2020 MAC Football Week 3 Game Preview: CMU vs. WMU

Game Info

When: Wednesday, November 18 at 7 p.m. (EST)

Where: Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan

Watch/Stream: ESPN2, with streaming on the ESPN App (valid cable subscription required for both.)

Weather: Clear and 39 degrees at kickoff, with calm winds, per Weather.com.

Odds: CMU is a one-point favorite on home turf, with over/under at 59.5 as of Tuesday afternoon, per OddsShark.

Series History

In the Battle for the Victory Cannon, Western Michigan holds the all-time lead, with a 50-39-2 margin over Central Michigan. Western holds the edge thanks in part to dominating the early hsitory of the series, winning 21 of the first 26 meetings in series history from 1905-1953, and a recent 7-3 record over the last 10 years.

The first meeting is recorded in 1905, a 6-0 Central victory, but the first six matchups have incomplete records due to football being in its relative infancy at the time. The first game with a complete history was in 1927, an 18-12 victory for the Central State Teachers College Bearcats (present-day CMU) over the Western State University Hilltoppers (present day WMU) in Mt. Pleasant.

The 1927 game was the first matchup between the two schools since 1910. The rivalry was played on-and-off with a few small breaks until 1973, when the intrastate rivalry was finally made an annual game with the start of CMU’s transition period into the Mid-American Conference, completed in 1975.

Last season, WMU put the game away relatively early with a 31-15 victory, aided in part by a sloppy effort by the Chippewas, who committed 15 penalties for 97 yards and three turnovers to hand the Broncos an easy win in Kalamazoo.

Largest margin of victory:

  • Western Michigan: 54-0 (1930)
  • Central Michigan: 42-6 (1974)

Longest win streak:

  • Western Michigan: 13 games (1928-1944)
  • Central Michigan: 5 games (1977-1981)

Current streak:

  • Western Michigan (2018-present)

(All series history courtesy of Winsipedia)

The Chippewas

Quick Facts (2020 stats, through Week 2):

  • Points per game: 35
  • Points allowed: 18.5
  • Total yards: 430 (219.5 passing, 210.5 rushing)
  • Yards allowed: 294.5 (202.5 passing, 92 rushing)

After a Week 1 which say nailbiting action right down to the last seconds, Week 2 against NIU was a relative Sunday drive.

The Chippewas had a fast start, scoring on their first offensive drive with a 58-yard bomb from Daniel Ricahrdson to Dallas Dixon on the second play from scrimmage, but then dragged around for the remainder of the half, with the defense picking up a safety towards the end of the half to push the score to 9-0 at the break.

Whatever adjustments CMU made, they certainly worked, as they went off for 24 unanswered points in the second half, thanks to a run game which found lanes everywhere and anywhere, with Kobe Lewis, Lew Nichols III and backup QB Ty Brock all finding the endzone late in the game. Even Darius Bracy got in on the action, picking up 55 yards from the wildcat QB spot.

It was a much needed effort for the CMU offensive attack, which struggled to get the ball in the air outside of the two 58-yard touchdowns to DIxon and Nichols, as Richardson went 11-of-17 for 80 yards and an interception on all other targets.

The defense for Central was once again dominant, picking up eight tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles and recoveries, two pass breakups, two QB hit, allowing only 244 yards and a 2-of-15 third-down conversion rate, including seven forced punts. CMU’s shutout was broken by a field goal well after the game was decided, with NIU’s only touchdown coming on a busted coverage with less than 10 seconds to go.

They are certainly facing a much more balanced and experienced team in their hated rival Western at home this week, and it’s a team which has given them problems in recent years.

The last two seasons have been particualrly brutal.

2018 saw CMU implode in a winnable game, with three turnovers (two of which turned into touchdowns), seven penalties and 306 rush yards allowed, while 2019 saw CMU once again turn the ball over three times, fall into a 24-0 hole and commit an incredible 15 penalties en route to a 31-15 loss.

The Broncos

Quick Facts (2020 stats, through Week 2):

  • Points per game: 49.5
  • Points allowed: 25.5
  • Total yards: 460.5 (275 passing, 185.5 rushing)
  • Yards allowed: 378.5 (232.5 passing, 146 rushing)

The Broncos have had a polar opposite start from their rivals to the year, with a Week 1 cupcake against Akron followed up by a narrowly-earned comeback victory against Toledo in Week 2 in one of the wildest games of the young season.

The Broncos look to finally be realizing their offensive potential in the fourth year under Tim Lester, as WMU has averaged nearly 50 points and 460.5 yards per game so far. Missouri’s own Kaleb Eleby has especially been a revelation at quarterback, going 32-of-45 for 546 yards and six touchdowns and no interceptions in his first full-time stint as a starter.

D’Wayne Eskridge has also settled (back) into the wide receiver position for WMU, and has looked like he never left, using his 4.33 40-yard dash speed to blaze past opponents, already picking up 245 yards and three touchdowns in two games, over double WMU’s next-best receiver. That’s a fairly impressive feat, as Skyy Moore (six receptions, 118 yards, one touchdown) and Jaylen Hall (three receptions, 89 yards, two touchdowns) aren’t slouches by any means. This wide receiver corps could be one of the best units CMU faces all season as a secondary, which will serve as a test for a CMU secondary that’s still gelling after a tumultuous offseason which saw them replace their top three starting cornerbacks.

As always, the Broncos rushing attack is stacked, with all three of WMU’s backs expected to be healthy for action after a few injury scares following last week’s win over Toledo. Sean Tyler (21 rush, 168 yards, one touchdown), Michigan State transfer La’Darius Jefferson (18 rush, 104 yards, one touchdown) and Nevada transfer Jaxson Kincaide (eight carries, 63 yards, two touchdowns) are all players capable of being lead backs, and carry a rotation that’s amongst the tops in the MAC, averaging 185.5 yards and three touchdowns per game. Eleby is also a threat in one-yard situations, scoring two QB sneak touchdowns last week.

The Broncos defense has been serviceable in 2020, though their points allowed could be affected by the Toledo game, which saw them give up 38 points. They’ve given up 378 yards per game, and showed difficulty stopping the run in both games, with Akron (130 yards) and Toledo (162 yards, four touchdowns between three different players) taking the Broncos for a ride. That said, they’re still racking up major tackles-for-loss, with 17 between their two opponents, meaning they’re getting penetration when they push the issue. That will prove to be one of the more interesting matchups in this game, as CMU’s rushing attack is formidable and has multiple looks with which to approach the defense.

Where WMU has made their living is in pass defense, with two pass breakups, an interception, two sacks and two QB hits vs. Toledo in Week 2, with another interception wiped off the board due to a questionable pass interference call. They’ve only allowed two passing touchdowns— while also grabbing two interceptions to make up for the scores, effectively nulling opposing offenses.

WMU should also have a bit of a psychological advantage going into this week’s game, as the recent history of the rivalry has been decidedly in their favor, regardless of location.

Prediction

To borrow an old cliche, throw out the paper when it comes to rivalry games.

Vegas lines have this game about as close to a pick-em as you can get, with the margin at most books being between 1 and 1.5 points in either direction. It’s an indication of respect for the history of the rivalry, and the nearly equal levels of talent between both these squads.

This season, both CMU and WMU find themselves at the top of the MAC West discussion as the lone undefeated teams in the conference, with the winner taking firm control of their divisional hopes— and the trip to Ford Field in December. (Coincidentally, this game was originally scheduled to be played at Ford Field this season prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

They have nearly similar compositions, with offenses meant to domiante the ground and go to the air for explosive, game-breaking plays, and defenses that look to cause havoc behind the line of scrimmage and limit opportunities beyond the sticks. And the talent levels, as stated, are amongst the best in the MAC, with multiple 2019 all-MAC players being featured for both sides.

History tends to indicate Western wins blowouts, while Central wins close over the past decade or so, and that sounds about right considering the talent of those teams between 2010 and 2019.

Alas, this is a new decade, and two decidedly different teams from their 2019 peers. I get the feeling this game will come down to the final quarter, as weather isn’t expected to be a factor like the previous two iterations.

The game should be fairly close, even if recent history indicates doule-digits has tended to be the winning margin. Buckle up, regardless; these are two of the most exciting teams in the conference playing for one of the oldest rivalry trophies.
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