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.
CMU Rush Offense vs. BSU Rush DefenseThe Chippewas are only ranked 102nd in the country in rushing offense, mainly because of the struggles they had running the ball in their non-conference games. In MAC play, CMU was averaging 182.67 rushing ypg before the NIU game, including rushing for 208 yards in the win at Ohio. Against the Huskies, the Chippewas only ran for 75 yards. Sophomore Saylor Lavallii has mostly been a revelation since stepping in for Zurlon Tipton, averaging 94.8 rushing ypg, seventh in the MAC. That's after only rushing for 53 yards on 16 carries against NIU. In conference play, Lavallii is averaging 133 ypg. Redshirt freshman Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore has taken hold of the No. 2 running back spot, getting double-digit carries in each of the last three games.
Ball State is 103rd in the country in rush defense, allowing 206.9 ypg. That number is due in part to the 363 yards they gave up to Army, who has the top rushing offense in the country, but the Cardinals have given up more than 200 ypg in six of their nine games. The only team that the Cardinals have held under 100 yards in a game is Illinois State, 89th in FCS in rush offense, who rushed for 74 yards in the season opener. In MAC play, the Cardinals are giving up an average of 191.6 rushing ypg. BSU's last game was on October 26 against Akron, who has the 101st rushing offense in the country, but ran for 226 yards on 44 carries. Kent State has the 75th rush offense and ran for 223 yards on 46 carries. Eastern Michigan has the 83rd-ranked run offense and rushed for 204 yards on 44 carries. Even Western Michigan, ranked No. 109 nationally in rush offense, ran for 164 yards on 26 carries. The only game where a team didn't have an awesome performance on the ground was against Toledo, when they held the Rockets, ranked 15th in rush offense, to 141 yards on 29 carries. That's still not great, but it's their best performance of the season.
The top tacklers for the Cardinals are linebackers Ben Ingle and Zack Ryan, along with safeties Brian Jones and Dae'Shaun Hurley. Ingle is likely headed for an All-MAC season. However, the biggest difference makers are likely senior defensive tackle Nathan Ollie, who is sixth in the conference in tackles for loss, and senior defensive end Jonathan Newsome. Ollie is a two-time All-MAC performer. Newsome was on the 2012 All-MAC second team and is tied for 12th in the conference in tackles for loss.
The average Ball State defensive lineman is 6-foot-2, 271 pounds and the average CMU offensive lineman is 6-foot-4, 303 pounds, so the Chippewas will have a size advantage. The biggest key will likely be controlling the playmaking ability of Ollie and Newsome on the right side of the line. In the two matchups between Dan Enos and Pete Lembo, the Chippewas have found success with their running game. Last season, Tipton and Lavallii ran for 128 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries against Ball State and in 2011, the CMU running backs rushed for 142 yards on 27 carries. All signs point to the Chippewas being able to run the ball very well against the Cardinals. They will have to if they want to pull off the upset. Here's a tidbit: CMU has averaged 165.3 ypg on 37.7 carries in their wins and 100.8 ypg on 31.6 carries in their losses.
CMU Pass Offense vs. BSU Pass DefenseBefore the NIU game, we looked at the stark difference in the way that redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Rush has played in wins and how he has played in losses. Here's the updated numbers:
Rush in CMU wins: 61.7 completion percentage, 6 TDs, 2 INTs
Rush in CMU losses: 49.6 completion percentage, 5 TDs, 8 INTs
Rush certainly played better against the Huskies, with 271 yards (8.5 ypa) and two touchdowns and only one interception, but he still completed just 50 percent of his passes. It's been established that when this offense gets good play from the quarterback position, CMU can play with almost any team in the conference. The biggest challenge will face on Wednesday is a defense that is seventh in the country in takeaways-per-game and has made 10 interceptions in nine games. The Cardinals are 23rd in pass efficiency defense and 33rd in passing yards allowed, giving up just 215.6. As bad as their rush defense is, the Cardinals have the best pass defense in the conference. The only team that is close is Northern Illinois. Ball State has only given up more than 250 passing yards in a game three times this season and the most they've surrendered in one game was 282 to Illinois State in the opener.
The Chippewas will likely have their full complement of receivers in this game, with the obvious exception of Jesse Kroll. With the long break, junior All-MAC receiver Titus Davis should be as close to 100 percent as he's going to be this season. Davis had a solid day against BSU last year, going for 75 yards on five catches. Against NIU, the Chippewas had a lot of success going to Davis and Andrew Flory down the field early in the game, but when NIU switched to a Cover-2, the offense struggled to move the ball. CMU needs other guys to make plays in the passing game. Against Ohio, 10 guys caught a pass. Something to keep an eye on is the production of the tight ends. In the last two games against BSU, Chippewa tight ends have 15 catches for 275 yards and three touchdowns. Against Ohio, CMU tight ends had six catches for 91 yards and one touchdown, but did not have a single reception against NIU. When the tight ends are involved, this offense goes to another level.
Junior Eric Patterson and senior Jeffery Garrett are a formidable pair of cornerbacks for Ball State. Patterson on the All-MAC third team last year and Garrett's four interceptions are fourth in the league. Even their backup corners, freshmen Darius Conoway and Tyree Holder have played well. Jones has six pass deflections from his strong safety spot and is on his way to an All-MAC season.
Although the CMU offensive line has been excellent in the run game, they have struggled to keep Rush upright, allowing sacks on 7.66 percent of pass attempts, which is 97th in the country. The Cardinals have struggled to get to the quarterback, getting sacks on 4.67 percent of pass attempts, 82nd in the country. Newsome has been their best pass rusher, with four sacks. Their other defensive end, Nick Miles, has three sacks and Ollie has two. The only other players with multiple sacks are Ryan and fellow linebacker [deb]Kenneth Lee[/db].
It should be no surprise that another significant difference in CMU wins and losses has been turnover margin. The Chippewas are plus-three in turnover margin in their wins and minus-six in their losses. Going against a team like Ball State, who is good at moving the ball and creating turnovers on defense, taking care of the ball will be at a premium.
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