Who would have thought before the season that this Week 8 matchup between the Central Michigan Chippewas (4-3, 2-1 MAC) and the Bowling Green Falcons (2-5, 1-1 MAC) would turn out to be one of the more fascinating matchups of the conference slate?
Well, it turns out it’s just that.
CMU is coming off a relatively convincing win against New Mexico State at home last week, and finds themselves 4-3 in a season where many (myself included) didn’t see the Chips finishing with more than four wins all season. The Jim McElwain experiment is well ahead of schedule at this point, as CMU makes its first trek to Doyt Perry Stadium in 10 years looking to claim bowl eligibility.
BGSU, meanwhile, claimed their second win of the season in stunning fashion, upsetting MAC preseason favorite (and blood rival) Toledo by several touchdowns en route to collecting the Battle of I-75 trophy. Prior to Saturday, their only other win was at home in Week 1 against Morgan State (FCS), with several blowouts to their name in the interim. They’re 2-1 at home so far in 2019, losing only to LA Tech.
Last season, BG defeated a hapless CMU squad on the road with an interim head coach by a final score of 24-13. Could we see a reversal this season?
When CMU has the ball
Central Michigan has been a team dependent on running the ball in recent weeks, and when you consider the personnel on the team, it’s not all that surprising Jim McElwain and his staff have undertaken that philosphy.
Jonathan Ward and Kobe Lewis have been easily the most effective one-two punch in the MAC, as they’ve virtually split starting snaps evenly and have torn apart defenses in recent weeks. Ward (531 yards, five touchdowns) and Lewis (491 yards, seven touchdowns) have combined for over 1,000 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on offense as of Week 7, even before taking into account receiving numbers.
Part of the circumstances around their usage rate can be atrributed to weather conditions at Kelly/Shorts the last two weeks, where winds whipped around 16 MPH for both contests, making passing a hard proposition. That said, possession of the ball and big plays are hallmarks of the offense and the offense which has been on display the last two weeks is exactly what CMU hopes to achieve.
Week 8 will see Quinten Dormady at the controls once again for CMU, as he was tested agaisnt a surprisingly stout NMSU pass defense last Saturday. Thus far on the season, Dormady has 455 passing yards, five touchdowns and one interception on 63 percent completion in two full games and a quarter of action vs. Wisconsin. The numbers look decent on the surface, but Dormady has also been fumble prone, popping the ball loose three times, losing twice. He still has a lot to prove as QB1, but the team seems to believe in his ability to lead, as he showed effective command of the offense at the line of scrimmage.
The key difference for the CMU offense could be in the receivers to keep defenses honest. Kalil Pimpleton has been the security blanket for Dormady, as he’s been the main target for receptions with #12 in the game. Pimpleton had six receptions last week vs. NMSU for 59 yards, four more than any other primary receiver (Jonathan Ward had four receptions in the backfield.) JaCorey Sullivan could also be a key to success, as Dormady has largely struggled to get on the same page with him all season. Sullivan has three receptions for 128 yards when Dormady is in at QB, and the two missed on several targets last week.
CMU will have to diversify its passing attack to find success in that area on Saturday, as BGSU’s pass defense had a banner day against Toledo, collecting five sacks between four different players.
Speaking of that pass defense, the Falcons looked very good in that department last week against one of the best passing units in the MAC. They limited Toledo to 260 passing yards, one passing touchdown and one interception on the day, getting to the QB five times for sacks, while also picking up nine tackles-for-loss, one QB hit and one recovered fumble.
Nico Lautenen was especially a force in that department, picking up eight tackles, two sacks, three tackles-for-loss and a fumble recovery.
Kholbe Coleman (14 tackles) and Brandon Perce (10 tackles) were also successful in stuffing the run game, allowing only 132 yards, holding MAC Offensive Player of the Year candidate Bryant Koback to just 60 yards.
Overall, there’s still a lot of work for the BGSU defense to do; they allow 35.2 points per game, with 17 of those average points coming off turnovers. They also play a bit into CMU’s hands in the rushing game, as the Falcons average 208 yards per game in that category, with an average rush of 5.1 yards.
Where BGSU does excel: forcing fumbles. They’ve forced 11 fumbles so far this season, recovering four. That’s something CMU has had trouble with in 2019, as they’ve put the ball on the ground an astounding 15 times this season, losing eight of those, including one for a touchdown (vs. Albany on a strip-sack fumble.)
CMU might be wise to try and at least incorporate the passing game more efficeintly on Saturday, as the forecast calls for calmer conditions. It’d also give Dormady some confidence moving forward if he can move the ball through the air, and this could be a secondary to try that out on. BGSU’s pass defense hasn’t been able to generate turnovers (two inteceptions thorugh six games) or get off the field in passing situations (66 first downs allowed in the air), and average 13 yards per pass completion, giving up 16 touchdowns through the air.
When BGSU has the ball
BGSU has officially made the transition from Boston College graduate transfer Darius Wade to holdover option Grant Loy after winning agaisnt Toledo last week.
Loy has been very impressive in game action so far this season, as he finished the game agisnt Toledo going 14-of-21 for 185 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions while tacking on 137 rushing yards and a touchdown. He’s a dynamic option at quarterback the BG offense has been missing since the departure of Jarret Doege to West Virginia in the offseason.
Andrew Clair is once again questionable for game action heading into Saturday, which makes Davon Jones (76 carries, 328 yards, one touchdown) and Bryson Denley (43 carries, 183 yards, one touchdown) the main rushing options. BGSU is a run-based offense which has struggled up to this point to make the run game work. That’s not necessarily a surprise, as most of the roster is still left over from Mike Jinks’ failed Air Raid experiment. But with the addition of Loy and his ability to scramble, that should open up a lot of avenues for rushers to get some looks, as the defense will have to try and keep Loy honest by holding contain on him.
The main focal point of the passing attack will be move tight end Quintin Morris, who has accumulated 28 receptions for 337 yards and two touchdowns for the Falcons. That’s 13 more receptions than the second-place receiver on the list (RB Bryson Denley, who has 15 receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns.) Little else has really been effective for BG so far this season, as no other primary receiver has a touchdown catch or more than 10 receptions.
As a result of their personnel, BGSU will likely be engineering a lot of their offense through the middle of the field or behind the line of scrimmage. The Falcons like to use a platoon backfield to open up looks in both the passing and running games in order to keep defenses on their toes. In case that breaks down, Morris also presents a secure option, as he’s a matchup problem at six-foot-four, 228 lbs. He’s a vertical threat who can line up at end, slot or outside positions.
CMU is equipped to play such a game, with one of the conference’s most dangerous and hectic defenses, especially in the middle of the field.
The Chippewas defense in the rushing game allows an average of 101.3 yards per game, with 709 yards overall and 11 rushing touchdowns. It’s the very definition of a risk/reward defense, as despite the heavy number of touchdowns given up on the ground, they’ve also knocked out eight fumbles, recovering five of them. It’s an incredible ratio for any football team, and has helped CMU stay in many games in 2019.
CMU had a rough go of it at first in the passing game, but have since settled down nicely in the secondary now that it’s largely figured out. They currently average 266.43 yards given up in the air, with 14 touchdowns. It’s a weakness, certainly, but it is also an extremely young secondary which is missing a lot of senior leadership.
Last week against NMSU, they gave up three touchdowns to Josh Atkins, giving him just his second game with a positive TD-to-INT ratrio, and allowing the Aggies to hang out a bit too closely on a handful of missed assignments.
Not everything is bad in that aspect, though. Kyron McKinnie-Harper, a true freshman out of Cass Tech [MI] HS, has been a revelation at corner, with 21 tackles, a tackle-for-loss, six pass break-ups and a forced fumble. They’ve picked up four interceptions as a unit, while also accumulating a massive amount of pressure on opposing offensive lines, with 73 tackles-for-loss and 21 sacks through seven games.
For CMU to win the game on defense, they’ll have to limit what BGSU can do on the ground. The Falcons won the game vs. Toledo by keeping the ball out of the Rockets’ hands, winning the time of possession battle (30:33) thanks to third-down conversions (6-of-14) and an efficient running game (5.9 yards per rush average.) CMU will have to get into the backfield and force BG into passing situations, where they haven’t shown as much success.
- When/Where: Sat., Oct. 19, 2019 at Doyt Perry Stadium in Bowling Green, Ohio, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.
- Weather: At kickoff, partly cloudy and 64 degrees with a 9 MPH wind, per Weather.com.
- TV/Streaming: The game will be exclusively aired on ESPN3. A valid cable subscription is required for viewing.
- Radio: For a CMU-centric feed, tune in to 98.5 WUPS-FM. For a BGSU-centric feed, tune in to WFRO-FM The Eagle 99.
- Odds: CMU is a 10.5-point road favorite, with an over/under of 53.5 as of publication, per OddsShark.com.
CMU is not a road warrior team, having lost all three games outside of Kelly/Shorts Stadium. Granted, those games were against Wisconsin, Miami [FL] and Western Michigan, but the splits aren’t necessarily promising. All that said, BGSU is not nearly to that level of competition as currently constructed, and the offense seems to have the advantage in most every way, which is ultimately going to be a key to victory.
BGSU has fought admirably at home, with wins over Morgan State and Toledo both coming at the Doyt. BGSU holds a decade-long streak against CMU in terms of wins, winning games in 2010 and 2018, as well as the overall lead in the series. They’ll also be riding an emotional high after defeating a blood rival, so we’re not particualrly sure if they’ll come into this game ready to go, or if they’ll fall flat against what should be a superior opponent.
This should be a game with lots of points. The question will be how many, and for who. I ultimately think CMU has too much to prove and has to show they’re a contender for the MAC.
(Updated at 4:30 p.m. to fix BGSU home record and steaming channel.)