nine touchdowns. This season, he has 65 catches for 1,057 yards and 10 touchdowns in just nine games. Snead is leading the MAC in receptions-per-game and receiving touchdowns. He is also averaging 117.4 receiving ypg and is the only player in the conference with at least 100 receiving ypg. Snead has become a bigger deep threat this season, with his yards-per-catch average jumping 3.4 ypc. If he stays healthy, he will break the Ball State single-season record for receiving yards and touchdowns.

The scary thing about Ball State is that they have other all-conference weapons in receivers Jordan Williams and Jamill Smith, and tight end Zane Fakes. Williams, who is 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds, isn't listed as a starter, but he started the last four games and is second for Ball State in receptions (56), receiving yards (792) and receiving touchdowns (seven). He is fourth in the conference in receptions-per-game and is fifth in receiving ypg. Williams is on his way to a spot on the All-MAC team. Smith, who is 5-foot-8, 140 pounds, is the starter at slot receiver and was on the All-MAC team in 2011 and 2012. He has 44 catches for 592 yards and four touchdowns. Smith is eighth in the conference in receptions-per-game and receiving ypg. Fakes was the All-MAC first team tight end last year, with 57 catches for 461 yards and five touchdowns. Fakes only has 23 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns this year. His production has slipped this season because of the emergence of Williams, but he is still an all-conference type of talent and will have to be accounted for in the passing game.

The Chippewas has had success at getting to the quarterback for most of the year, but they did not register a sack against NIU. CMU is still 35th in the country in sack percentage, getting to the quarterback on 6.9 percent of pass attempts. Ball State is excellent at keeping Wenning upright, allowing sacks on just 2.48 percent of their pass attempts, which is seventh in the nation. That is going to make difficult to create pressure, but they got four sacks against Ohio, who is eighth in the country in sack percentage allowed. For what it's worth, NIU is 12th in the country in sack percentage allowed. Starting defensive ends Jeremy Gainer and Louis Palmer each have two sacks. The rest of the defensive line has four sacks combined, but the Chippewas have been able to get pressure off blitzes. Cherocci has three sacks. Benton and free safety Avery Cunningham each have two.

Ball State is 31st in pass efficiency and 16th in passing offense. Wenning is 23rd in the country in pass efficiency. CMU is 52nd in passing yards allowed, but they are 102nd in pass efficiency defense. Wenning will be the fourth elite MAC quarterback that the Chippewas will see this season, after facing Lynch, Tyler Tettleton and Terrance Owens. The whole country knows what Lynch did on the ground, but he also completed 66 percent of his passes, although he only had a paltry 5.2 yards-per-attempt for 155 yards. He had one touchdown and one interception. Tettleton threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns, with 9.6 ypa, but he also threw two interceptions. Owens had the best day in the air against CMU, throwing for 139 yards on just 17 attempts in three quarters. That's 8.2 ypa. He had one touchdown and no interceptions.

The key for CMU is going to be how they defend Wenning and co. in the redzone and if they can force some turnovers. Against those three aforementioned quarterbacks, they only allowed four passing touchdowns and forced three interceptions. Wenning is going to get his yards. If the Chippewas can keep his touchdown-to-interception ratio close to 1-1 and force at least two turnovers, while keeping Edwards in check, they can keep the game close and give themselves a chance to win the game late.

Special Teams

After the first five field goals of his career, freshman kicker Ron Coluzzi has struggled over the last month, going 3-for-7 on field goal attempts in the last four games. He did his only field goal attempt against NIU from 38 yards. Redshirt junior Scott Secor has made 10 of his 14 field goal attempts. Two of his four misses were beyond 50 yards and only of his misses was inside of 40 yards. Secor was on Phil Steele's midseason All-MAC third team. Redshirt freshman Kyle Schmidt is the starting punter for the Cardinals. He has averaged 41.5 yards-per-punt this season. CMU senior punter Richie Hogan is averaging 43.5 ypp.

BSU has the edge in punt coverage. The Huskies are 64th in net punting and the Chippewas are 94th. CMU has the advantage on punt returns. The Chippewas are 78th in the country in punt returns, while the Cardinals are 118th. CMU is 44th in kickoff returns and BSU is 56th. Both teams have good returners. Ball State's Jamill Smith was on Phil Steele's midseason All-MAC first team as a kick returner. He will take both punt returns and kickoff returns for the Huskies. Titus Davis will return punts for CMU, with Courtney Williams and Jerry Harris taking kickoff returns. All three are threats to break a big return.

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