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EMU at Central Michigan preview

October 15, 2011

Since former Michigan State running backs coach Dan Enos took over the Central Michigan Chippewas in 2010, the team has struggled to find its identity, and to win games. Over the prior four years do-everything quarterback Dan LeFevour piled up nearly 16,000 total yards, becoming the only player in NCAA history to pass for more than 12,000 yards and run for more than 2,500 yards, and giving him the FBS record for touchdowns scored (150: 102 passing, 47 rushing, 1 receiving) and putting him second all-time in NCAA total offensive yards (15,853). On top of LeFevour’s skills, the 2009 team also featured three athletes who, one year later, were playing in the Super Bowl: wide receiver Antonio Holmes, linebacker Frank Zombo, and cornerback Josh Gordy. That 2009 team held opponents to 18.9 points per game  while scoring 33.9, for a fairly impressive 15-point average margin of victory, and could rightfully claim to be the best football team in Michigan that year, having defeated EMU, Western Michigan, and Michigan State, the latter of whom beat Michigan, and with the Detroit Lions going 2-14.

The LeFevour was done, along with Holmes, Zombo, and Gordy, and head coach Butch Jones took another former Brian Kelly job as head coach at Cincinnati. Enos, with no head coaching experience, and no coordinator experience at a major school, was hired to take over. Under Enos, the team has progressively gotten worse on each side of the ball, averaging 24.4 points scored against 26.0 allowed in 2010 and 21.2 scored against 33.5 allowed so far this year. They’re not awful in any particular category, but somehow it all adds up to a team that scores about as much as EMU but allows opponents to score 27% more.

In week 1, they defeated South Carolina State 21-6. The Bulldogs are 3-3, 3-1 in the MEAC, the same conference as Howard, (currently also 3-3 but 2-2 in the MEAC) but the teams haven’t played each other yet.

In week 2, they came out strong against Kentucky, and took a 13-6 lead to halftime before the Wildcats scored 21 unanswered second-half points to win 27-13. Chippewa fans were excited to see their team competitive against an SEC team, but as I expected, Kentucky has turned out to have an absolutely terrible football team this year. If we’re looking at the overall AQ picture, they’re better than Minnesota, but probably not by that much.

In week 3, Central Michigan traveled to Western Michigan for the Victory Cannon game and the first leg of the Michigan MAC. The Chippewas are the two-time defending Michigan MAC champion, and had won five straight against the Broncos, but got blown out in Kalamazoo this year, 44-14, and the game wasn’t even as close as that score might suggest; it easily could have been 51-7.

In week 4, the Chippewas visited East Lansing, where they won in 2009 and had a surprising 3-4 record against the Spartans. The Chippewas have gotten a lot worse over the last two years, and Michigan State has gotten a lot better, as the Spartans easily won, 45-7.

As panic was starting to set in among Central Michigan fans, the team returned home for a week 5 game against the defending MAC West Division champion Northern Illinois Huskies. My takeaway from this game, which the Chippewas won 48-41, is that Northern Illinois’ defense is absolutely broken — the Huskies allowed 45 points to Kansas, 49 to Wisconsin, 30 to Cal Poly, and 48 to Central Michigan — but I don’t think we really learned anything much about Central Michigan here.

Last week Central Michigan traveled to North Carolina State, where they lost 38-24 to a Wolfpack team that was previously winless in FBS games.

Although reasonably balanced by play calling, Central Michigan has done much more by air than by ground. Quarterback Ryan Radcliff has completed 53% of his passes for 1,397 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Leading receivers include Cody Wilson (26 catches for 281 yards), Jerry Harris (18 catches for 216 yards), and Titus Davis (6 catches for 218 yards, a ridiculous 36.3 yards per catch average). Paris Cotton is the leading rusher with 40 carries for 294 yards, though more than a fourth of those yards came on a single run late in the game against North Carolina State. Cotton ran all over EMU last year, carrying 21 times for 209 yards (9.95 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, so he will be a good test for EMU’s improved rush defense. Tim Phillips and Zurlon Tipton also have a lot of carries, but those were earlier in the year when Cotton was recovering from an injury.

Fortunately for EMU, the Central Michigan defense is banged up. Senior defensive tackle John Williams is done for the season with a knee injury, and senior linebacker Mike Petrucci and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Leterrius Walton will also sit out with lingering injuries. Meanwhile, most of EMU’s injured players should play, with Bridger Buche, Corey Watman, and Javonti Greene expected to return. This suggests that the Eagles may have a great running game against the Chippewas.

The Sagarin rankings have Central Michigan favored by 7.5 points, but I’m seeing betting lines favoring the Chippewas by 13 to 13.5 points; the gamblers haven’t forgotten what Central Michigan did in Rynearson Stadium last year. But EMU is much better than last year, and Central Michigan is worse. There’s one more factor that may give an advantage to EMU today, but we’ll talk about that later in the open thread post. Overall, I think this is a game that EMU can win, and win or lose, this may turn out to be the pivotal game in EMU’s 2011 season and possibly Ron English’s career.

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