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2020 Mid-American Conference Football Week 6 Game Preview: Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Toledo Rockets

It’s the last game of the season for these two 3-2 MAC West squads, with both teams guaranteed .500-level records regardless of results.

James H. Jimenez

The more the world changes, the more the world remains the same.

Central Michigan (3-2) and Toledo (3-2) meet up once again for what seems to be an annual affair at the conclusion of the regular season, as the two programs have met on the last week of the year for the last three seasons.

(It is, strangely, a comforting thought to know that even in the midst of a century-defining pandemic which is currently raging into its ninth month and has severely affected the way we live our day-to-day lives, that conference officials looked at the scheduling matrix and decided upon CMU/Toledo as the concluding match-up in the MAC West.)

The stakes in the 2020 edition won’t be as high as they were last season, but there’s still pride on the line for two teams whose seasons didn’t quite go to plan. Toledo was tabbed a favorite to win the MAC West division in the preseason, while CMU looked to defend their division crown after narrowly losing out on the title to Miami at Ford Field in 2019.

That should make for an interesting matchup between two teams on similar trajectories.


Game Info

  • When: Saturday, Dec. 12, at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT
  • Where: The Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio.
  • Watch/Stream: The game will have no television coverage, being streamed exclusively on ESPN3. (valid cable subscription required for both.)
  • Weather: 49 degrees and raining at kickoff, with temperatures slightly increasing throughout, per Weather.com. 91 percent chance of precipitation, with brisk, shifting winds of 13-18 MPH.
  • Odds: Toledo is an 11-point home favorite, with an over/under of 52.5 as of Thursday afternoon, per OddsShark.

Series History

Toledo leads the all-time series by a margin of 26-19-3, per the Toledo Rockets game notes.

Last season, CMU dominated a wounded Rockets squad and snapped a nine-game losing streak to pick up their first win against Toledo in a decade— and clinch the MAC West division in the process, winning by a final margin of 49-7 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium on Senior Day.

Due to Winsipedia being down at time of publication, we’ll be omitting the streaks section this week.


The Chippewas

Quick Facts (2020 stats, through Week 5):

  • Points per game: 33
  • Points allowed: 31.4
  • Total yards: 432.3 (222.4 passing, 209.8 rushing)
  • Yards allowed: 435 (303.6 passing, 126 rushing)

Last week didn’t quite go to plan against a Ball State team which looked ready to play from the first snap of the game.

The Ty Brock led offense struggled to move the ball down the field against one of the best secondaries in the MAC, accumulating a mere 188 yards on the day, with two touchdowns and an interception on the day. The problems were especially noticeable in downfield throws, as the absence of field stretching options forced Brock to push the issue with Kalil Pimpleton and JaCorey Sullivan more than adviseable. Tyrone Scott and Dallas Dixon, CMU’s two other speed options, were out for last week’s game, and likely will be once again heading into this week vs. Toledo.

The normally impressive CMU rushing attack also looked pedestrian outside of an 83-yard Brock touchdown run to open up the third quarter, finishing with 154 yards overall. Kobe Lewis finished with nine carries and 19 yards overall after dragging CMU to victory on his own in an impressive Week 4 performance, while Lew Nichols III finished with 70 yards.

They’ll face similar issues against a Toledo defense which has proven itself to be one of the best in the conference thus far this year.

Coach Jim McElwain said they’ll one again go in with Brock as the starting QB, while John Keller, a Cincinnatti transfer, will dress as a potential option after previously redshirting. Daniel Richardson, who was injured in Week 4 vs. EMU, will once again serve as an emergency backup, though he’s listed as QB2 in the depth chart this week.

Defensively, CMU was completely exposed in the passing game, as the secondary gave up 366 passing yards and four touchdowns through the air vs. Ball State, with two especially egregious breakdowns in coverage on two touchdowns to Jalen McGoughy in the second half. The CMU secondary is the worst in the league at passing coverage, ranking last with 303.6 yards allowed per game and 9.7 yards per target on average, while allowing 12 passes into the endzone in five games.

The defense has been decidedly better on run defense, ranking third in the league in that category with 126 yards allowed per game and seven touchdowns on the ground. That’s thanks in part to the defense’s aggression, as the unit has racked up 40 tackles-for-loss on the season and forced six fumbles in five games this season. Mohammed Diallo (19 tackles, 9.5 tackles-for-loss, three sacks) and Troy Hairston II (34 tackles, 9 tackles-for-loss, three sacks) will play key roles in attempting to stop Bryant Koback and the rest of the Rockets rushing attack.


The Rockets

Quick Facts (2020 stats, through Week 5):

  • Points per game: 37.2
  • Points allowed: 24.6
  • Total yards: 514.6 (338 passing, 176.6 rushing)
  • Total yards allowed: 362.2 (246.6 passing, 115.6 rushing)

A preseason favorite to win the MAC West, the Rockets’ season had a few speed bumps along the way, perhaps most importantly, their blown lead vs. Western Michigan which took them out of controlling their own destiny.

They were also hit by an injury at the most important position which affected team chemistry for a bit, as Eli Peters picked up an injury vs. EMU in Week 3 and hadn’t looked steady afterwards, getting benched in their game vs. Ball State for Carter Bradley late in the proceedings. This week will be Bradley’s first game of 2020 as the intended starter, with Peters listed as a backup. Bradley is 8-of-12 for 152 yards and three touchdowns in two appearances this season, with both appearances in relief.

If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed in the Toledo offense, it’s the depth of skill position players. The Rockets spread the ball outside, with at least seven receivers hauling in 12 or more passes, and three players (Koback, Danzel McKinley-Lewis and Isaiah Winstead) picking up 19 receptions or more. Wisntead (22 receptions, 389 yards) leads all recievers in those numbers, while Bryce Mitchell (12 receptions, 264 yards) has been on fire in the late goings of the last two weeks, picking up three of his four touchdowns on the year vs. Ball State and NIU.

Bryant Koback once again centers the offense, with 99 attempts for 399 yards and four touchdowns on the season, surpassing the two running backs under him in MIcah Kelley (38 carries, 198 yards, two touchdowns) and Shakif Seymour (16 carries, 127 yards, two touchdowns) by his lonesome.

The biggest difference between this Toledo team and the one from last season has been a compete overhaul of the defense, which has turned from the worst in the MAC in 2019 to the best unit in the conference in this truncated 2020 season, giving up only 24.2 points per game, 362.2 yards per game and 5.3 yards per play on average, with 16 total touchdowns allowed in five games. Play along the front seven has contributed significantly to the turnaround, as the Rockets have picked up 30 tackles-for-loss and 10 sacks in five games, with four interceptions and 20 pass breakups on 24 passes defensed.

Desjuan Johnson (19 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss and three sacks), Jamal Hines (24 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss and two sacks) and Dyontae Johnson (37 total tackles, four tackles-for-loss and one sack) have led the way for the Rockets’ 2020 performance.


Prediction

These are two proud programs, so I don’t expect them to go through the motions of a game when they meet up on Saturday.

But it’s fairly clear that roles are reversed from when these teams met up in 2019, as it’s CMU who comes into the game wounded (last week, they dressd 60 players), while Toledo seems to be on the right side of play, raking up impressive numbers on both sides of the ball over the last four weeks after a 1-1 start.

I would expect Toledo to have the upper hand in this matchup, given their defense has been the most consistent in the conferene to date. Given CMU’s current limitations on offense, Toeldo shouldn’t have a problem handling it unless one of Kobe Lewis or Lew Nichols suddenly finds their stride again.

Bettors have Toledo by two scores, and on that, I am inclined to agree. The more optimistic side of me sees a scenario where CMU could make it an 8-10 point game, as they’re good at closing gaps when necessary, but it’s more likely Toledo runs away early.