The Central Michigan Chippewas (6-4, 4-2 MAC) are back to playing football after a BYE week, and will look to take a win against the Ball State Cardinals (4-5, 3-2 MAC), who are trying to get on the rebound after taking a loss to Western Michigan.
It’s a game with a lot of implications in the divisional race; both teams need a win to stay alive in the MAC West race. With WMU currently leading the way, CMU and Ball State both need to win out (and get some help from Ohio) in order to have a chance at winning the division. Since CMU and Ball State playing one another on Saturday, the possibility of winning out for both sides isn’t possible, making it an elimination game.
It sets the stage for what could prove to be either the start of or the end of a fascinating route to the Road to Detroit.
When CMU has the ball
The CMU offense was on fire two weeks ago against NIU in the friendly confines of Kelly/Shorts Stadium, racking up 615 yards of offense on a tired Huskie defense, with both Jonathan Ward and Kobe Lewis going over 100 yards and Quinten Dormady delivering three touchdowns on the day.
The offense is an uptempo, high-flying unit at home, having scored not lower than 38 points per game in any of their five appearances in Mt. Pleasant, averaging a neat 550 yards per game they defend home field.
The same cannot be said of their performance on the road. They’re 1-4 away from Kelly/Shorts, averaging only 17 points per game and 331.6 yards. It’s especially bad in losses, putting up 276.3 yards per game. Opposing defenses have more or less figured out CMU’s offensive attack— so long as they’re the host. It’s a fascinating dichotomy.
The key to CMU’s success has been the running game. The Chippewas average 45 attempts, 279 yards and 3.2 touchdowns per game in their six victories, and have two running backs with multiple 100-yard games in Ward and Lewis. The split starters have been dnagerous in 2019, combining for 1,651 yards and 19 touchdowns on 266 attempts. They’ve eclipsed 100 yards in the same game twice this season, while Jonathan Ward has had five 100-yard games this season on his own.
When Central is able to control the pace of play, they’re able to do so on the backs of their running game.
Dormady had a nice rebound vs. NIU after falling apart in the second half vs. Buffalo the week before. He’s shown himself to be adept at leading the offense and isn’t afraid to air it out when the read is there. He’s at 1,310 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions in six starts.
We’ve only ever seen Dormady have to play from behind once, against Buffalo, so there’s a lot of unknown there in terms of what might happen if he’s asked to lead the offense needing points. But the way the offense works, if it all goes to plan, his role is to move the ball forward with safe throws, and Dormady is excellent at providing what the offense needs at the right moment.
On defense, Ball State makes its mark in the secondary. The Cardinals have picked off 12 interceptions in the 2019 season, with 34 pass break-ups, showing excellent shutdown prowess.
That’s not a surprise, given their secondary. Antonio Phillips leads the MAC in interceptions, while battery-mate Amechi Uzodinma is third in the league in interceptions (3) and passes defended (9.) Safety Bryce Cosby (two interceptions at the safety spot) and linebacker Ray Wilborn (two) have also jumped in to help lead one of the best passing defenes in the conference. In fact, the Cardinals have limited opponents to 227 yards and .8 touchdowns per game on average.
Rushing defense is where the Cardinals will have to make their hay in this matchup, as they’re averaging 40.5 attempts allowed, 185.7 yards and 2.8 touchdowns per game. It seems home, away, win or loss, they’ve been remarkably consistent in allowing teams to push through on the ground. One positive for the Cardinals is that they’ve picked up 47.5 tackles-for-loss, so it’s certainly not for lack of trying they’re struggling to contain running backs.
Jacob White (93 total tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss), Jaylin Thomas (67 total tackles, three tackles-for-loss), Christian Albright (53 total tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss and three sacks) and James Jennette III (35 total tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sack) will be instrumental in trying to stop the duo of Ward and Lewis.
When Ball State has the ball
The Ball State offense isn’t quite as explosive as CMU’s, but it’s been fairly effective in the MAC season, averaging 32 points per game in conference play, never scoring less than 21 points, with a 2-1 record in one-score games.
Drew Plitt leads the way for the Cardinals, posting 2,125 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions so far this season. Much like Dormady, he’s not expected to do a lot to push the offense along, but he has a good enough sense of how to make good reads and keep the drive alive. He’s only had two interceptions in conference play so far, which is very good. He has been effective at spreading the ball around as well, with three receivers over the 400-yard mark in Antwan Davis (407), Riley Miller (481) and Justin Hall (518.)
Like Central, Ball State will go through the run game to try and score points in this upcoming contest.
Caleb Huntley is the classic workhorse back, putting up 170 carries for 843 yards and six rushing touchdowns so far. He’s joined in the backfield by D-II transfer Walter Fletcher, the former Edinboro Fighting Scot. Fletcher offers more versatility in the passing game, with 18 receptions, 187 yards and a touchdown as a receiver. Fletcher has also been a decent spell back for Huntley, with 85 carries for 459 yards and four touchdowns.
Ball State is a team who likes to set the pace, averaging 72 plays per game for 438.6 yards and 3,9 touchdowns over nine contests, and will need to do so here. Their home and away splits are fairly similar; Ball State has played in a lot of one-score games thanks in part to their ball control offense, so that can result in a lot of games coing close to the average.
CMU has been one of the better defenses agaisnt the rushing attack in the MAC, allowing only 112.7 yards and 1.4 touchdowns per game on the ground. That’s good for 19th in the country in the statistic through 10 games. This is thanks in part to an incredible amount of pressure the defensive line places at the point of attack; the Chippewas have a nice 69 tackles-for-loss on the season, with an additional 22 sacks. They’ve also recovered six of their nine forced fumbles as well, making CMU one of the best havoc defenses in the league.
Three CMU players (Troy Brown, Sean Adesanya and LaQuan Johnson) are over 10 tackles-for-loss on the season at three different positions, while at least three more Chippewas have two interceptions in the secondary (Gage Kreski, Da’Quaun Jamison and Alonzo McCoy.)
For Ball State to have success over the Chippewas, they may have to do it through the air. The Chippewas have tended to show lapses at points in the passing game due to the relative youth of the secondary; they’re especially prone in the redzone on fade routes, which opposing offenses (such as New Mexico State and Buffalo) used to their advantage often.
- Where/when: Saturday, Nov. 16, at 3:30 p.m. EST (2:30 a.m. local) at Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Indiana.
- Weather: 38 degrees and partly cloudy at kickoff, with winds at 9 MPH, per weather.com.
- Odds: Ball State is a 2.5-point favorite at home, with an over/under of 60.5, per OddsShark.com.
- TV/streaming: The game will be broadcast on cable airwaves on CBS Sports Network. A valid cable subscription is required for viewing. Check your local listings.
- Radio: For a CMU-centric broadcast, tune in to WUPS-FM 98.5. For a Ball State-centric broadcast, tune in to WLBC-FM 104.1.
I think it’ll be a very close game, especially if both teams have success running their respective offenses on the ground. Usually in football, teams don’t start throwing the ball around unless they;re down multiple scores, and the way these teams are efficient in getting the ball down the field and maintaining possession, I don’t think that’s going to be the case here.
The question becomes if CMU can break tendency and dominate on the road after getting themeselves back into the MAC West hunt over the past month. (Yes, they played Bowling Green for a big road victory, but... that’s Bowling Green at this point.) They’be struggled to establish the run on the road, and with that being their bread-and-butter, it could be a long day if they don’t.
If Ball State can be disciplined and fill the gaps on defense, while confusing Dormady in the passing game with exotic looks, the Cardinals should be able to grind the clock down and take a victory.
I think in terms of talent and momentum, CMU has the edge here, but Ball State has everything to lose if they fall here, including a potential guaranteed bowl bid. They’ll be hungry to prove they belong, whether it’s this season or next.