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2021 Week 9 Midweek MACtion Preview: Central Michigan Chippewas at Western Michigan Broncos

Two old rivals meet in the annual Battle for the Victory Cannon with divisional implications on the line.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 Central Michigan at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

GAME NOTES

  • Time and Date: Wednesday, November 3, 2021, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
  • Network: ESPNU
  • Location: Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo, MI
  • Spread/Total: Western Michigan -10, O/U 63
  • All-time series: Western Michigan leads, 51-39-2
  • Last Meeting: Western Michigan 52, Central Michigan 44 – November 18, 2020

The Battle for the Victory Cannon between Western Michigan and Central Michigan is one of the most storied rivalries in the MAC. Dating back to 1907, these two foes have met 92 times on the gridiron, and there is no love lost between the two fan bases. Last years’ match up saw the Chippewas take a 14-0 lead before five minutes had passed, and Jim McElwain’s team seemed to be in control. That was, until the Broncos rattled off 38 straight points of their own en route to a 52-44 victory in Mount Pleasant.

Chippewa fans certainly want to get that bad taste out of their mouth this year, especially considering that the Broncos have won eight of the last ten match ups between these two squads.

Both teams enter this year’s showdown on uneven footing.

Western Michigan seemed to be rolling along until last week’s 34-15 loss at Toledo. For the second time in three weeks, turnovers derailed the Broncos on offense, and they’ve now lost crucial games to West division rivals Ball State and Toledo.

Central Michigan also faced similar issues last week, taking a 28-10 lead over West division leader Northern Illinois, only to see the Huskies storm back for a 39-38 victory.

Both teams sit 2-2 in the MAC, very much in the thick of things in the muddled West division. With NIU two games ahead of both teams, this match up is crucial if either squad wants to keep their slim chances of winning the division alive.


When Western Michigan has the ball

The Broncos now sit at 5-3 (2-2 MAC), and there has only been one common thread in their two MAC losses: turnovers.

In their Week 6 loss to Ball State, the Western Michigan offense gave the ball away four times. All four turnovers led directly to Ball State points in the Cardinals emphatic 45-20 victory. Last week followed a similar tune, as the Broncos gave the ball away twice in their 34-15 loss at Toledo. This Western Michigan offense has only turned the ball over seven times all season. Six of those turnovers took place in these two losses.

The crazy thing is, the majority of the time this Broncos offense is very efficient. QB Kaleb Eleby has been one of the best signal callers in the MAC this season and currently leads the conference with 1,977 passing yards. Eleby also owns a pristine 61.2 completion percentage and a fantastic 12:2 TD-to-INT ratio.

Part of the reason for Eleby’s success is the deep stable of wide receivers at his disposal. Skyy Moore has been fantastic this season, and leads the MAC in both receptions (57) and yards (762). Moore is not the only threat here, as Jaylen Hall is a legitimate deep threat who is tied for third in the MAC in yards per catch at 17.1. Corey Crooms has emerged as a great third option and has 28 catches for 422 yards and three scores himself. This is a very deep, very talented passing attack.

This match up does not bode well for Central Michigan. The Chippewas currently rank last in the MAC and 112th nationally in pass defense, giving up 272.4 yards per game and an absurd 14.8 yards per completion.

The Chippewas defense has been beset by injuries all season. On the backend, seniors Gage Kreski and Alonzo McCoy have had to step in to larger roles than they’ve assumed at any point in their careers, and the results have been mixed. Five of the eight quarterbacks the Chippewas have faced have thrown for their season high in yardage against this CMU secondary. Eleby is just as capable, if not more so, than any QB this defense has faced to this point.

The rush defense for the Chippewas has been much more respectable, as CMU ranks third in the MAC at 139.4 yards allowed per game. Some of that has been due to the fact that opposing offenses have been able to do whatever they want in the passing game, but there is some good talent in this front seven. Senior defensive lineman Troy Hairston II has been a monster up front all season and is currently second in the MAC with 5.5 sacks. This unit has badly missed LB Troy Brown the last two weeks, as he was the Chippewas third-leading tackler through the first month of the season. The Chippewas hope to have him back for this contest. Fellow LB George Douglas has stepped up in his absence and had his best game of the season last week against NIU, tallying eight total tackles.

This CMU front seven will be facing a Broncos run game that has been a bit up and down all season. Western ranks a respectable fifth in the MAC in rushing offense at 183.8 yards per game, though their 4.1 yards per carry mark is eighth in the conference. The Broncos have two capable backs that the Chippewas will have to worry about, with Sean Tyler (106 carries, 631 yards, four TD’s) and La’Darius Jefferson (133 carries, 525 yards, nine TD’s) splitting the workload fairly equally. Third back Jaxson Kincaide provides a nice change of pace.

An area where it feels like the Chippewas defense can have success is along the line. This Western Michigan offensive line has given up 18 sacks this season, and the Chippewas rank third in the MAC with 20 sacks on the year. The aforementioned Troy Hairston II could have a big day. Any success against the Broncos offense starts with getting pressure and generating turnovers. If this Chippewas front seven can do that, they’ll give themselves a chance in this one.


When Central Michigan has the ball

For all of the struggles Central Michigan has had on defense this season, their offense has been fantastic.

After transfer QB Jacob Sirmon started the year under center for the Chippewas, coach McElwain made the switch to freshman Daniel Richardson in Week 4 against FIU. Richardson, the starter in 2020, led a furious second half comeback, finishing 16-of-23 for 276 yards and three TD’s in the Chippewas 31-27 victory. Despite not starting the first three games of the year, Richardson leads the MAC in touchdown passes with 14. Even better, he has thrown only two interceptions and has completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 1,513 yards.

Much like Western Michigan, the CMU receiving corps is deep and talented. Kalil Pimpleton and Dallas Dixon rank fifth and sixth in the MAC, respectively, in receiving yards, and Dixon is tied for second in the conference with six touchdown passes. The only person in front of him? Fellow Chippewa JaCorey Sullivan, who is a great option as well.

Pimpleton is especially lethal and is deployed in a myriad of ways. Not only does he have 576 receiving yards and two touchdown catches, he is also averaging five yards per carry on the ground with an additional two scores.

The Chippewas passing attack ranks first in the MAC at 288 yards per game, and they certainly give you plenty to worry about through the air. The run game is nothing to overlook, however, as RB Lew Nichols III is quietly having a breakout season. In his third year on campus, Nichols leads the MAC and is fourth nationally with 919 rushing yards. Nichols has topped 100 yards five times this season, and has topped 150 yards twice in the last three weeks.

This high-powered Chippewas offense will face a formidable foe in the Western Michigan defense. The Broncos currently lead the MAC in total defense at 319.5 yards per game, which also ranks them 21st in the FBS. The Broncos also lead the MAC in rush defense and are allowing only 128.5 yards per game on the ground.

The pass defense has been a bit hit or miss. Although the Broncos rank third in the conference at 194.5 passing yards allowed per game, this secondary has shown that they are prone to the big play. WMU has given up six touchdown passes of over thirty yards or more this season, and this certainly feels like an area where the Chippewas have an advantage.

The caveat to this is that CMU must keep Daniel Richardson upright. The Broncos are second in the MAC with 25 sacks thus far this season, and any success they have on defense starts with getting pressure on the quarterback. The Chippewas offensive line has given up 24 sacks thus far this season, and they will have their hands full with the Broncos defensive line duo of Ralph Holley and Ali Fayad. If this offensive line can protect Richardson, they’ll give Central Michigan a chance in this one.


Prediction

These two teams are always good for some fireworks whenever they meet, and this match up feels no different. Both offenses are high powered and can score in bunches. Both defenses have their strengths but have also shown that they have plenty of vulnerabilities. This feels like a game that will come down to the play in the trenches. Whichever team is able to keep their quarterback upright will be the team that wins this game. Both offensive lines have had their struggles this year, and both of these teams like to bring pressure. That feels like the match up that will define this game. I see both offenses scoring a lot of points in this one, and I think this will be a back and forth affair. I’ll give Western the advantage for being at home. I think the Broncos get the victory and make it nine of 11 in this rivalry.

Western Michigan 41, Central Michigan 38