With the Ball State Cardinals going for seven in-a row versus this Central Michigan this Saturday, Grant McPherson and I preview Saturday's match up.
I'll be on Ball State's side, while Grant will be supporting the Chips.
Here we go:
Sam: It's been a rough year for Ball State, sitting at 2-5, but over the last six years the Cardinals have had two constants: Losing to Northern Illinois and beating Central Michigan. That said why should CMU be the favorite in this season's game?
Grant: With the way that Central was able to play against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, and the Michigan State Spartans for three quarters, they have shown how strong a team the Chips have become. Our new head coach, John Bonamego, has lit a fire in this team that Dan Enos never could. They are a much better team than the 3-4 record they have. In the MAC, the Chips have already defeated Northern Illinois again, played Western to the end, and blown out Buffalo. Ball State struggled to beat Virginia Military Institute, and only defeated Eastern Michigan in the MAC so far. Why should Ball State have a chance to beat the Chips?
Sam: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Almost every MAC team nowadays gives a P5 team or two a scare. Ball State did it when they nearly knocked off Northwestern earlier in the season, but you are right: Things have been pretty bad at times. VMI was a close win, and the Cards just lost to Georgia State. Some people are now placing head coach Pete Lembo on the the hot seat (a bit too quickly for my taste). But CMU has struggled at times as well. In reality this will either be really close or really ugly in Central's favor, especially if Cooper Rush gets going early. What do you want to see Central do versus this weak Ball State passing defense?
Grant: What I would like to see is for Cooper to get those deep passes down the field again just like he did against Buffalo. He has already thrown for over 2000 yards on the season, good for top 10 in the nation. Rush also is in the top 10 in completion percentage, showing how much he can spread the football around. Rush also has a track record of at least one mistake pass per game, so I would like to see if he could avoid that early in the game, because if he doesn't, this game will be closer than most anticipated. The running attack became more of a factor against the Bulls, as the Chips were finally able to rush for the most yards they have all season long. If our rushing attack shows up in this game, alongside Rush and the passing game, this game could get ugly in a hurry. It is the MAC though, so anything can happen. What are you looking to see from the Cards offense?
Sam: Improvement. Riley Neal and company's production has been better than what Jack Milas was putting up, but it slowed down last week. The Cards only scored 19 points on a very weak Georgia State defense at home, and struggled to move the ball throughout the game. Ball State's usually weak defense actually held strong in last week's second half, holding the Panthers scoreless from start of the third quarter to the final minutes of the fourth, but that still wasn't enough. The production we saw from Neal tapered off last week, and Georgia State only allowed Ball State to score nine second half points. If this defense can replicate that second half performance, the Cardinals' offense should have no problem getting ahead and staying ahead. So, what do you want to see from Central's defense on Saturday?
Grant: I want to see how the defense can play without Tim Hamilton. He was the ‘main guy' on defense to get everyone fired up. Blake Serpa, Tony Annese, and others will have to step it up the rest of the way for Central. The defense has really been doing well either way you look at it though. The Chips defense only gave up 14 points and forced four Bulls turnovers. I would like to see them do the same in this game against the Cards, force turnovers, don't give up that many points, and give Rush and company great field position to score points. What is your prediction for this game?
Sam: I expect a close game, and I think the CMU -7.5 line in this game is in the right ballpark. Neal and the offense will keep it close for a while, but Central Michigan is just too much for our defense in the end. Chips 34, Cards 27. How about you?
Grant: I believe this game can be close as well. The CMU line should be extended just a bit to at least 10. Cooper Rush will be able to find the holes in the Ball State secondary and exploit them for big gains. Chips 31, Cards 21.