It’s the return one of the MAC’s underrated division games on Saturday afternoon in Mt. Pleasant, when the Central Michigan Chippewas (1-4, 0-1 MAC West) host the Ball State Cardinals (2-3, 1-1 MAC West) for a Homecoming contest at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
This rivalry has been a bit of a blowout in the last two contests, but it was a balanced effort, with each team picking up a huge win on the other team’s home turf; CMU won the last contest at Scheumann Stadium by a score of 37-17 en route to a division championship run, while Ball State tore apart an ailing CMU unit 45-20 in the 2020 COVID campaign in Mt. Pleasant.
Other than those results, this has been a tense matchup in recent years, with the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 contests all decided by no more than three points apiece.
They’re a good measuring stick for one another, then, as in a general sense, the victory of this game has typically gone on to have more success over the rest of the season. The on-paper matchup of the 2022 versions of these teams suggest this game could go much the same route.
- Time and Date: Saturday, October 8, 2022, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.
- Network: ESPN+ (A subscription is required for viewing.)
- Location: Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio
- Spread/Total: Central is a 7.5-point home favorite, with an over/under of 64.5, per OddsShark.
- All-time series: CMU leads the all-time series at 27-26-1, with Central winning in convincing fashion by a final score of 37-17 in 2021.
Getting to know the Cardinals
The Cardinals had an off year in 2021, and also got off to a slow start in 2022 non-conference play, but through two games of the MAC slate, they’ve shown they have the wherewithal to fight any opponent which comes their way. This is a unit who is unafraid to perform as the game needs them to— though it could use some refinement.
Their contest against Western Michigan showed a team which could construct some extremely long, efficient drives, building up an early 23-14 lead before the Broncos came back to surprise them in the final frame, scoring 16 points on two possessions to get WMU over the top with a 37-30 victory.
Against NIU, we saw another side to the Cardinals, as they fell behind 21-0 with 4:49 remaining in the second quarter, and had to tighten up on both sides of the ball to lead a gigantic comeback effort, tying the game at 36-all with a 10-play, 72-yard drive over just 1:36 of game clock, winning it all in overtime on a one-yard touchdown strike from Carson Steele.
This is an extremely capable offense; they’re ranked 38th in the country for total offense, averaging 445.4 yards per game and scoring 16 touchdowns, so there’s certainly a lot of potential in this unit. Their issue has been finishing drives, as they’re 84th in scoring offense (27.6 points per game) and have attempted 11 field goals in five games to this point with Indiana Wesleyan transfer Ben VonGunten (who is 9-of-11 in 2022.)
John Paddock has performed admirably at quarterback, completing 64 percent of his passes for 1,538 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions in his first five games as a fully-fledged starter.
His primary target is tight end Tyler Koziol, who has nabbed five of Paddock’s 11 touchdowns, with an additional 225 yards and 20 catches. Koziol’s status is a question mark going into this week, as he suffered a leg injury on the game-tying score vs. NIU. Brady Hunt (15 catches, 198 yards, two touchdowns) would start at tight end if he can’t go.
Jayshon Jackson is the true outside threat, with 38 catches for 447 yards and two touchdowns, while Yo’Heinz Tyler (31 catches, 298 yards, one touchdown) is a good fourth option. Carson Steele is the end-all-be-all three-down back, with 501 yards and five touchdowns on 109 carries, with an additional 13 receptions for 67 yards.
The defense has been a weak spot, giving up 33.6 points per game (113th in the country), while also giving up 432.2 yards per game on average (111th in the country) and 22 opposing touchdowns. There have been multiple situations this season where the defense was called upon to perform and faltered, so they’ll need to improve if the Cards want to be more competitive.
Four players are already in the 30’s for tackles, with the safety pair of Jaquan Amos (34 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, one interception) and Jordan Riley (34 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, one sack) topping the stops chart. Riley also serves as the team pass break-up leader, while at least five players registered a minimum of one sack, with inside linebacker Cole Pearce leading the Cards in both tackles-for-loss (4.5) and sacks (1.5).
The pair of Nic Jones (seven tackles, five pass break-ups, two interceptions) and Amechi Uzodinma II (23 tackles, one interception, three pass break-ups) man the outside corners, and could be good matches to a receiver corps still learning on the job.
Getting to know the Chippewas
The Chippewas are not looking like a lot of people expected them to in 2022, with some truly inexplicable performances in the non-conference season and a stumbling effort against Toledo in their first league contest.
They now sit at 1-4, and are in a must-win situation against Ball State if they have any hope of salvaging a bowl game. It is perhaps the lowest point the team has hit in the Jim McElwain era, as CMU has been a team which always seemed to find answers to their issues since 2019.
This is a team which has had major issues getting going; in four of their five contests, the Chippewas have found themselves in multiple-score deficits early in the first half, only popping up to close the gap just once (vs. Penn State) before squandering it right away in the second half. Their other game was against Bucknell, who they lead at the half 7-0 in a game where they were favored to win by four-plus touchdowns.
To Central’s credit, they seemingly find ways to generate points in the second half, but most of that is also because due to game flow, which effectively neutralizes the efforts.
The numbers bear out a decent team offensively; the Chips are 63rd in the NCAA in total offense, with 415.4 yards per game on average, but their scoring clip has greatly regressed, sitting at 28 points per game (82nd), down over four points per game from 2021’s clip.
The running game averages 122.2 yards on the ground, over 50 yards lower than last season’s frantic pace. Lew Nichols has 357 net yards and five touchdowns as the lead back, with other contributors only really coming in with the game out of reach. Nichols has also been asked to be a receiver more often than not in the new scheme, pulling down 19 receptions for 119 yards.
The passing offense is also suffering from chemistry issues, with a cast of rotating characters, but they’re still finding ways to create production.
Daniel Richardson, the savior of last season, sits at just 56 percent passing, with 1,376 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions, already matching his 2021 total of picks in five contests this year. Maryland transfer Carlos Carriere (27 catches, 309 yards, one score) and tight end Joel Wilson (25 catches, 267 yards, four touchdowns) man the receiving game as primary targets. Noah Koenigsknecht seems to have won the slot receiver job, registering 112 yards and a score on six receptions over the last couple of games.
Defensively is where the team has faced perhaps its biggest regression, with just three starters from 2021 remaining in their positions. They’re giving up eight points more per game on average than last season (33.4 in 2022 to 25.77 in 2021), and sit at 107th in pass defense (264.2 yards per game) and 74th in rush defense (147.2 yards per game.)
A sheer outpouring of talent leaving the program in the offseason certainly has contributed to the numbers, but this is still a largely talented group with a depth of pieces many programs at their level would want to have.
Thomas Incoom (19 tackles, six tackles-for-loss, four sacks) still fronts the pass rush from the edge position, picking up where he left off last season. Justin Whiteside (29 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss) and Kyle Moretti (35 tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss) man the middle of the defense at the linebacker spots.
Defensive backs have been a bit of a mixed bag, with just two interceptions so far in the season, while allowing 12 touchdowns (compared to just 22 in 13 games last season.) Donte Kent still features as the lead corner, with 18 tackles and five pass break-ups (tying for the team lead), while brother Ronald (27 tackles, two pass break-ups) has recently climb into a starting role after departures. Trey Jones (one interception), De’Javion Stephney (five pass break-ups) and Jayden Davis (24 tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss) feature as the primary safety rotation, with Caleb Spann occasionally seeing time.
What to Expect
The Vegas line says to expect CMU to be favored by a touchdown or more, but considering how close Ball State has played teams of similar ilk, and how CMU has not had great performances at home or away this season, this game will likely be a lot closer than many think.
At present, these are two very similarly-talented teams who want to play in very similar ways, and right now, Ball State has simply done better up to this point in the season. All said, however, a trap game could very much be in the cards for them if they’re not careful in their approach.
Central Michigan is also in a must-win situation, as a loss on Homecoming to drop down to 1-5 for a team with division title ambitions would create a hostile environment over the program we haven’t seen in Mt. Pleasant since 2018.
There will be a tense atmosphere around a game which has delivered tense results in the past, and the expectation should be a hard-fought, potentially ugly game.