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2016 MAC Football Preview: Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Miami RedHawks

Can Miami continue to roll against Cooper Rush and the Chips on Friday?

Miami Redhawks at Eastern Michigan Eagles in Pictures Kenneth Bailey

With three games left, the Miami RedHawks (3-6) are tied for second place in the MAC East after winning three straight games for the first time since 2010, but have a tall task ahead of them as they host the Central Michigan Chippewas (5*-4) Friday night. The Chips are reeling a bit following consecutive losses to Toledo and Kent State, but remain dangerous with the presence of Cooper Rush and Tony Annese. The game is big for both teams’ bowl aspirations, so expect some #MACtion to go down in Yager Stadium on Friday night.

For Central Michigan to get a much-needed win, it has to protect Rush and give him a chance to make plays. The quarterback has taken 28 sacks so far this season, and that pressure has been a boon for defenses as Rush has completed just 59% of his passes and tossed 11 interceptions so far this season. Despite the unit’s struggles, Rush still has 2,533 yards and 21 touchdowns while Corey Willis has been his favorite target with 48 catches for 708 yards and eight touchdowns. The running game can be a factor too, with Devon Spalding being the playmaker with his 652 yards and three scores on 5.4 yards per carry.

Defensively for the Chips, they have quite a few players that can make plays. Joe Ostman has been a wrecking machine up front with 40 tackles and five sacks on the season while Malik Fountain is a land shark at linebacker with his team-leading 56.5 tackles and nine tackles for loss. Annese is the senior leader of a secondary that is the second-best in MAC play with 175 passing yards allowed per game.

Moving the ball will be a challenge against the Chippewas, but Miami has been pretty efficient on offense with Gus Ragland manning the quarterback spot the last three weeks. Big Game Gus may have been the answer Chuck Martin was looking for in the position with 674 total yards, seven total scores, no picks, and has a higher completion percentage (59.5%) and a lower sack rate (7.1%) than the other RedHawk quarterbacks that have played this season. Maybe the biggest thing in the turnaround was the improvement of the running game the last two weeks as the ‘Hawk averaged 5.8 yards per carry against Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan.

The defense for the Red and White has been lights out since entering league play as it’s first in total and rush defense in the MAC while it’s third in scoring defense. The team has playmakers at every level with J.T. Jones leading the team with 6.5 sacks, Brad Koenig making 7.5 TFLs from his linebacker spot, while Heath Harding and De’ Andre Montgomery each have three interceptions on the season.

Look for a primarily defensive contest early Friday night, as the teams try to figure out how to attack these good defenses. Once the adjustments are made, look for Miami trying to control the clock and put together efficient scoring drives. If the RedHawks can get consistent pressure on Rush after containing Central Michigan’s running game, the quarterback could try to force throws, which play into the hands of the defense. Whoever gets the turnovers will win Friday, and given how these two teams are trending, it looks like Miami will move one step closer to bowl eligibility.