After a much needed win vs. Miami (Ohio), the Chippewas will once again board the bus and head south to Ohio as they take on the Ohio Bobcats. One of the MAC's most stable and successful programs over the past ten years, Ohio has rebounded from a tough opening week loss to Louisville to win four straight. The two teams last met in 2011 when Ohio used a 309-yard rushing effort to defeat the Chippewas in Mt. Pleasant 43-28.
Let's take a look at the Five Keys for Saturday's game.
1) Rush Reclamation
-This first key is so important, it could honestly take the place of all five. CMU redshirt-freshman QB Cooper Rush has struggled mightily since the second half of the UNLV game, and the Chippewas passing game has suffered. If you take away his first game against New Hampshire, Rush has completed just over 50% of his passes with eight interceptions and only three touchdowns. Ohio has defeated it's last two opponents (Austin Peay & Akron) by a combined score of 81-3, and a big part of that was the oppositions inability to move the ball in the air. If CMU is going to defeat Ohio on the road, they are going to need their young QB to play beyond his years and not turn the football over. If he struggles, it might be time to let Alex Niznak have another shot.
2) Battle in the Trenches
-It's no secret that Central Michigan likes to establish the run game in their current offense, and that is going to be one heck of a challenge on Saturday. Ohio brings the MAC's No. 1 ranked run defense, and it's even better when you take away the 199-yards they gave up to Louisville in their opener. It's going to be tough for the Chippewas to consistently run between the tackles, but they almost have to in order to take the pressure off Rush. While Ramadan Ahmeti and Connor Collins have began to settle in on the offensive line as injury replacements, this is a tough matchup for a CMU offensive line that is still developing continuity.
3) Battle in the Trenches 2
-As mentioned in the opener, Ohio gashed CMU for over 300-yards rushing in their last matchup, and they have a talented stable of running backs to compliment the dual-threat abilities of QB Tyler Tettleton. CMU is ranked No. 7 in the MAC in run defense, as teams are average over 189 yards on the ground. Looking at that stat a little closer, the Chippewas have given up an average of 213-yards per game in their four losses, and just 140-yards in their two wins. If they are going to hang in this game defensively, they will have to limit an Ohio rushing attack that is just starting to find its groove.
4) Trust in Titus
-The Chippewas most explosive playmaker is Junior wide receiver Titus Davis, and in last week's win over Miami (OH) he was basically a non-factor because of the QB struggles. Davis is averaging 17.9 yards per reception, and he has proven over his career that he can stretch defenses and make big plays. CMU needs to find a way to get him the ball, whether that is on jet sweeps or quick screens. And then they have to test the Ohio secondary with some deep balls and let your best player make a play on the ball in the air.
5) Avoid the Early Knockout
-This is going to be a tough game in a hostile road environment. Ohio has really hit their stride the past few weeks, and the sting from their Louisville loss is fading as they have been dominant the past two games. With the exception of the UNLV game, CMU has been outscored if the first half of their other three losses by a combined score of 91-13. With a young QB, they are not built to come back in games. They will need to score early, keep themselves within striking range and build up the confidence of Rush behind center. If they get down early, it could be a long bus ride home.
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