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2020 Mid-American Conference Football Week 5 Game Preview: Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Ball State Cardinals

It’s a showdown which could prove pivotal at Kelly/Shorts on Saturday, as CMU and Ball State must win to keep pace in the MAC West race.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Central Michigan at Eastern Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s an absolutely pivotal game for both Ball State (3-1) and Central Michigan (3-1) on Saturday afternoon, as the two MAC West foes fight to put themselves in the catbird seat of the division.

Should WMU lose their game against Eastern, and the winner of this game remain unblemished, there’s a non-zero chance that the winner of this game could well be the division champion.

With those stakes in their heads, and both teams coming off inspired victories, it’ll be anything goes for the Cardinals and Chippewas in Mt. Pleasant in what has traditionally been one of the closer matchups in recent MAC history.


Game Info

  • When: Saturday, Dec. 5, at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT
  • Where: Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
  • Watch/Stream: ESPNU (valid cable subscription required for both.)
  • Weather: Partly cloudy and 32 degrees at kickoff, with a calm, southernly wind, per Weather.com. No chance of precipitation.
  • Odds: Ball State is a two-point favorite as of Thursday evening, with an over/under of 62.5, per OddsShark.

Series History

The first game in this series took place in 1939, with the Central Michigan College of Education Bearcats taking a 7-0 victory over the Ball State Teachers College Cardinals at Alumni Field in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

CMCE was an independent, who finished the season 8-1 (with a lone loss to Detroit,) while BSTC, a member of the Indiana Intercollegiate Conference, finished as conference runners-up at 6-2.

CMCE won the first four matchups from 1939-42, before a long hiatus in the series which went unbroken until 1971, which saw Ball State’s first victory in the series by a final score of 9-6.

The Chippewas currently hold the narrowest possible margin in this series, with a 26-25-1 lead, thanks in part to last season’s epic 45-44 come-from-behind victory at Scheumann Stadium, which propelled the Chippewas into MAC West title contention.

Both teams have exchanged one-point wins in the last two meetings.

Largest margin of victory:

  • Ball State: 27-0 (1978)
  • Central Michigan: 56-9 (2017)

Longest win streak:

  • Ball State: 6 games (1992-97)
  • Central Michigan: 8 games (1979-1986)

Current streak:

  • Central Michigan (2019-present)

(All series history courtesy of Winsipedia)


The Chippewas

Quick Facts (2020 stats, through Week 4):

  • Points per game: 36.25
  • Points allowed: 28
  • Total yards: 301 (215.25 passing, 239.5 rushing)
  • Yards allowed: 268 (288.5 passing, 126 rushing)

The Chippewas didn’t give up hope in a game which looked like a surefire loss against Eastern Michigan in Week 3, managing to climb a 20-6 gap in the fourth quarter to take away a 31-23 victory when the final whistle blew to maintain their 3-1 record heading into this week’s action against Ball State.

But in the process, a number of problems emerged for CMU, including the loss of starting QB Daniel Richardson to a leg injury that will likely end his season (made worse by the NCAA’s continued silence on the appeal of last year’s starting QB David Moore) and the apparent overexposure of the Wildcat package, which has failed to live up to its previous performance levels over the last two weeks.

This leaves CMU’s offensive coordinators in a bit of a quandry, as they now are reduced to their third-string QB Ty Brock as their only natural QB remaining, and now teams are more keyed in on what was once the team’s defining wrinkle. Solutions are hard to find, as WR Kalil Pimpleton is the reported backup to Brock due to a lack of available options. Pimpleton is key to both the CMU receiving and rushing attacks, so if he has to play quarterback, a domino effect could occur down the rest of the roster.

(Aside: other quarterback options include former high school QB’s RB/DB Darius Bracy and TE Joel Wilson.)

This could result in a healthy dose of Kobe Lewis, who certainly seemed up to the task in last week’s game vs. EMU, finishing with 195 yards and two touchdowns, including all 47 yards of the eventual game-winning touchdown. It could also signal a return to a more traditional offense, as CMU mostly abandoned the Wildcat look due to ineffectiveness in the second half, to great success. With more traditional looks, that also opens up chances for Lew Nichols III to get playing time as well after an impressive effort as a passing down back last week.

Defensively, CMU will have to figure out their problems in the backfield, as the CMU secondary (outside of some unbelievably acrobatic interceptions) have largely shown themselves to be easy to move, giving up 40 first downs and eight touchdowns through the air, while averaging 10.9 yards allowed per target and 288 yards per game on average.

That said, the defensive line is where the CMU defense has made its bread in the 2020 season, with DE/LB Troy Hairston Jr. and DT Mohammed Diallo combining for 17 tackles-for-loss, 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on the season. George Douglas has anchored the backers in 2020, leading the team in total tackles (32) as all-MAC first teamer Troy Brown has fought off injuries. The front seven will have their hands full against Ball State’s running attack, as Caleb Huntley is one of the MAC’s elite pro prospects at the RB position, while Tye Evans proved an admirable replacement in last week’s game vs. Toledo.


The Cardinals

Quick Facts (2020 stats, through Week 4):

  • Points per game: 31.8
  • Points allowed: 29.5
  • Total yards: 471.5 (266 passing, 205.5 rushing)
  • Total yards allowed: 441.2 (312.5 passing, 128.8 rushing)

Ball State looked like a dominant team last week for the first time in a while, and managed to hold on to their lead as the game came to a close to secure their first guaranteed non-losing season since 2013, which is quite the accomplishment all considered. Especially when you realize they did it without Caleb Huntley (game time decision for an injury,) relying on the short passing attack with Drew Plitt instead.

It worked to pieces, as Toledo had no answer for the passing attack in the middle frames, as Plitt finished 26-of-35 for 309 yards and two touchdowns (both to Yo’Heinz Tyler) to help push BSU to an early 24-3 lead in the third quarter. Tye Evans, the Huntley replacement, finished with an admirable 109 yards on 25 carries, while Plitt contributed a rushing touchdown and Jack Knight kicked through two field goals.

Ball State has shown the ability to stick through adversity, especially in close games, with all four of their 2020 bouts coming down to a one-possession score. Unlike years past, those results are converting in a positive fashion, and they look to absolve perhaps their worst one-score loss from 2019 when facing CMU this weekend.

The Ball State defense is anchored by perhaps two of the best individual corners in the conference, in Antonio Phillips and AJ Udozinma, who each have an interception to their name this season. They’re both sure tacklers, with 19 and 15 total tackles respectively, while also combining for seven pass break-ups on eight passes defensed. This should prove to be a fascinating matchup for them, facing a third-string passer as they try to connect with receivers they don’t have a lot of rapport with. (Moore took the majority of snaps in camp despite an uncertain NCAA status, while Richardson and Brock battled for QB2.)

The front seven is also formidable for the Cardinals, as DL Christian Albright has been an absolute wrecking ball, picking up 19 tackles, six tackles-for-loss, three sacks, one pass break-up, two quarterback hits, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Brandon Martin (49 total tackles) and Jaylin Thomas (43 total tackles) are two of the more productive linebackers in the MAC as well, helping BSU maintain one of the best run-stopping defenses in the league. It’ll have its hands full against the duo of Lewis and Nichols, as well as Pimpleton and Bracy in certain looks, while Brock could even get a few carries in zone-read packages.


Prediction

This game will ultimately be a battle of wills, as both teams absolutely must win if they hope to benefit from any potential mistake by WMU down the stretch.

CMU has been through the ringer in the way of injuries and departures, but somehow, they’ve still mustered up some fairly decent results along the way, finding themselves at 3-1 heading into this game. Ball State has also seemingly turned things around in Muncie, following a WMU-like road in getting more mentally strong when bad things happen to them, which has placed them within shouting distance of a division crown.

These teams are guaranteed to spark one another when they meet up, as most of the recent games have been very close bouts, with the last two games won by a combined two points.

Bettors say this is going to be a close game, with Ball State ultimately coming out on top. I’m inclined to agree with this observation, as BSU’s style of play lends itself to close results, while CMU’s glaring question marks on offense could prove too much to overcome if the game gets to the nitty-gritty.

Regardless, this will be an entertaining game to watch.