Central Michigan (5-4) at Eastern Michigan (2-6) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rynearson Stadium (30,200) -- Ypsilanti, Michigan. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Central Michigan 2-2, Eastern Michigan 2-1. Away Record: Central Michigan 3-2, Eastern Michigan 0-5. Neutral Record: Central Michigan 0-0, Eastern Michigan 0-0. Conference Record: Central Michigan 3-2, Eastern Michigan 1-3. Series Record: Central Michigan leads, 57-28-6.
GAME NOTES: Seeking to end a two-game losing streak, the Eastern Michigan Eagles will play host to their in-state rivals, the Central Michigan Chippewas, in a Mid-American Conference clash at Rynearson Stadium Saturday.
Central Michigan has won three of its last four contests, including a 20-14 victory last weekend in which the Chippewas traveled to Buffalo to take down the Bulls.With three games remaining on the regular season schedule for CMU, the Chippewas will try and catch up with the three teams ahead of them in the MAC West Division standings.
The Eagles took down the same Buffalo team that just lost to Central Michigan early in October, but since then EMU is 0-2, dropping consecutive contests to conference competition. Eastern Michigan was defeated by Northern Illinois, 28-17, last weekend.
This series is a long-standing one that has featured two historic intrastate rivals. Central Michigan holds the commanding all-time series advantage, 57-28-6, in a rivalry that began on the field in 1902.
Central Michigan's hearts collectively stopped last weekend against Buffalo when, early on in the game, running back Thomas Rawls went down with a knee injury. But veteran back Saylor Lavallii is used to stepping up for an injured CMU back (he did so last season when regular starter Zurlon Tipton went down), and he delivered with a standout performance that helped his team to victory.
Lavallii carried the ball 21 times in the contest for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns, helping his team along in the victory. Rawls is a tough runner to replace, as the senior averages 144.4 rushing ypg and has reached the end zone 10 times on carries through seven games played. The two touchdowns for Lavallii were his first of the season for an offense that averages 149.7 rushing ypg.
Cooper Rush was solid in the win over Buffalo, connecting on 14-of-24 passing for 231 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The touchdown pass for Rush went to favorite receiver Titus Davis, who ended the day with six receptions for 100 yards and the score. Rush has thrown for 14 touchdowns this season, and leads an offense averaging 23.3 ppg. Davis, despite missing some time earlier in the year due to injury, leads the Chippewas with 602 yards and five touchdowns on 37 receptions in just six games played. Jesse Kroll provides Rush with another solid outlet, having caught 26 passes for 415 yards and four scores.
In the past four games, Central Michigan has played strong defensively save for one game against Ball State. In the team's last three wins, the Chippewas have held opponents to 10 points, 17 points and 14 points, respectively. The strong defensive play has lowered CMU's points per game allowed average to 23.6, and the Chippewas have worked to restrict opponents' rushing attacks, and now allow 131.7 rushing ypg through nine contests.
Linebacker Justin Cherocci has a team-high 87 tackles, and has from time to time been disruptive in the backfield with four tackles for loss and a sack. He's also recorded a quarterback hurry and forced a fumble. Lineman Joe Ostman has a team-best eight tackles for loss, and Blake Serpa's three sacks this season are another team high. Defensive backs Tony Annese and Brandon Greer have each registered three interceptions this season, while Annese tops the team with nine pass breakups. They'll need to be vigilant against EMU quarterback Reginald Bell.
Speaking of Bell, he played a relatively strong game for the Eagles last weekend against Northern Illinois. The redshirt freshman completed 16-of-34 passes for 124 yards with an interception, but the dual-threat signal caller did most of his damage on the ground. Bell rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, which was the most of any player in the game. This season, he's completed 52.2 percent of his pass attempts, and leads the team in rushing with 423 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
Bell's targets are few and far between. Tyreese Russell leads the team with just 22 receptions and 236 yards. He and Tyler Allen are both the team leaders in touchdown catches with a pair each, and just two other players on the roster have a scoring grab this entire season.
Bell leads the team in rushing, but running back Ryan Brumfield isn't too far off the quarterback's pace. Brumfield has toted the ball 66 times this season for 304 yards and four scores, but averages just 38 rushing ypg. Against NIU, though, he had 112 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The Eagles, who average a mere 15.3 ppg this season, are racking up 169.5 rushing ypg and managing a meager 116.8 passing ypg.
Containing opponents has been an issue for the team this season, as the Eagles are allowing 38.1 ppg to challengers, along with 504.3 total offensive ypg. Everywhere on the stat sheet, Eastern Michigan is being outdone by opponents. The team is surrendering a lofty 47 percent third-down conversion rate, and has only sacked an opposing quarterback nine times in eight games (compared to 21 sacks for opponents on the Eagles). Facing a hot Central Michigan offense won't do the Eagles any favors moving forward.
Linebacker Great Ibe has been a bright spot for the Eagles on the defensive side of the ball, having registered 95 tackles and six tackles for loss through eight contests. Defensive lineman Pat O'Connor is on the same level as Ibe with 10 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries. But other than those two players, the Eastern Michigan defense has been quiet and unproductive. The team has just 10 turnovers gained, and in five interceptions this season, has a mere three interception return yards.
Eastern Michigan has a winning record at home this season, but the team is nowhere near ready to defend its home turf against a hot Central Michigan offense. Even if Rawls can't go this weekend against the Eagles, Lavallii and Martez Walker should serve as a viable dual-threat tandem in the run game to support Rush and Davis as they continue their dominance in the passing game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Central Michigan 29, Eastern Michigan 14Game Date and Time
Saturday, November 1, 1 p.m. (ET)