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2023 MAC Football Week 13 Game Preview: Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Toledo Rockets

The Rockets come to Mt. Pleasant with something to prove against the Chippewas in front of a national TV audience.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Toledo Rockets (10-1, 7-0 MAC West) are set make the journey up I-75 to take on the Central Michigan Chippewas (5-6, 3-4 MAC West) for a Black Friday matchup to end the regular season.

There’s plenty of stakes on the line in what otherwise looks like regular football fodder from an outside glance, with the Chippewas in a must-win situation in order to guarantee a bowl game appearance, while the Rockets need to continue to win in order to make an impression on pollsters. (Toledo has been ranked by the Associated Press in their Top 25 poll, but has not been ranked by the College Football Playoff as of publication.)

With that in mind, we look at both these teams’ outlooks for one last time in the regular season.

Game notes

  • Time and date: Friday, November 24th, 2023 at 12 p.m. Eastern time
  • Network: ESPNU (A valid subscription is required.)
  • Location: Kramer/Deromedi Field at Kelly/Short Stadium in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
  • Gambling considerations: Toledo are 10.5-point road favorites, with an over/under of 54.5, per DraftKings.
  • All-time series and streak: Toledo leads the series at 28-20-3, with results dating back to 1928. The two teams have split the last four meetings, with the home team winning each time.
  • Last meeting: Toledo was comfortable throughout in an early conference tilt, winning 38-17 on Oct. 1, 2022.

Getting to know the Chippewas

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Chippewas are a group coming in on a two-game losing streak and hoping to finally clinch a bowl bid in their home confines. It’s been a tough stretch of games for the Maroon and Gold, as they’ve gone 1-3 over their last four contests, with their lone win against NIU nearly turning sour as they choked away a three-score game late.

The losses have been particularly brutal, with a one-win Ball State launching their new run of form on the Chips, blood rival Western Michigan (who was 3-6 coming into the game) taking home two trophies by stopping a late rally and Ohio thoroughly outclassing the Chips in a game which was never close.

What once looked like a potential 7-8 win season at the halfway mark of the season threatens to become a lost cause if they cannot find a positive result.

The Chips will rely mostly on the run game, as they keep the ball on the ground at about a 60-40 clip. Marion Lukes (129 rush, 684 yards, five touchdowns) has shouldered the majority of that load for CMU, with Myles Bailey (92 rush, 425 yards, three touchdowns) in and out of the lineup with injuries. Both quarterbacks also feature prominently in the run game, though defenses have keyed in on that lately.

Jase Bauer will once again be the likely starter at QB, as he has been since Week 4 vs. South Alabama, when he broke out for five total touchdowns in an upset of the Jaguars as a double-digit underdog. Bauer tosses at about a 56 percent rate, with 1,699 yards, 11 TDs and eight interceptions through the air and nine rushing scores (though it should be noted four of those were in one game.) Bert Emanuel Jr., primarily a running threat, has been dealing with a shoulder injury all season but has 220 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in six appearances. (Emanuel also has 286 yards and three touchdowns passing.)

The receiving corps is a true boom-or-bust unit, either picking up long gains or nothing at all. In recent weeks, Chris Parker (22 rec., 400 yards, three touchdowns) and Tyson Davis (25 rec., 394 yards, four touchdowns) have been the main threats, though Jesse Prewitt III still leads the team with 30 catches for 432 yards and four touchdowns.

Defensively, this team missed linebacker Kyle Moretti (61 tackles, five TFLs, two sacks, four pass break-ups) in a big way during their recent stretch of performances. He returned vs. Ohio, notching five tackles and a pass break-up. His presence is needed for a middle of the defense which has been fairly soft without him. Defensive tackle Jacques Bristol has been the team’s biggest threat inside, with eight tackles-for-loss and four sacks to lead the team in both stats. Cornerback Donte Kent is a gambler who is prone to allowing long gains trying to create turnovers, but has still put up decent numbers, with seven pass break-ups and 55 tackles.

Tristan Mattson has struggled, to put it charitably, converting just 6-of-12 field goals on the season. Jake Walrath has been decent, with a 43 yard per punt average.

Getting to know the Rockets

NCAA Football: Boca Raton Bowl-Liberty at Toledo Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s a team who is just about the opposite of the Chippewas in every way, it’s the Toledo Rockets.

The Rockets are on a 10-game winning streak and have looked the part of one of the best teams in the NCAA for the majority of their run. Toledo ranks 29th in the NCAA in total offense, and is led by not one, but two potential MAC Offensive Player of the Year candidates in Dequan Finn at quarterback and Peny Boone at running back. Their defense has taken a little step back in depth from last season’s unit, which currently sits at 32nd overall in total defense, but still rosters cornerback Quinyon Mitchell, who recently accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, and several other playmakers in the defensive backfield.

Eighth-year head coach Jason Candle will also be a topic of intrigue throughout the game as he is currently a target for multiple jobs on the college football landscape. His squad will be looking to secure their second-straight MAC title game (and third overall) two weeks from now vs. Miami— but still need to beat their divisional opponent before they can take the trip to Detroit.

The offense starts with the phenomenal junior Finn. Once a Central Michigan commit, his flip to Toledo has proved to be a seismic shift in the MAC West, taking Toledo from an underachiever to a juggernaut in just three seasons. Finn sits at 2,287 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions through the air, completing over 65 percent of his passes, while also picking up 506 yards and six scores on the ground (second on the team.)

Peny Boone has been a great compliment to Finn’s dual-threat abilities, leading the MAC with 1,173 yards rushing and 13 scores. Boone has really burst onto the scene in 2023, with seven 100+ yard rushing games, including a five-game streak from Sept. 16 to Oct. 14. He even posted a 116-yard receiving performance vs. Eastern Michigan, giving him eight of 11 games where he picked up at least a century of yardage. What really shines through is his sheer big-play ability; Boone averages 7.3 yards per rushing attempt on 162 carries, proving to be both efficient and powerful, as most of his runs are power looks.

Jerjuan Newton (42 rec., 556 yards, nine touchdowns) and Junior Vandeross III (325 rec., 475 yards, four touchdowns) make up the majority of the receiving production, with tight end Anthony Torres 21 rec., 378 yards, two touchdowns) emerging as a security option. Backup running back Jacquez Stuart also figures in on passing downs, with 118 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, the team is established on tough play from their linebackers and safety corps, with players in those positions making up the top seven tacklers on the charts. Dallas Gant is the heart of the operation, with 86 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss (tied for the team-high), a sack, an interception and a forced fumble from the middle linebacker spot. Maxen Hook has been one of the best cover safeties in the MAC, with 60 tackles and three interceptions to lead the team. EDGE rusher Judge Culpepper is the major penetration threat on the defensive line, with 30 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss and six sacks to lead Toledo in both statistics.

Quinyon Mitchell, their best cover corner, will be the X-Factor on Friday. The 2022 first-team all-MAC performer currently sits at 16 pass break-ups and an interception, and also has a blocked kick on special teams. CMU doesn’t really have too many passing options to speak of, but shutting down one side of the field will be key in the gameplan, as their quarterbacks are prone to scrambling in those situations, making it easy to turn them one-dimensional.

Luke Pawluk isn’t called upon terribly often due to the offense’s success, but he’s still 9-of-10 on field goals, with a long of 44 yards. Emilio Duran averages 37 yards per punt, with 15 fair catches and 15 punts inside-the-20 on 36 attempts.

Game outlook

This game has all the ingredients for a Toledo blowout when you look at it on paper. CMU has a bottom third offense and defense in the NCAA, and cannot rely on field goals to stay in the game due to their shaky special teams performance.

Toledo, meanwhile, is as hot as ever and coming off a torrid deconstruction of Eastern Michigan (who CMU scraped by earlier in the season) and a great comeback vs. BGSU late in last week’s game.

The Rockets have won in many fashions this season, the sign of a good team, and the reality is CMU will likely be unable to match weapons with a side who clinched the division several weeks earlier.

Don’t rule anything out, as Black Friday games can generally be strange beings, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Toledo take revenge for an embarrassing Black Friday loss in 2019— which saw CMU clinch the West division at home and the Rockets decline a postseason bid before firing several staff members. A lot has changed since that game, and this week’s contest could act as the culmination of those changes.