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2017 Week 4 Preview: Miami (OH) Redhawks at Central Michigan Chippewas

One of the first MAC contests of the year will be a fight through the air.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Miami (Ohio) Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Mid-American Conference action kicks off this week, with the Central Michigan Chippewas (2-1) hosting the Miami-Ohio RedHawks (1-2). In the last ten years, the Chippewas and RedHawks have met six times, with Central Michigan winning four of those games.

The only Miami that matters may have lost two games, but each loss was quite close. Miami almost came back to beat the Marshall Thundering Herd in week one, led by a Gus Ragland passing attack. Unfortunately, the RedHawks came up five points short against the Thundering Herd. In week two, Miami dominated Austin Peay with a mixed offense and tight defense. Last week, Miami missed the opportunity to beat the Cincinnati Bearcats. After failing to convert of a number of scoring attempts, Miami was eventually downed by an interception returned for a Cincinnati touchdown.

Miami runs a pro-style spread offense that offers a balance between runs and passes. It would be a fair bet to see Gus Ragland try to fire the ball past the Chippewa secondary, though. The RedHawks tend to struggle running the ball, averaging only 113 yards per game. Defensively, Miami is quite fearsome, allowing fewer than 300 yards per game on average.

The Chippewas started the season fired up, winning their first two games. Central Michigan gave the fans quite a scare against Rhode Island, winning in the third overtime, 30-27. Did we mention that the Chippewas recorded six interceptions in that game? Week two was a showdown against the Kansas Jayhawks from the Big-12 Conference. Apparently nobody told the Kansas secondary because Shane Morris’ arm helped blow the Jayhawks out of the sky. Last week was a different story, when the mighty Syracuse Orange ran through the Chippewas in a blowout victory.

Central Michigan’s Shane Morris commands a spread offense with four receivers and a running back. Morris has a number of excellent targets that will challenge the RedHawk secondary. The Chippewas may opt to minimize their run game in favor of such successful passing. Defensively, the Chippewas give up nearly 500 yards per game, with 295 of those yards per game from passing. The Chippewas also have the best secondary in terms of interceptions, earning nine on the year so far.

Players to Watch

Shane Morris, QB, CMU

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Syracuse
Shane Morris (#11) prepares to pass against the Syracuse Orange on Sep 16.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

As the primary quarterback of a pass-heavy team, of course Shane Morris will be interesting to watch. He is the man who put up 467 yards and five touchdowns against a Big-12 team. I mean, it was Kansas, but that is still a lot of yards. Morris has a golden set of receivers to throw to as well. Mark Chapman is Morris’ favorite target, with 20 receptions for 306 yards and three touchdowns. Although Shane Morris is a confident pocket passer, he still has the ability to scramble and get positive yards. Morris will be fun to watch as he tries to pick apart a very intelligent Miami defense.

Josh Cox, S, CMU

NCAA Football: Quick Lane Bowl-Central Michigan vs Minnesota
Josh Cox (#14) returning an interception against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 2015 Quick Lane Bowl.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Central Michigan may give up serious passing yardage, but every so often those passes get intercepted. Let me be more clear: Central Michigan intercepts a lot of passes. As of the first three weeks, the Chippewas have intercepted nine passes. Josh Cox came down with three of those. Even without the interceptions, Cox is a solid performer at defensive back. If I were a betting man, I would bet that Cox will come down with another one against pass-happy Miami.

Gus Ragland, QB, Miami

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Miami (Ohio)
Gus Ragland (#14) scanning for open receivers against the Cincinnati Bearcats on Sep 16.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Gus Ragland is a dynamic quarterback, even though he is less experienced than most. Ragland took the reigns mid-way through last year, helping the RedHawks turn their season completely around. Being in a leadership position suits Ragland, who has kept his team close behind or winning unexpectedly. Even though Miami has a stud wide receiver in James Gardner, Gus Ragland like to spread the ball around based on the defensive scheme. So far, Ragland has passed for six touchdowns, ran for one score, and has been intercepted only twice.

James Gardner, WR, Miami

St Petersburg Bowl - Mississippi State v Miami Ohio
James Gardner (#81) brings in a catch against Mississippi State for a touchdown during the 2016 St. Petersburg Bowl.
Photo by Joseph Garnett, Jr./Getty Images

The big playmaker of the offense is on the receiving end of Gus Ragland’s passes. James Gardner accounts for about one-third of Miami’s receiving yards. Standing at 6’4”, Gardner can leap above defenders to make those difficult catches look easy. With 228 receiving yards already, Gardner is on track for 1,000 receiving yards this year. Watch for James Gardner to get open and make some highlight catches against Central Michigan.

Keys to the Game

CMU: Tighten up the passing defense.

Central Michigan has given up nearly 300 passing yards per game this year, and that needs to stop soon. Miami is a team that will make you pay through the air. The Chippewas have talent in the secondary, but they need to step up and prevent Miami from rolling over them. Chippewa defenders will look up toward seniors Amari Coleman and Josh Cox to make some big plays in the secondary.

Miami: Take advantage of the Chippewa defense.

Gus Ragland can easily pick apart a lax defense. Throwing smart passes will be Miami’s best friend in this game. Central Michigan has a tough run defense, so do not expect to see Alonzo Smith get much rushing yardage. Smith will be heavily involved in setting up play action to compliment the RedHawk passing attack. Even in the case of a Chippewa interception, Miami should keep at it if they want to succeed.

Game Notes

The game, which takes place Sep 23, will be televised on ESPN3. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 PM EST at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

This will be the 28th game between Central Michigan and Miami (OH). The series is tied 13-13-1. Last year was a 37-17 blowout win for Ragland’s RedHawks.


This game looks like it will be an aerial showdown, which is my favorite type of game. Passing yards will be plentiful. I expect to see the Chippewas go up big around halftime. Miami will try to come back but come up short on missed opportunities.

My prediction: Central Michigan 41, Miami (OH) 32