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Game 3 preview: Central Michigan Chippewas

September 16, 2010

So here we are, rivalry week!

EMU’s football team hasn’t really been good enough over the last 15 years to have many meaningful rivalries, but this is one that’s survived and even grown. The teams first faced off in 1902, with Central winning 10-0, and have met every year since 1972. In recent years the Eagles have won eight of the last seventeen, and four of the last six. EMU’s last win — against any team — came against Central Michigan, to end the 2008 season and Jeff Genyk’s career as an Eagle.

This is also one of only two games EMU plays with a trophy — the same trophy for both games — on the line. Saturday’s game marks the first leg in awarding the Michigan MAC Trophy, which goes to the winner of round robin play among EMU, Central Michigan, and Western Michigan. (If all three teams finish 1-1, the previous winner, Central Michigan, will retain the trophy, which is how EMU held it in 2008.)

Record: (2009) 12-2 (8-0 MAC); (2010) 1-1 (0-1 MAC)

Recent games: Central Michigan opened their 2010 season with a 33-0 win over Hampton, which as far as I’m concerned counts for zilch since Hampton is an FCS team. Last week the Chippewas lost an offensively challenged game at Temple, falling 13-10.

Quality wins: None yet this year. Last year they stunned Michigan State 29-27 in Spartan Stadium, went 8-0 in the MAC regular season, defeated MAC East Division champion Ohio for the MAC championship, and then beat Sun Belt Conference champion Troy 44-41 in double overtime in the GMAC Bowl, ending the season ranked #23 in the AP poll.

Embarrassing losses: None this year or last year.

Last meeting: Central Michigan pounded EMU 56-8 in Mount Pleasant last October.

All-time series: Central Michigan leads 54-27-6. In Ypsilanti, Central Michigan lead 21-16-4. The teams first faced off in 1902, with Central winning 10-0, and have met every year since 1972. EMU dominated the series from 1926 to 1936, winning nine of eleven games during that span, but after that the Hurons struggled for decades, winning just five games in 56 years from 1937 through 1992. In recent years the Eagles have done better, winning eight of the last seventeen, and four of the last six. EMU’s last win — against any team — came against Central Michigan, to end the 2008 season and Jeff Genyk’s career as an Eagle.

Coach: With the departure of Butch Jones, Dan Enos stepped in. This is Enos’ first head coaching position; he was previously the offensive coordinator at Lakeland College (1994-95), Northern Michigan (1996), Southwest Missouri State (1999), and North Dakota State (2003), and most recently served as the quarterbacks and running backs coach at Michigan State, his alma mater.

Offense: With the loss of five starters, including quarterback Dan LeFevour and wide receiver Antonio Brown, a change in the offense was inevitable, and the Chippewas’ offense has delivered, turning up lackluster performances in their first two games. So far they are averaging just 21.5 points per game (less than EMU), and given that one game was against an FCS opponent and the other went into overtime, that’s a very low number. They also ran for just 1.3 yards per carry last week against Temple, and while they’ll probably double or triple that figure against EMU’s terrible run defense, it might not be quite enough. Their offense seems to rest mainly on the shoulders of wide receivers Kito Poblah and Cody Wilson, and whatever quarterback Ryan Radcliff (45 or 69 for 541 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions this season) can get them. Chippewa fans also have high hopes for running back Zurlon Tipton, who I brought up just because I like his given name.

Defense: Despite the loss of six starters from last year, the Central Michigan defense has been solid in their first two games, with the nation’s sixth fewest yards and points allowed. That may have nearly as much to do with opposing offenses as with the Chippewa defense, but the Eagles haven’t exactly been racking up yards on opponents. Dan Enos has said that senior Chippewa linebacker Nick Bellore, who leads all current FBS players with 395 career tackles, will probably be sufficiently recovered from an ankle sprain to get his 44th consecutive start.

Keys to watch: Offense. Neither offense is terribly strong this year, so the team that can get things going offensively will win.

Central Michigan online: Official site. Kyle Warber’s Fire Up Chips blog offers fairly thorough coverage of Central Michigan athletics.

Predictions: The betting lines I’ve seen suggest a 9-point Central Michigan win, which is not unreasonable, though I think it will be closer than that. In three of the last six matchups between these teams, the total score was over 90 points, including EMU’s 61-58 quadruple overtime win in 2004 and EMU’s 56-52 win in 2008. In the latter game, a Rynearson Stadium record crowd of 26,188 fans saw the teams run a whopping 174 plays for 1,171 total yards of offense and 15 touchdowns. Eagle quarterback Andy Schmitt set school records running 89 plays, 516 passing yards, and 554 total yards (all eclipsing records he had just set the week before), and Tyler Jones set a school record of his own by catching 23 passes.

Don’t expect to see anything like that this Saturday; I’ll be quite surprised if the combined scoring reaches 60. I’ll continue to be optimistic for one more week, and predict a close EMU win, 27-24.

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