The Central Michigan Chippewas (2-5, 1-2 MAC West) are set to host the Bowling Green Falcons (3-4, 2-1 MAC East) in a do-or-die contest which could well set their postseason expectations on Saturday afternoon.
Much like last week, a win is imperative for Jim McElwain’s crew, as they hope their trend of improved records in the second half of the season continues to show itself in order to avoid a losing record for the first time since 2018.
For Bowling Green, a road win would solidify the Falcons as a legitimate contender in the MAC East race, pushing them into the division title conversation in a season where they were expected to win between 3-5 games.
Let’s dive right into the game notes:
- Time and Date: Saturday, October 22, 2022, at 1 p.m. Eastern time.
- Network: ESPN3 (A subscription is required for viewing.)
- Location: Kramer/Deromedi Field at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
- Spread/Total: Central is a 6.5-point home favorite, with an over/under of 50.5, per OddsShark.
- All-time series: BGSU leads the all-time conference series 23-19, but it was CMU who took the win over the Falcons the last time these two teams met in 2019.
Getting to know the Chippewas
It’s not often CMU finds themselves in such a vulnerable spot, but from here on out, the margin for error is none.
An ugly win over Akron gets the Chippewas a step away from the void of a .500-or-lower season, at least for now, but they’ll have to keep up the pace to ensure a shot at the postseason— which would be key for developing their young depth pieces.
They seemed to find a new gear on offense against the Zips, opting for an outside run-based approach with Marion Lukes after Lew Nichols was declared out prior to the game. It was the right move, as Lukes gashed the defense for 272 total yards and three total touchdowns, with over 30 touches to pace the CMU offense.
It was done at the sacrifice of the passing game, as Daniel Richardson finished with just 138 yards on 18 attempts (13 completions), which was almost halved from his prior average of attempts. No receiver outside Lukes (four receptions, 72 yards) had more than 28 yards or three receptions.
The depth chart indicates Nichols is still the starter, an indication the staff feels like he could be ready in time for the game, but he was listed and didn’t play last week, so the status is up in the air. Lukes would get the call-up if Nichols can’t go. Whoever starts will affect the offense, as Nichols indicates a power run look, while Lukes will indicate more outside looks.
Either way, the passing offense will still operate off the run-pass option look, with Carlos Carriere (36 catches, 394 yards, two touchdowns) the main recipient of passes so far this season. Joel Wilson is a deep play threat at the tight end position, leading CMU with four touchdowns. Richardson will be at the controls, carrying a 56 percent completion rating, but tossing 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions for 1,724 yards.
Defensively, the Chippewas feasted on a poor Akron Zips protective scheme, which gave up 12 tackles-for-loss and eight sacks to a ferocious Chippewa defense which is 20th in the NCAA in sacks and fifth in tackles-for-loss.
Thomas Incoom continued his dominant performance in 2022 even on a relatively quiet day, with one tackle-for-loss, one sack and the all-important fumble return touchdown which won the game last week. He’s CMU’s X-Factor on defense, with 27 tackles, 10 tackles-for-loss and six sacks on the year in seven games.
The rest of the defense is still tightening up, coming in fairly middling in passing, rushing and scoring defense, coming in 86th, 42nd and 88th nationally in each respective category.
The brothers Kent have done an effective job in coverage in man situations, as Donte has 10 pass break-ups and Ronald has five so far this season, with both corners each pulling down 29 tacklers. Coverage is not the specialty of the linebackers, with Kyle Moretti (49 tackles, 4.5 TFls, two sacks) and Justin Whiteside (39 tackles, 4.5 TFLs) manning the middle to fill in run gaps, which they’re fairly adept at. Dakota Cochran has also shown promise on passing downs, with three pass break-ups and a sack.
Special teams has adversely impacted CMU in several games this season; they’re 3-of-10 of field goal attempts this season, and have had several unfortunate turnovers on punt and kickoff return units as well. That’ll be something to watch if the game gets close.
Getting to know the Falcons
The Bowling Green Falcons are in unexpected form, winning two of their last three contests in a year to go up to 3-4 overall (2-1 in league) where many projected them to be head-on with a potential rebuild.
It’s been on the back of some good performances from both offense and defense in their last two wins, creating a two-possession gap before coming back to win at the buzzer vs. Akron and holding Miami to just 14 points to preserve a narrow victory. (Though, it should be noted that those wins sandwich a bad 38-7 loss to Buffalo, where they were especially gashed in the run game.)
Is this the week where they put two and two together?
Matt McDonald has cooled down from his unstoppable form with two pedestrian performances against some of the league’s top defenses and draws another tough assignment in CMU, but he’s still very dangerous as a dual-threat QB, which CMU traditionally struggles with. McDonald is completing 55 percent of his passes for 1,367 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions, with all three picks coming in league play.
The Falcons offense relies on spreading the ball around to playmakers and possessing the ball, so lots of players find touches in the offense; at least a dozen players have carried the ball at least once, with 14 players finding catches. BGSU has three receivers who have at least 15 catches and 240 yards, with Odieu Hilare pacing the team in receptions (22) and touchdowns (four), while six-foot-seven Tyrone Broden is the big play target, averaging 16 yards per catch. Tight end Christian Sims (23 catches, 189 yards, two touchdowns) also gets a lot of looks, while Ta’ron Keith (22 catches, 170 yards, three touchdowns) is a reliable receiver out of the backfield.
It’s a running back by committee look in the rushing game, with Keith serving as the primary passing down back. Otherwise, the lead back responsibilities are shared by Jaison Patterson (63 carries, 285 yards, one score) and Jamal Johnson (39 carries, 185 yards). H-back Harold Fannin Jr. gets rushing looks in short-yardage situations, leading the Falcons in rushing touchdowns with two.
Defensively is where this team has made its bones in recent weeks, with several all-MAC contributors showing up in key moments.
Karl Brooks, Walter Haire and Demetrius Hardiman have combined for 18 tackles-for-loss, seven QB hits, 11.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on the defensive line to help create backfield penetration, with DJ Taylor and Darren Anders cleaning up in the run game with 45 and 41 tackles, respectively.
The secondary also has flashes of brilliance, with the safety pair of Chris Bacon (team-leading 45 tackles) and Jordan Anderson (23 tackles, one interception, four pass break-ups) leading the group. Jalen Burton has filled in admirably for the injured Davon Ferguson at corner, with 15 tackles, a pick-six and two pass breakups.
If there’s a weakness this defense has, it’s preventing third-down attempts; the Falcons are 128th of 131 programs in the NCAA in key down situations, allowing 50 percent of opposing third-down attempts. Whether that’s because of unfavorable down-and-distance or miscommunications, it’s a worrisome stat if the game gets close, as CMU is one of the best teams in the country at third-down stops (25th in NCAA, 31.1 percent.)
BGSU has decent special teams, with Mason Lawler going 4-of-6 for field goals, while Sami Sir is more of a situational punter, with 38 yards per boot on average.
What to Expect
These are two teams which have played more or less to the form of their opponents over the course of the season, sputtering back and forth between frustrating and fun from drive-to-drive.
So of course, that makes these teams playing each other hard to predict.
On paper, CMU is the more talented unit across the board, with individual talents capable of producing points and stopping points at every turn, but on the field, something has held the Chippewas back from reaching that potential. A key to this week’s performance is if they take the lessons learned from Akron and apply them towards a slightly better program in BGSU; if they can’t, it’s a sign something is wrong at a fundamental level.
BGSU has been much the same as CMU, seemingly unlocking one side of the ball at the expense of the other all season. Their performance vs. Miami was the first time they played complementary ball this season, and perhaps they’ll carry over some of those lessons into this contest. They’re also in a unique position they haven’t been in awhile: at a positive MAC play margin, coming in to this contest at 2-1. Can the Falcons maintain composure and beat a vulnerable CMU team with both teams’ postseason hopes on the line?
Much like the Akron/CMU contest last week, this should only end in either a one-sided blowout or a close contest. Any other result will certainly be looked at with much scrutiny, as Scot Loeffler could find his hot seat warming back up, or Jim McElwain could be looking at what went wrong in a season full of expectation.