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November 15, 2013

WMU prep: CMU defense vs. WMU offense

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.

As much as Western Michigan's defense has struggled this year, their offense has been worse. They come in ranked 110th in total offense and 115th in scoring offense. They've only cracked 400 yards in a game twice this season, against FCS Nicholls State and last week at Eastern Michigan. They haven't had that many truly awful performances though. They've only had one MAC game with less than 300 yards: against Buffalo on October 12. WMU is 115th in scoring offense, averaging 17 ppg. Their turnover margin doesn't help either. The Broncos are minus-11 in turnover margin this season and have 24 turnovers in 10 games. They are 113th in the country in giveaways-per-game. WMU is also 120th in third down conversion percentage, converting just 28.4 percent of their third downs. The Broncos will face a struggling CMU defense, ranked 99th in total defense and 102nd in scoring defense. The Chippewas' last two games haven't helped. Against the best two offenses in the conference, Northern Illinois and Ball State, they have given up an average of 570.5 yards-per-game.


WMU Rush Offense vs. CMU Rush Defense

The Broncos run game goes through two players, almost exclusively. Those two are senior running backs Dareyon Chance and Brian Fields. Fields has 128 carries for 508 yards and five touchdowns. Chance, who is listed as the starter, has 124 carries for 565 yards and one touchdown. The No. 3 back is senior Antoin Scriven, who only has six carries for 32 yards in six games this season. Neither Chance nor Fields are big backs. Chance is the definition of a scat back, checking in at 5-foot-5 and 161 pounds. Field still isn't huge, but he's a little bigger at 5-foot-8 and 196 pounds. As you might imagine, the Broncos struggle to run the ball near the goal line, with only six rushing touchdowns on the season.

Western Michigan has had four games this season where they rushed for less than 100 yards, with sacks removed from the rushing total. The low point was against Buffalo, when Chance and Fields combined for 72 yards on 16 rush attempts. They have raised their average in the three games since, including rushing for 164 yards against Ball State. However, that is due in part to facing a couple of putrid run defenses: Ball State (No. 99 in the country), UMass (No. 116) and EMU (No. 119). CMU is ranked 106th in the nation in rush defense, but similar to the Chippewa offense, it's been feast or famine for this group. In their wins, CMU has held their opponents to 129.3 rushing ypg. However, in Chippewa losses, their opponents have run for 257 ypg.

Bronco quarterbacks have actually given this run game a little bit of production on the ground this season. After removing sacks, Tyler VanTubbergen and Zach Terrell have rushed for 128 yards on 34 carries this season. They're certainly not going do what Jordan Lynch did to the Chippewa defense, but they are another wrinkle that CMU will have to prepare for.

The WMU offensive line is anchored by sophomore left guard James Kristof, who could be headed for an All-MAC season. That group is relatively young, with 53 combined career starts, but only outweighs the CMU defensive line by an average of 20 pounds per lineman, which isn't a lot. All the CMU defensive line needs to do is keep blockers off linebackers Justin Cherocci and Shamari Benton, who could both be headed for spots on the All-MAC first team. The Chippewas have struggled against some good rushing attacks in their last few games, but has an opportunity to right themselves against what has been a mediocre WMU rushing offense.

WMU Pass Offense vs. CMU Pass Defense

Western Michigan passes considerably more than they run: 55.28 percent of their snaps this season have pass plays, which is 14th in the country. However, they are only 74th in passing yards, mainly because they are 115th in pass efficiency. That said, the Broncos have been considerably better since Terrell took over the starting job from VanTubbergen.

VanTubbergen exploded against CMU last year, completing 23 of his 33 pass attempts for 362 yards and four touchdowns, with only one interception. This season, he's had a brutal performance. You never really know what else is going on in a player's life, but it's safe to say that the coaching transition may have hit him the hardest, at least in terms of his on-field production. VanTubbergen had a solid year in 2012, completing 60.9 percent of his passes for 1,825 yards and 15 touchdowns, with only 11 interceptions, while starting just six games after taking over for Alex Carder. This season, VanTubbergen only has a 44.9 completion percentage and threw for just 906 yards in six games, with four touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His passer rating dropped from 130.2 last year to 83.8 this season.

Terrell played some against Michigan State and Iowa, and relieved VanTubbergen against Toledo. He has been the starting quarterback in the four games since the Toledo game. Terrell has completed 55.8 percent of his passes for 1,316 yards and eight touchdowns, with only seven interceptions. His passer rating is 120.5. Those are solid numbers for a freshman. Terrell has been very good the last two games, albeit against UMass (105th in pass efficiency defense) and EMU (122nd in pass efficiency defense), completing 62.7 percent of his passes, while averaging 311.5 ypg and throwing for five touchdowns and just one interception.

The Broncos biggest threat in their passing attack is true freshman Corey Davis, the younger brother of CMU All-MAC receiver Titus Davis. The younger Davis is likely to join his older brother as an All-MAC honoree at the end of the year. He's been spectacular in his first season in Kalamazoo, with 61 receptions for 873 yards and six touchdowns. He is third in the MAC in receiving ypg, behind his brother and Ball State's Willie Snead, and is also third in the conference in receptions-per-game. Of CMU's two starting cornerbacks, Brandon Greer is the bigger of the two, at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, and would likely have the best chance of matching up with Davis, who is 6-foot-2, 205 pounds.

WMU's other starting receivers are both sophomores. Kendrick Roberts has 240 yards and one touchdown on 14 catches, and slot receiver Timmy Keith has 214 yards on 19 catches. Tight ends Eric Boyden and Mario Rodriguez have combined for just 228 yards on 20 catches. Fifth-year senior Josh Schaffer will also get some targets and so will Fields out of the backfield. That said, Davis is the top dog in this passing attack. When Jaime Wilson returns next season, Davis may see a drop in targets, but for now, he's the guy that CMU has to worry about. Frankly, if the other Broncos pass catchers don't perform, the Chippewas don't need to stop Davis, they just need to contain him.

CMU is 79th in takeaways-per-game and could certainly take advantage of WMU's proclivity to turnovers. Free safety Avery Cunningham could be on his way to an all-conference selection to close out his Chippewa career and strong safety Kavon Frazier has shown flashes of greatness this season, with five pass breakups and three interceptions. The Chippewas have been good at getting to the quarterback this season, with sacks on 6.84 percent of opponents pass attempts, which is 35th in the country. WMU has also been good at protecting the quarterbacks, only allowing sacks on 3.82 percent of pass attempts, 21st in the nation.

Special Teams

CMU redshirt freshman kicker Ron Coluzzi has been up and down this fall. Coluzzi made his first five field goal attempts, then missed four of his next seven attempts, but was 1-for-1 against NIU and Ball State. For the year, he is 9-for-13, but has only attempted one field goal beyond 40 yards. WMU sophomore kicker Andrew Haldeman has been very good, hitting 13 of his 14 field goal attempts, including all three of his attempts from 40-plus yards. CMU senior punter Richie Hogan is averaging 44.0 yards-per-punt, which is second in the conference and 14th in the country. WMU sophomore punter J. Schroeder has gotten plenty of opportunities this year, with 67 punts, among the most in the nation, and is averaging just 39.6 ypp.

The Chippewas have the edge in punt coverage. They are 90th in net punting and WMU is 115th. The Broncos have been better in punt returns, ranking 63rd in the country, while CMU is ranked 82nd. The Chippewas are 52nd in kickoff returns and WMU is 98th. Titus Davis is expected to handle punt returns for CMU, while Courtney Williams and Jerry Harris take kickoff returns[/db]. Chance is both the punt returner and kickoff returner for the Broncos.

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