December 3, 2009

MAC Championship Preview: CMU vs. Ohio

Take a flashback three years ago and the Central Michgan Chippewas and Ohio Bobcats were in the same exact position. CMU would defeat Ohio handedly in the 2006 MAC Championship game by a score of 31-10 en route to their first bowl appearance and the programs only bowl victory after the Chippewas defeated Middle Tennessee State in the Motor City Bowl.

Circle 2009 and the Chippewas and Bobcats will once again meet to decide the MAC's best. CMU comes in at 10-2 (8-0) and ran through the MAC conference on the way to securing their spot in the championship game. Ohio sits at 9-3 (7-1), and won a MAC Championship play-in game last Friday when they defeated the 9-3 (7-1) Temple Owls 35-17. Central Michigan and Ohio will meet Friday, December 4th at 8pm (ESPN2). The two teams met last season with CMU squeaking out a 31-28 victory in Athens, but did not meet this year.

Looking at the Ohio Bobcats

In the end, things may have sorted themselves out. Despite Temple making a late push to get into the MAC Championship before their loss to Ohio, it appears the MAC Championship will pit the top two teams from the Mid-American Conference. Outside of an out of character 20-11 loss to Kent State at home, the Bobcats only other losses were a bowl eligible Connecticut team and Tennessee. They lost those two games by a combined 18 points and as a whole, their three losses came by an average of nine points. On the other side of the column, Ohio has lived on the edge a little bit and came out victorious in many of the close games they lost the previous season. Victories over Bowling Green, North Texas, Buffalo, Ball State and Northern Illinois were all settled by a touchdown or less, and the Bobcats needed overtime to defeat the Mean Green of North Texas. Sometimes a fine line exists between a good season and a bad season, and the Bobcats ability to finish games in 2009 has them in contention for a MAC title. Statistically, they boast an average offense and a slightly above average defense, but excel in one major area: turnover margin. The Bobcats lead the league with a +14 turnover margin, but face a Central Michigan team that has turned the ball over just 13 times all year, lowest in the MAC.

Looking at the Ohio offense:

Ohio head coach Frank Solich came to Athens after he was let got as Nebraska's head man (something many Nebraska fans still regret). With him he brought a power rushing attack, but he has become more balanced and the Bobcats are just as lethal through the air. Ohio averages 26.7 points per game and 328.7 yards per game, both ranked in the middle of the pack in the MAC. Offensively, they don't excel on any one area but they don't turn the ball over and make big plays when they need to be made.

The Bobcats are led by senior quarterback Theo Scott, who quietly put up great numbers this season. He finished the season with 2120 yards passing and a touchdown to interception ratio of 19-10 while completing nearly 60% of his passes. Scott battled some injuries throughout the season and is even listed as questionable for the MAC Championship after spraining an ankle against Temple, but all indications are he will start. In the rushing department, Ohio is committee driven. Chris Garrett leads the team with 585 yards and two touchdowns on 129 carries. He is spelled by Vince Davidson (269 yards and one touchdown on 63 carries) and Donte Harden (234 yards and two touchdowns on 57 carries). Quarterback Theo Scott actually leads the team in rushing touchdowns with thee.

The receiver position is much like the running back position for the Bobcats in the sense that no one player sticks out; rather it's a group effort. Senior Taylor Price leads the team in both receptions and receiving yards with 51 grabs for 731 yards and five touchdowns. Junior LaVon Brazill is second with 49 catches for 670 yards and six touchdowns. The redzone threat is 6-foot-4 junior Terrence McCrae, who has accounted for seven touchdown receptions on just 26 catches. The Bobcats don't really utilize the tight end or running back position much in the passing game. Entrenched in the starting lineup up front are senior left tackle Chris Rodgers, sophomore right tackle Joe Flading and sophomore left guard A.J. Strum. Right guard and center are both have multiple players listed as possible starters with "or" used. Senior David White, junior Alex Mitchell and freshman Skyler Allen are listed as possible starters at center while redshirt freshman Eric Herman and sophomore Kadre Ponder are listed as possible starters at right guard.

Looking at the Ohio defense:

The defensive unit for Ohio ranks third in the MAC with only 21.4 points per game allowed and have the number one ranked secondary as they lead the league in defensive pass efficiency. But they rank fifth in total defense as they give up an average of over 350 yards per game. Where this unit excels at is in creating turnovers, 35 of them on the season. That statistic may not jump out initially until you factor in it's nine more than the next closest MAC team and nearly double the amount CMU forced all season. Creating turnovers has been the Bobcats M.O all season and a major reason their defense has had success.

While the offensive unit for Ohio may lack star power, it's a different story on the defensive side of the ball where they are led by a trio of talented playmakers. 6-foot-1 and 191 pound safety Gerald Moore may be just a redshirt freshman, but he has shown a knack for the ball and has collected six interceptions on the year to go along with 53 tackles. DE Dak Notestine leads the team with 5.5 sacks, 9 TFL and 3 forced fumbles and has the size at 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds to be an every down end. Then…we get to junior linebacker Noah Keller. The junior from Kearney, Nebraska has tallied 122 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT and 2 forced fumbles this season and is the Bobcats leader on defense.

How Central Michigan wins:

By not turning the ball over. CMU has taken great care of the ball all season, but they are facing an opportunistic defense that has made a living on creating turnovers. The Chippewas should be able to move the ball on offense, but quarterback Dan LeFevour must make smart decisions with the football and not give the Bobcats any unnecessary momentum. Defensively, Ohio has proven they can score on talented defenses but have not been able to create many explosion plays in recent weeks. Theo Scott is battling an injury and the Chippewas would be wise to blitz him early on and see whether his mobility is limited. CMU knows all to well about how a quarterback can be limited with ankle injuries as LeFevour was hampered the last time he played at Ford Field against Florida Atlantic in the Motor City Bowl. Scott must prove that his injury is not a factor and his mobility not diminished. For that reason, the Chippewas defensive ends will need to provide consistent pressure and force him into tough positions.

Regardless, CMU has numerous things on their side. Ford Field has been home away from home for them in recent years as this will mark the sixth time the Chippewas seniors have played in the Motor City. Ohio is battling some injuries and lacks the offensive firepower to attack CMU's defense. If CMU can avoid turnovers, they should have a fairly easy time winning their third MAC Championship in four years.


Central Michigan: 42
Ohio: 20

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