Fresh off their come from behind win against New Hampshire in their home opener, and with a new starting quarterback set to take the reins, the Central Michigan Chippewas travel out west to Las Vegas to take on UNLV in what is surely the marquee sporting event going on in Las Vegas that night. Honestly, I can't think of anything else going on in Vegas this weekend that would overshadow this match-up.
These two schools have met three times in history, and all three match-ups were played in a two year span. Each team won the game that was on their home field, and then they met again in the 1994 Las Vegas Bowl, which was obviously played on UNLV's home field, with the Rebels claiming a blowout win, and a 2-1 lead in the all-time series.
The Rebels come into this game in rough shape. Having been thoroughly trounced in their first two games, blowout losses to Minnesota and Arizona. In those two games the Rebels were outscored 109-36, and have given up 618 yards in rushing alone. Needless to say, they have some problems on defense. To give you an idea of how bad that is, their entire offense this year has gained 701 yards, total passing and rushing.
But CMU has hardly been the poster child for having a stout defense this year, giving up over 400 yards per game, including an average of 200 yards per game on the ground. The Chips' have forced five turnovers through their opening two games, a nice change from last season, compared to just one forced turnover this year for the Rebels.
But with both teams sporting weak defenses, there should be plenty of scoring come Saturday.
Which is good, because both teams have yet to hit their stride on offense this year either. UNLV has been solid on the ground, rushing for 175 yards a game. But the Rebels have struggled in the passing game, also averaging 175 yards per game, with four interceptions thrown in their opening two games. The big threat in the running game is Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, who despite having only eight carries this year, leads the team with 190 rushing yards, good for 23.8 yards per carry. I assume he's fast. Tim Cornette has seen the bulk of the carries, with 35 so far, good for 142 yards on the season. Nick Sherry is the starting quarterback for UNLV, and has struggled in the early going, completing passes at a rate around 57 percent, and tossing just three touchdowns to go with his four interceptions. Devante Davis is his big play threat, he's averaging over 16 yards a catch and has two touchdowns on the year.
For Central, things started to fall into place on offense in the second half against New Hampshire. The Chippewas figured out that Cooper Rush gave them the best chance at winning, and he responded by throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in his first college game. He'll make his first start this Saturday. With Rush opening up the passing game, it allowed Saylor Lavalli and the rushing attack to get going in the second half as well. After a first half that barely saw CMU get over 100 yards, the team rallied to finish the game with 437 yards of offense, and 24 second half points, which could be a sign of things to come against a weak UNLV defense. Titus Davis remains the player to watch for CMU, he's averaging over 26 yards per catch, and has two touchdowns so far.
Similar to last week against New Hampshire, this could be another MAC-style game for CMU. Suspect defenses, offense that have struggled early against big name teams, but still with big play threats, and two teams who need this win badly to either get their season turned around, or keep their hopes of a bowl game on track. This may not look like it because it's too less than great teams on paper, but this could be a fun end to the week of MAC football. Expect points, lots of points. Take the over on this one.
As for the final result, I think this is going to come right down to the wire like last weeks game. CMU is much better in the passing game than UNLV, and has done a great job of forcing turnovers early in the year. I think those turnovers will be the difference, and CMU takes a close one, something along the lines of 41-38.