By all accounts, the Central Michigan vs. Michigan State series has taken upon rivalry status, even if the Spartan faithful is reluctant to admit as much. The fact remains that CMU is 3-5 overall against Michigan State, and they are the only in-state team to beat MSU since 2008.
But the series will take a dramatic turn this Saturday, as for the first time in history the Spartans will travel up Highway US-127 to play the Chippewas at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, in what is being billed as the biggest home game in CMU history. A record crowd is expected, and the Spartans will likely walk into the stadium ranked in the Top 10 in the nation. But this will also be the toughest MSU team that CMU has faced, having come off back to back 11-win seasons and being mentioned as a dark horse national title contender this season. With that in mind, we take a look at this Saturday's upcoming matchup:
2011: Michigan State 45, Central Michigan 7
Recap - Truth be told, this one could have been much, much worse. Michigan State held a 31-0 lead at halftime and accumulated 497 yards of total offense. On the other side of the ball, the Chippewas racked up a measly 117 yards of offense, and threw four interceptions on top of it. This was an ugly game for CMU, and a definite precursor to a 3-9 season. As an added bonus for Spartan fans who saw their passing game struggle against Boise State: Quarterback Andrew Maxwell completed 7 of 8 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown in relief duty. All in all, a game that many Chippewa fans would like to forget happened.
2009: Central Michigan 29, Michigan State 27
Recap - To follow up on the 2011 matchup is a game many Spartan fans would like to forget. A star studded CMU team came to play against the Spartans, and used some late game magic to stun them in East Lansing. The Chippewas outgained the Spartans 418-316 on offense, and were sparked by senior QB Dan LeFevour's 328 yards passing and three touchdowns. Many MSU fans will point to this game as a particular disappointing one, not only was a loss to a Michigan MAC program, but it also signified the first step back (one of few) in the Mark Dantonio era. But the fact was this: CMU had a better team in 2009. Looking back they had an explosive playmaker in WR Antonio Brown who would have been the best WR in the Big Ten that year, and numerous NFL caliber players in LB Nick Bellore, DE Frank Zombo, CB Josh Gordy and LeFevour. They were also experienced, having built a foundation, and they took advantage of the MSU quarterback shuffle.
The first home game in the series for CMU may also be the toughest to win, that much is certain. Michigan State opened the week as a 21 point favorite, and that might be only because the Spartan passing offense struggled against Boise State. For the Chippewas to be competitive and have a chance to win, they will need to capitalize on every break and take advantage of the home atmosphere. With that in mind, we take a look at the means CMU could pull out a stunner on Saturday.
1) Jump On Them Early
I truly believe to best case scenario is for CMU to get an early lead. This would allow the team to gain some confidence and play loose, and also makes the Spartans go to the air a little more. After his performance in week one, CMU should be putting as much pressure on Andrew Maxwell as possible and see if he has the ability to beat them in the passing game. And any play where Leveon Bell isn't running his 245 pound body at the Chippewas defense has to be looked at as a positive.
2) Feed Off The Atmosphere
This will be an electric atmosphere, and a hostile one at that. Additional seating was added and over 35,000 fans are expected for this game. CMU will need to feed off the energy and use every bit of home field advantage. The students will come out in force, and the student section at Kelly/Shorts is unique in that it wraps around an entire end of the stadium. When the stadium is full, it is among the hardest places to play due to the proximity of fans. Despite their allotment of tickets, this will still be a very hostile atmosphere for MSU, and they should not underestimate it just because it's a MAC stadium.
3) Establish a Running Game
Easier said than done, as MSU brings with it one of the stingiest defenses in the entire country. Boise State struggled to run the ball against MSU last week, and it was a major detriment to their offense. The Chippewas will need to gain modest yards to at least put them in manageable downs. Too may third and longs will let the MSU defense pin their ears back, and that will lead to sacks and turnovers.
4) Hit on Your Big Plays
MSU stifled Boise State for much of the game this past week, but the Broncos also missed on a few big plays downfield. The Chippewas will need to take a few chances, and they won't be easy to come by against a touch secondary, but they need to hit on them when they do take shots down field.
5) Run Defense, Run Defense, Run Defense
Defensively the Chippewas must find a way to contain the Spartans run game. Despite being walloped last year, CMU managed to hold MSU to 4.2 YPC and held their own at times. This year the Spartans have a more seasoned offensive line, and a pretty talented running back who just ran for over 200 yards. Consequently the Chippewas struggled at times with the option attack against Southeast Missouri State last week, and they will need to shore that up to have a chance. CMU's worst nightmare is that MSU will just be able to run at will, and that will make for an easy win for the Green and White.
Stick to ChippewaCountry for the latest in CMU athletics and recruiting