Central Michigan vs. Western Michigan: Scouting report, prediction

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Free Press sports intern Evan Petzold breaks down Wednesday’s Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Western Michigan Broncos game at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant:

Central Michigan (2-0) vs. Western Michigan (2-0)

The coaches: CMU-Jim McElwain (54-33 overall, 10-6 with Chippewas); WMU-Tim Lester (52-41 overall, 22-18 with Broncos).

Last game: CMU won against Northern Illinois, 40-10; WMU won against Toledo, 41-38.

Last meeting: Sept. 28, 2019: WMU won, 31-15.

[ MAC last week: WMU wins on fake spike, stuns Toledo with furious comeback ]

Key matchups

CMU CB Brian Edwards vs. WMU WR D’Wayne EskridgeAfter transferring last year, Edwards hadn’t played since 2018 at Florida. The 6-foot-2, 192-pound defensive back immediately slotted into one of the starting cornerback spots this season. Last week, Edwards was named to Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week. He gave up four receptions (seven targets) for 98 yards and one touchdown in the season-opener but didn’t allow any receptions (two targets) in the second game.

Edwards will face one of the most talented wide receivers in the MAC in Eskridge. He has 10 catches for 245 yards and three touchdowns. Eskridge has 13.1 yards after catch per reception.

CMU DE Troy Hairston vs. WMU RT Mark Brooks — Hairston has played 105 snaps this season, tied with Edwards for the third-most on the team. Of those snaps, 53 were to rush the quarterback, resulting in three sacks, five hits and three hurries. But Brooks is a redshirt season and considered WMU’s best offensive lineman. He hasn’t given up a sack or QB hit this season (allowed one hurry last week against Toledo). Protecting quarterback Kaleb Eleby is crucial for the Broncos to win.

[ 2020 MAC football: Everything to know about CMU, EMU, WMU ]

Scouting report

CMU run offense vs. WMU run defense

WMU has the second-best run defense in the MAC, but the Chippewas utilize a running back tandem in Kobe Lewis (44 carries) and Lew Nichols III (21 carries). CMU ranks fourth in the conference with 210.5 rushing yards per game. Central uses the wildcat formation, as well, with Darius Bracy (eight carries) and Kalil Pimpleton (four carries).

Linebacker Corvin Moment, along with defensive tackles Ralph Holley and Ken Aguirre, is solid against the run, but there’s too much versatility from CMU’s run game to bet against its success right now. Edge: CMU

CMU pass offense vs. WMU pass defense

The Chippewas have an inexperienced quarterback in redshirt freshman Daniel Richardson. CMU has the conference’s sixth-worst passing offense with 439 yards and three touchdowns, but WMU owns the fourth-worst passing defense (allowing 232.5 yards per game). Receivers Pimpleton, JaCorey Sullivan and Dallas Dixon are obvious threats, but their success will be determined by Richardson’s ability to make big throws. For WMU, Holley, Ali Fayad and Treshaun Hayward have been dominant in the pass rush, forcing a combined 13 total pressures. They haven’t batted down any passes yet, but with Richardson standing 5-10, they’ll keep their hands busy. WMU’s defensive line should be more aggressive than CMU’s previous opponents Ohio and Northern Illinois. Edge: WMU

WMU run offense vs. CMU run defense

This is an easy decision. The Chippewas boast the MAC’s No. 1 run defense, allowing 69 carries for just 184 yards and one touchdown. Sean Tyler is WMU’s top running back, followed by La’Darius Jefferson (Michigan State transfer) and Jaxson Kincaide (Nevada transfer). Yet CMU has one of the conference’s top run defenders in Mohamed Diallo, a former Texas A&M transfer.

Although WMU recorded seven rushing touchdowns through two games, most of them have come in short-yardage situations, with two from the quarterback. Tyler, the team’s starting running back, has a long of 29 yards this season. Edge: CMU

WMU pass offense vs. CMU pass defense

Don’t expect WMU to test Edwards much, but they will surely attack cornerback Richard Bowens III, who has allowed nine receptions on 11 targets for 127 yards. Also, cornerback Dishon McNary has been thrown at five times, giving up four catches for 47 yards and one touchdown. The Broncos live and die by the passing game; Eleby has completed 32-of-45 attempts (71.1%) for 546 yards and six touchdowns without an interception. His offensive line, which has only allowed two sacks, deserves to be credited for some of the success, but they’ll face a tough task with Hairston and Co. commanding CMU’s defensive line. Still, Eskridge, Skyy Moore (who will go against against Bowens) and Jaylen Hall are going to be a handful for the Chippewas, considering Edwards can’t cover them all. In a two-game sample, WMU leads the country in scoring offense with 49.5 points per game. Edge: WMU

[ Kaleb Eleby takes reins as WMU QB after learning from Jon Wassink ]

Special teams

For two consecutive weeks, CMU had the MAC West’s Special Teams Player of the Week: freshman punter Luke Elzinga in the season-opening win over Ohio and freshman kicker Marshall Meeder in the second-week victory against NIU. 

Meeder is 8-for-9 on extra points and 2-for-2 on field goals (long of 40 yards). WMU’s kicker, Thiago Kapps, is 12-for-14 on extra points and has made his only field goal attempt, a 48-yarder.

Where WMU separates itself is in the return game with Eskridge, who has returned eight kickoffs for 237 yards (29.6 yards per attempt). If the Broncos can keep the ball out of Pimpleton’s hands in kickoff and punt returns, they won’t have an issue winning special teams. Edge: WMU

Prediction

This clash is for first place in the MAC West, the Victory Cannon and the best team in the state. In a six-game season, one loss could put either team out of contention for the MAC championship game, so there’s a lot on the line. Both teams can stop the run, but WMU is a more well-rounded offensively, especially with the composure of Eleby, a first-year starter, at quarterback. If the Chippewas have any chance of winning, they will need improvements from the defensive backs. Pick: WMU 31, CMU 17

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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