October 16, 2009

Central/Western Preview

It's that time of year again. The trees are altering color, the temperatures drop, and football weather is upon the Midwest. A battleground is forming in the state of Michigan as the states most intense rivalry comes to fruition for another year: Central Michigan vs. Western Michigan.

LOOKING AT THE RIVALRY

Recent history has shown that the Central/Western rivalry is one of runs. While the Chippewas have won the last three, the series is tied at five victories a piece since 1999 as Western won three straight in 2001, 2002 and 2003. But, recent history has also taught us that this is an intense rivalry highlighted by close games. Look no further than the last game held in Kalamazoo, a thrilling 34-31 last second victory for Central Michigan. And then last years clash of the MAC titans in Mount Pleasant where quarterbacks Tim Hiller and Brian Brunner (subbing for an injured Dan LeFevour) scorched the sky for nearly 900 combined passing yards in a 38-28 Chippewas victory. What has added spice to the rivalry is both programs current success and competition for the top of the MAC West conference. CMU has been to three straight bowl games and WMU has been to bowls two of the last three years.

"I think it's one of the best rivalries in all of college football," said CMU head coach Butch Jones. "You have two universities that are very passionate about their schools and you look at the course of the rivalry throughout the years, they've always been pretty close football games decided by a play here or a play there. I think the intensity; the excitement that surrounds the game each and every year is very special."

Tomorrows contest between the two bitter rivals has high stakes for each program, but for different reasons. Central Michigan is sitting at 5-1 (3-0) and one of its best starts in the programs history. A win over Western puts them firmly in the driver's seat for a trip to the MAC Championship and one step closer to their goals of being a top 25 program. On the flip side, Western Michigan is sitting a bit of a crossroads. The Broncos are 3-3 (2-1), but have suffered losses to Northern Illinois (38-3) and Michigan (31-7), where they were uncompetitive. After that stunning defeat to Northern Illinois, WMU head coach Bill Cubit called out his team publicly and they responded with a 58-26 victory over Toledo at the Glass Bowl.

"I liked the way our kids came out. We did a great job preparing during the week. I knew we were going to play well, but not this well" said Cubit after his teams win over Toledo last week.

That victory over Toledo was a must win and righted the ship for one more week. Western Michigan now has its goals set on getting over .500 and getting into contention bowl contention with a victory over the Chippewas.

MATCH-UP'S

At the forefront of this game is the quarterback match-up between Western Michigan's Tim Hiller and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour. Hiller season has been up and down, although he is coming off one of those up moments in his 270-yard and three touchdown performance against Toledo. He has struggled with accuracy problems and has thrown six interceptions in six games, but appears to be rounding into 2008 form when he was one of the top quarterbacks in the MAC. LeFevour is coming off another six touchdown performance and is completing 71.6% of his passes this season while leading CMU in rushing and passing. Both quarterbacks have a lot of talent and have proven themselves in games of this sort before, so the real deciding factor may come down to other personnel.

Offensively, Western Michigan is averaging 26.5 points per game and faces off against a vastly improved Central Michigan defense that is allowing a MAC best 14.7 points per game. Hiller and the Broncos feature the No. 4 ranked passing offense in the MAC and square off with CMU's No. 2 ranked pass defense in what may be the key match-up in the game. While the leaps and bounds CMU has made in the secondary are impressive, they have yet to face a top flight passing attack and will be tested by perhaps the top quarterback they will face all year in Hiller.

"On the offensive side of the ball, they have great skill and it obviously starts with Tim Hiller. From him getting them into the proper checks to managing their offense, and he can make all the throws" said Butch Jones.

Providing sidekick duties to Hiller will be senior running back Brandon West. West has 534 yards on 98 carries this season. He is also the Broncos kick returner and serves as the offenses big play threat. Junior wide receivers Juan Nunez and Jordan White pace the receiving corps and have been somewhat inconsistent in their attempts to replace the Broncos vaunted receivers from 2008. On the offensive line are some big uglies…and we mean big. The staple of Bill Cubit's offensive line recruiting has been size, and the Broncos average well over 300 pounds.

"On the perimeter, they are very skilled. Very talented group of running backs and tight ends and then a very, very big offensive line. They create a lot of mismatches and problems that way, and then formationally with what they do" added Butch Jones.

Defensivly, WMU is led by senior linebacker Austin Pritchard(56 tackles, 1 sack) and features a stalwart on the defensive line in senior defensive tackle Cody Cileinski (6 TFL, 3 sacks). A secondary that replaced all four starters from a year ago is led by well publicized Miami (FL) transfer Doug Wiggins and junior strong safety Mario Armstrong.

"Defensively they have a lot of schemes that they present you with and they have a very talented secondary, they are big up front and have very active linebackers," said Jones. "Overall, they are just a very good football team".

PREDICTION

Central Michigan will score points, that is something that is a bit of an afterthought. CMU has the MAC's No. 1 scoring offense with an average of 34.5 points per game and has moved the ball effortlessly at times. Therefore, the key to the game will be CMU's defense against Western's offense. Hiller presents some great challenges as a quarterback and is easily the top signal called the Chippewas have faced. CMU must get pressure on Hiller and force him to make quick decisions rather than enabling him to dink and dunk. If they can do that, and get an early lead to take the crowd out of it, CMU could cruise to another easy victory….but that just wouldn't fit the bill in this rivalry. Expect a close, emotional game with some back and fourth scoring before CMU pulls away late.

Central Michigan: 38
Western Michigan: 25


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