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November 15, 2013

WMU prep: CMU offense vs. WMU defense

Central Michigan vs. Western Michigan. As cliché as it sounds, you can throw the records out when these two teams get together. Both teams have had seasons that have fallen below expectations. CMU is 3-6, partly due to a tough schedule and injuries to their starting quarterback, running back and left tackle. WMU is 1-9 in head coach P.J. Fleck's first season. As much as the Broncos have struggled, a win over CMU would give the new coaching staff a lot of good will heading into the offseason. For CMU, a win all but guarantees bowl eligibility, with their remaining games in Mount Pleasant against UMass and Eastern Michigan, who have a combined record of 3-16. However, a loss would eliminate the possibility of the Chippewas playing in a bowl for a second consecutive year and would give CMU their third straight loss to WMU. Even with the struggles that these two squads have had this year, there's still plenty on the line for both teams in Kalamazoo on Saturday.


CMU Rush Offense vs. WMU Rush Defense

The success of the CMU rush offense has been a huge key to the Chippewas winning or losing in 2013. In CMU wins, they have averaged 165.3 rushing yards-per-game. In their losses, they have only rushed for 102.8 ypg. Fortunately for the Chippewas, WMU is ranked 118th in the country in rush defense, allowing 245.7 ypg. The Broncos have allowed 200-plus yards in seven of their 10 games. Their two best performances have come in their last three games, with the exception of their last game, when they gave up 267 rushing yards to Eastern Michigan, who is ranked 71st in rush offense.

Senior running back Zurlon Tipton, an All-MAC running back made his return to the field last weekend after missing the majority of the first eight games of the season. His return gives CMU three good running backs, joining sophomore Saylor Lavallii and redshirt freshman Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore. Lavallii is still listed as the No. 1 running back and has certainly earned it, rushing for 774 yards and five touchdowns on 163 carries this season. Tipton had one of the best seasons in CMU history in 2012, rushing for 1,497 yards and 19 touchdowns on 252 carries, and Shoemaker-Gilmore has been a solid No. 2 running back for the past month.

This is a matchup that swings drastically in favor of the Chippewas. It's been feast or famine for this rush offense. When CMU runs the ball well, their offense can operate like it's designed, but when they struggle, they have one of the worst statistical rush offenses in the country. They have a huge size advantage in this game. The CMU offensive line outweighs the WMU defensive line by an average of 56 pounds per lineman. The biggest threats to the Chippewa rush attack: senior defensive tackle Travonte Boles, who has played like an all-conference lineman this year, junior free safety Justin Currie, an all-conference talent who is sixth in the MAC in tackles and senior WILL linebacker Mike Jones, ninth in the conference in tackles. Senior SAM linebacker Johnnie Simon was on the All-MAC third team last year playing a rover position in a 4-2-5 defense and senior linebacker Kyle Lark is listed on Phil Steele's mid-season All-MAC third team, but is listed as the backup MIKE linebacker for this weekend's game.

CMU Pass Offense vs. WMU Pass Defense

I've put Cooper Rush's completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio from both wins and losses in the previews for a while, not so much to put the wins and losses on Rush, but to highlight the 'feast or famine' nature of the Chippewas offense. Here are the updated stats:

Rush in CMU wins: 61.7 completion percentage, 6 TDs, 2 INTs

Rush in CMU losses: 52.1 completion percentage, 5 TDs, 8 INTs

Rush has two-time All-MAC receiver Titus Davis to throw to and Davis is having his best season yet. He is coming off a game against Ball State where he had nine catches for 187 yards and a touchdown. Davis already has 814 yards and six touchdowns, even though he's played in just eight games. Barring injury, he will finish above 1,000 receiving yards and will push for double-digit touchdown catches. He's on his way to a spot on the All-MAC first team. Davis is one of only two receivers in the conference averaging 100-plus receiving ypg and is 18th in the nation in receiving ypg at 101.8 ypg. Andrew Flory and Courtney Williams have shown flashes of greatness this season, but are averaging just 35.3 ypg and 24.1 ypg. The Chippewa tight ends have been inconsistent in the pass game as well. After catching six balls for 91 yards against Ohio, they didn't have a single catch against NIU. Connor Odykirk and Deon Butler had three combined catches for 41 yards against BSU.

WMU does have some playmakers in the secondary. Along with Currie and Simon, they have a good pair of cornerbacks. Sophomore Ronald Zamort is having an all-conference season, with 16 pass breakups, and junior Donad Celiscar has all-conference talent. Celiscar has nine pass breakups and leads WMU in interceptions with three. Teams don't throw on the Broncos much because they've had so much success running the ball. WMU is 10th in the country in passing yards allowed. However, they are 65th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Whether Zamort or Celiscar draw the assignment of covering Davis, they'll have their hands full and will likely get safety help from Currie and senior Demetrius Pettway.

The Chippewas haven't done a great job protecting the quarterback this year, allowing sacks on 7.78 percent of pass attempts, which is 96th in the country. However, WMU has struggled even more at putting pressure on the quarterback, getting sacks on only 3.89 percent of pass attempts, 106th in the country. Only six Broncos have registered a sack this year, and one of those six, Mike Jones, only has 0.5 sacks. Boles is the only player with more than one sacks. Boles is the only WMU player with more than one sack in 2012 and he only has 1.5 sacks. WMU is 111th in the country in interceptions-per-pass attempt and haven't been great at forcing turnovers. Rush should have time in the pocket and it should be easier to avoid turnovers against this defense than it was against the last few defenses that the Chippewas have faced.

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