After a disappointing start to the season with three consecutive losses, the Central Michigan Chippewas hope to get their first win of the season at home against FCS Maine. The Black Bears, who are ranked 13/16 in the polls, are fresh off of a 31-28 upset of Western Kentucky so they are used to playing the spoiler.
In the contest against WKU, Maine had some success on the ground with Jo Fitzpatrick and Ramo Jefferson accounting for 142 yards while quarterback Chris Ferguson made big plays in the passing game with 185 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 completions. The offense came up big when it mattered as it scored 10 points off of two red zone trips.
However, the story of the game was the Black Bears defense, which held the Hilltoppers to 42 yards rushing, 3-16 on third down, 0-2 on fourth down, and didn’t have a single possession in the red zone. Ster Sheffield was everywhere for the unit as he had 12 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Their special teams played good enough to win as David Gelb pinned the WKU offense inside the 20-yard line on four occasions in the game.
Meanwhile, the Chippewas are hoping a quarterback change will turn their season around as Tommy Lazzaro will get the nod over Tony Poljan this week. In what limited time he has seen this season, Lazzaro has been efficient as he has gone 13-22 for 128 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He also brings 55 rushing yards to the table for an offense that is looking for some sort of identity in 2018.
Things have not gone much better on defense as it has allowed 231.7 rushing yards per game this season. However, it has held teams to five yards per pass attempt and has forced three interceptions so it is not all gloom and doom for CMU. Nathan Brisson-Fast is an emerging star for the Chips as he already has three sacks on the season.
Special teams have been an adventure for the Chippewas in 2018. Punter Jack Sheldon has recorded a 64-yard punt and has pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line three times, but he also has a touchback and blocked punt on the season. Additionally, CMU has missed a field goal from under 30-yards away and only has three touchbacks on 11 kickoff attempts. However, Kobe Lewis has the potential to flip the field on kickoff return as he already has a long return of 30 yards this season.
If Central Michigan can get something going on offense early in the game Saturday, this will be a game where they can coast to victory. Unless someone unexpected steps up in the running game, Lazzaro will have to carry this offense and make things happen (which he’s more than capable of doing). The defense of the Chips should have a field day against such an inefficient passing game if it can keep the rushing attack of the Black Bears under control. Special teams miscues by the Chippewas could help keep Maine in the game since the road team is pretty sound in that department. 38-20 CMU with the Chips pulling away late.