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2019 MAC Football Week 6 Game Preview: Eastern Michigan Eagles at Central Michigan Chippewas

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Two in-state programs put up their dukes to stay in contention for the Michigan MAC trophy.

Kenneth Bailey

Circumstances for the 2019 edition of the CMU/EMU rivalry (which really needs a name) are a little bit different from last season, to be certain.

Last season, the fates of both teams were all but decided in a late Novermber matchup in Ypsilanti, Michigan, as the Eagles took a 17-7 victory on the way to obtaining bowl eligibility. CMU, whose only touchdown came on a Mike Danna blocked punt return, was doomed to finish 0-8 in conference and 1-11 overall, resulting in a clean sweep of the football staff.

This year, CMU is the first conference game for the Eagles, while CMU will try to get themselves back into a winning conference record after having split games with Akron and WMU. To put it short, this is a pivotal game for both teams.

The Eagles (3-1, 0-0 MAC) are coming off a BYE week after eeking out a victory against FCS Central Connecticut State, and sport one of the MAC’s most efficient offenses, led by QB Mike Glass III. The Chippewas (2-3, 1-1 MAC) are looking to get rid of the sour taste in their mouths after playing their way out of a rivalry game against heated rival WMU.

This game has all the makings of a #MACtion classic.


When CMU has the ball

Starting quarterback Quinten Dormady (knee) is still down with injury, but running back Jonathan Ward (shoulder) came back against Western Michigan after also getting injured against Wisconsin.

Ward looked healthy in doing so, leading all rushers with 107 yards gained, with none lost, over 19 carries. He didn’t score, as coach Jim McElwain preferred to put in Kobe Lewis in power situations as a spell back, but Ward looked like he hadn’t missed a beat against the WMU defense. He’ll be a pivotal piece for a CMU offense looking to regain its health on the offensive side, When functional, Ward is one of the most dangerous dual-threat backs in the MAC, which opens up what CMU can do when driving down the field.

David Moore has been excellent in place of Dormady, showing great game-management skills, while still retaining an aggression in the aerial attack which keeps the ball moving down the field. The latter part is evident in the receiver splits from the WMU game, as five receivers had five or more receptions, with three receivers (Tyrone Scott, Kalil Pimpleton and Tony Poljan) all collecting six receptions apiece.

It’s already evident the offense has vastly improved from 2018, even if results haven’t been immediate. The offense, especially on the line of scrimmage, has looked a lot more disciplined, and have been aggressive in playcalling, with lots of unique formations looking to create mismatches on the defense. This is in stark contrast to last season, where routes were remedial and the read-option look was often broken before it could develop.

It certainly helps CMU has the receivers to execute the offense now. Kalil Pimpleton has been the leading receiver for the most part, collecting 35 receptions for 298 yards and two touchdowns in the young season from the slot, where his speed is often used to keep the defense honest, whether in motion or on a true route. Tony Poljan, last year’s quarterback, is now a six-foot-seven, 245 lb. possession tight end who has shown excellent strength as an in-line blocker. He’s picked up 17 receptions for 182 yards and two touchdowns so far. Tyrone Scott has seemed to emerge as an option deep, with 18 rec. for 325 yards and two touchdowns.

EMU is the very definition of a bend-don’t-break defense. In case that wasn’t evident by the scores they’ve submitted in recent games, its also evident in the statistics. They’ve actually given up more points per game than their offense has scored on average (30.25 opposing PPG vs. 28.75 points for) in 2019, while also giving up almost 412 yards per game and 5.8 yards per attempt.

They’ve especially struggled in the run game, getting gashed for 595 yards over six games, for 4.1 yards per carry and eight touchdowns. The EMU defense has also been extremely inefficent in getting off-field, giving up 26-of-57 on third down and 4-of-5 fourth-down conversions. Yet, despite those nearly apocalyptic numbers, they’ve managed to stay in contention in a lot of games, as the touchdowns gained-to-lost ratio is 1:1 (15 for, 15 against.) They’ve been especially stout on the outside numbers, as they give up only an average of 263 yards through the air, and have five interceptions (to seven touchdowns) on 88-of-138 passing completions.

Their main path to staying in contention has been havoc plays along the line of scrimmage; the Eagles have 11 sacks, 17 tackles-for-loss and five forced fumbles in four games thus far.


When EMU has the ball

EMU is lead on offense by the vastly improved MIke Glass III at QB. After splitting reps with Iowa transfer Tyler Wiegers in 2018, Glass III has shown he belongs at the quarterback position, picking up 103-of-150 passes for 1,120 yards an 12 touchdowns to only four interceptions.

That’s good for a QB rating of 152.45 so far this season, and you can credit the offensive line for helping Glass find his targets. The o-line has only surrendered four sacks on Glass in four games, allowing him plenty of time to diagnose defenses in the pocket without having to scramble too much.

Speaking of targets, there’s plenty to watch for the Eagles. Quian Williams (16 rec., 211 yards and three touchdowns) and Arthur Jackson III (11 rec., 207 yards and three touchdowns) lead the way for EMU, collecting half of the passing touhdowns for the team. Dylan Drummond (19 rec., 170 yards and two touchdowns) is the security blanket for Glass, while two other receivers are in double-digit receptions (Mathew Sexton with 14 and Bryson Cannon with 11.) In all, seven players have at least one touchdown through the air.

If there’s one weakness for EMU, it’s in the run game.

As a unit, EMU has accumulated 410 yards on the ground on 126 attempts, for an average of 3.3 yards per rush and two touchdowns. They’ve managed to get to a 100-yard average for their games thus far, but they’re coming up on a CMU defense which has been lights out in defending the run, especially at home where they haven’t given up more than 45 yards to an opponent.

Glass III is actually EMU’s leading rusher by attempts (37) and yards gained (132), though Shaq Vann (33 attempts, 111 net yards) has been EMU’s primary rushing option at the half-back spot. Glass III and Willie Parker (21 attempts, 76 yards) are responsible for both of EMU’s touchdowns. No rusher averages more than 37 yards, which makes for a terribly inticing matchup for the CMU defense.

CMU has done some shuffling along the defensive line heading into this week, as LaQuan Johnson, who has seen the majority of his duty at defensive tackle, will instead lineup at defensive end and rotate with former linebacker Troy Hairston. This allows Robi Stuart and true freshman Tico Brown, who have seemingly earned the trust of the coaching staff to earn these promotions, to get some time at DT.

Johnson gives CMU another pass rushing option at the end spot in rotation, with Sean Adesanya opposite Hariston/Johnson, while Stuart and Tico Brown offer a more balanced and flexible option in the center of the line. Amir Siddiq, a Week 1 starter at end who also converted form linebacker, returns this week from injury to be a rotation option as well, giving CMU another speedy defensive player along the line.

The aim of the CMU defense this week will likely be to apply pressure on Glass III by breaking his pockets and forcing him into making bad reads. This defense will be hungry to get to the quarterback after being stifled by WMU’s offensive line last week in a woeful performance where they gave up 35 yards of penalties on offsides calls. Their aggression is what makes them so productive as a unit; they’ve picked up 10 sacks and six forced fumbles as a unit.

The nagging problem for the CMU defense is that they’re an awful redzone defense. In 19 trips inside the CMU 20, opponents have been 19-of-19, which is, to say the least, not good. Of those 19 attempts, 15 were touchdowns, which is again, not the best. That’s the area the Chippewas will have to clean up if they have hope of keeping EMU from winning, as EMU is 9-of-12 in the redzone with six touchdowns.


Game Notes

  • When/where: Sat., October 5, 2019, at 3:00 p.m., at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
  • Weather: Approximately 53 degrees, with overcast skies at kickoff, per Weather.com.
  • TV/Streaming options: The game will be broadcast exclusively on ESPN+, which requires a valid subscription. Radio options can be found at 98.5 WUPS-FM for CMU and 89.1 WEMU-FM for EMU.
  • Odds: EMU is a 6.5-point favorite on the road, with an over/under of 53.5, per OddsShark.

Prediction

CMU has been undefeated at home so far this season, while EMU has faced only one loss on the road (to SEC opponent Kentucky,) with two victories on enemy turf. Something’s got to give in this game, certainly.

I think it has the makings of a back-and-forth affair, as both these offenses have shown the wherewithal to fling it around at will, while both defenses have shown struggles in certain degrees of coverage. Ultimately, I think CMU has a chance to sneak out with a victory as long as they can keep mistakes in the secondary to a minimum and get to a quarterback in Glass III who hasn’t faced a terrible amount of pressure this season.

That said, EMU has been sneaky good in terms of limiting time of possession, and sometimes, that’s all you need to try and get the edge. Despite only having the ball for an average of 28:48, the Eagles have gone 3-1, with all three victories being by one-score. You have to gie them props for managing games effectively.