The Central Michigan Chippewas (5-4, 3-2 MAC) and Western Michigan Broncos (3-6, 2-3 MAC) battle for the Victory Cannon Tuesday night under the lights at Waldo Stadium. This will be the 95th time the rivalry game will be played and the 16th time since the trophy was adopted.
This game represents Central Michigan’s best chance to get their sixth win and be bowl-eligible in 2023. After Tuesday’s game against a Western Michigan team that is in year one with a new coach, they go to Ohio to play the Bobcats and finish the season at home with Toledo. A win against WMU wouldn’t be shocking, but beating either of the last two teams on the schedule would be considered an upset.
The Broncos would love nothing more than to deny Central Michigan their sixth win as they chase their own bowl eligibility dreams. Western Michigan has essentially three coin-flip contests to finish their season, two of them in their home confines. It would be a huge accomplishment for the new staff after a 5-7 season got Tim Lester fired in 2022.
Both teams are coming off wins in their last game. Central Michigan held off a late push by Northern Illinois to win 37-31 on a snow-covered field in Mt. Pleasant and Western Michigan scored 45 points at Eastern Michigan.
Who keeps their momentum in the pursuit of the postseason? Let's get into it!
- Time and date: Tuesday, November 7th, 2023 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time
- Location: Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan
- Network: ESPNU (A valid cable subscription is required.)
- Gambling considerations: Western Michigan is favored by 3.5 points, and the over/under is set at 56.5, per DraftKings.
- All-time series: Western Michigan leads the all-time series 52-40-2 over Central Michigan. The Broncos are 9-3 in the last 12 meetings. All three Central Michigan wins have been in Kalamazoo.
- Last meeting: Sean Tyler and Bert Emanuel Jr traded long touchdown runs in the first quarter of a glorious snow game. WMU got the ball back after a safety and kicked a game-winning field goal to win 12-10.
When Central Michigan has the ball:
Central Michigan’s offense is built off the running game. Only 19 teams run the ball more frequently than the Chippewas and they’re pretty good at it. Running back Marion Lukes has taken the bulk of the carries after Myles Bailey's injury. Bailey has missed the last two weeks, and Lukes has rushed for 284 yards on 53 carries with two touchdowns. Lukes is also an excellent kick returner and leads the MAC in all-purpose yards.
On top of solid output from the running backs, the quarterback totes the rock as well. Jase Bauer has rushed for 329 yards this season and nine touchdowns. Last week against Northern Illinois, he broke 100 yards rushing and attempted 16 passes. Bert Emanuel Jr hasn’t appeared since the end of September due to a shoulder, but if he’s healthy, he can make plays on the ground as well. If the ground game is working, Central Michigan will keep the pass attempts to a minimum.
They should be able to gain enough yards to keep attempting the run on Tuesday. Central Michigan has advantages in line yards and success in power-running situations, likely because the math favors the offense when the quarterback can run the ball. The Western Michigan front might be able to get some run-stuffs, but they need to be enough to force Central into passing situations to make a difference.
The Chippewas are a poor passing offense but they do hit the big play. They can force teams to stack the box to stop the run and hit on shots downfield. Western Michigan can certainly get beat that way (see EMU’s Jaylon Jackson going 68 yards for a touchdown after a short completion in Week 9.) The Bronco defense has improved in that regard, but it just takes the defense to give away one easy touchdown to make a difference. Jesse Prewitt III is fifth in receiving yards in the MAC this year, despite only 25 receptions through nine games.
If Western’s defense cannot force them off the field, Central Michigan finishes their drives. They are 22nd in the nation in points per scoring opportunity and the Bronco defense is 104th in limiting points in those chances. If the Central Michigan offense crosses the WMU 40-yard line, they have to like their chances at points.
The Broncos do have a strong defensive identity, even if it’s not the most effective defense. They break up passes, get interceptions and send opposing offenses backward frequently. The problem is allowing the big play on third down or extending opponents' drives with penalties. Their leading tackler safety Tate Hallock missed their last game and cornerback DaShon Bussell is out for the season. The rest of the secondary (Keni-H Lovely, Kone Bilhal, Aaron Wofford and Anthony Romphf) have combined for 18 deflected passes and four interceptions.
If Central Michigan has its way, a key unit to the Western Michigan defense will be taken out of the game with a successful ground attack. It’s clear what Central wants to do, this portion of the game comes down to the Broncos' ability to knock them off schedule and limit the big plays.
When Western Michigan has the ball:
Western Michigan hasn’t been as run-happy after giving Hayden Wolff a real chance to prove that he is the best passer of the three WMU quarterbacks, but they have many of the same advantages as Central Michigan has. The Broncos have an advantage in line yards, staying out of passing downs and success rate running the football.
The running back tandem of Jalen Buckley and Zahir Abdus-Salaam has been highly effective, forcing opponents to respect the run no matter who is lined up in the backfield. Buckley has cooled since the start of the season but he rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns two weeks ago against Eastern Michigan. It’s a bad time for Central Michigan to potentially be without leading tackler Kyle Morretti, who didn’t play a week ago and will likely be out once again.
Just like Central Michigan’s offense, Western Michigan converts their scoring opportunities into points. Head coach Lance Taylor and offensive coordinator Billy Cosh play for touchdowns, and four-down territory starts at about their own 45. The Broncos kickers have struggled, so the window where the offense will settle for a field goal attempt is pretty slim. Central Michigan has allowed their opponents to get points in the redzone, so confidence in the Bronco offense to score should be high.
With two games under their belt, the WMU passing attack is finding its stride. Hayden Wolff took over full-time duty two weeks ago after two impressive halves against Mississippi State and Miami. Wolff has a favorite target in Kenneth Womack but spreads the ball around.
Womack is fourth in receiving yards in the MAC with 488 on 54 receptions, but Leroy Thomas, Austin Hence and Malique Dieudonne each have at least 19 catches. Anthony Sambucci missed time but has returned and Blake Bosma finds himself open for big plays about once a game.
Central Michigan could be the toughest test so far for Wolff, but the CMU defense does really well in passing situations. Their problem is forcing their opponents into them. Jacques Bristol and Maurice White have combined for 6.5 sacks this year and provide most of the pressure from the defensive line.
The Chippewas need to make sure the Broncos can’t grind their way down the field and force the Broncos into passing situations. Central Michigan holds the advantage in passing situations but in standard down passing, it’s not as clear. Western Michigan has been inconsistent in their passing game despite the weapons on the outside.
Central Michigan hasn’t won a MAC road game. They fell behind early in both games and were forced to throw the ball to stay in it. The losses don’t seem location-dependent, but they can’t fall behind on the road again and expect to win.
Both offenses should move the ball and have opportunities to score points, and I think both will. The difference maker might be whichever defense breaks serve more frequently. Turnovers will be huge in this game, which might come down to the last possession.
Both teams find the endzone in a back and forth game, make it:
Central Michigan 28
Western Michigan 31