October 1, 2009

Chippewas look to make it 16 straight vs. the MAC East

Last years game against Buffalo showcased exactly why the MAC conference is so competitive week and week out. CMU carried the lead late into the fourth quarter before Buffalo added a late touchdown and recovered an onside kick and set themselves up in a position to win the game. A potential game winning field goal by the Bulls bounced off the uprights at Kelly/Shorts and the Chippewas survived a scare from the eventual MAC Champions, 27-25.

This year, the game has a tad different implications. Fresh of a program year where head coach Turner Gill guided Buffalo to an improbable MAC Championship, the Bulls are sitting at 1-3 (0-1) overall with losses to Pittsburgh, Central Florida and Temple. Perhaps the hardest loss to swallow was the 37-13 defeat at the hands of the Temple Owls. In that game, Buffalo turned the ball over five times and allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown to alleviate a defensive effort that held the Owls to under 100 yards passing.

Part of the Bulls 1-3 start can be associated with the season ending injury to RB James Starks, who was lost to injury before the season. Starks, a preseason 1st Team All-Mac selection, was an integral part of the Bulls offense and helped ease the burden off star wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt. Roosevelt ranks second behind CMU's Bryan Anderson(44 games) in consecutive games with a reception with 42 and added nine receptions for 120 yards against Temple. Taking over the reins at quarterback for departed senior Drew Willy is sophomore Zach Maynard. Maynard has thrown for 1024 yards with a 64.6% completion percentage and seven touchdowns, but has also been plagued by six interceptions. Helping aid those stats is a NFL destined wide receiver in Roosevelt, who has 29 receptions for 445 yards and three touchdowns…and he is averaging a ridiculous 15.3 yards per catch. As Roosevelt stretches the field, fellow senior wideout Brett Hamlin has been a steady possession receiver with 26 catches for 269 yards, although he has yet to reach the endzone.

What Buffalo has adapted to with the loss of Starks is a pass oriented offense that takes advantage of their wideouts and talented senior tight end Jesse Rack. The Bulls do look to establish the run, and use a running back by committee approach similar to CMU's, but have only been marginally effective thus far. A glaring weakness for the Bulls has been their first quarter performance, as they have been outscored 37-7 through four games.

Defensively Buffalo is led by safety Davonte Shannon and fellow defensive backMike Newton, but as a whole unit have struggled to get pressure on opposing passers and are allowing an average of 179 yards per game on the ground. Despite posting only three sacks this season, Buffalo's pass defense has been impressive and is only allowing an average of 160 yards per game and a total of four touchdowns through the air from opponents.

Expect that to change this week.

Coming into Buffalo is a 3-1 (1-0) Central Michigan squad firing on all cylinders and looking to reclaim the MAC Championship from the Bulls. Quarterback Dan LeFevour has been playing like an All-American and a balanced attack led by wideouts Anderson, Antonio Brown, Kito Poblah, and a running back by committee has powered the CMU offense to 48 points in each of the last two games.

"I think that our offense is in a groove," said LeFevour. "It starts with the offensive line, they've been playing great ball and that allows us to do some things offensively".

LeFevour accounted for 337 total yards (197 passing, 140 rushing) and six touchdowns against Akron last week and the offense seemed to move the ball and score at will. Starting running back Bryan Schroeder is expected back for the game against Buffalo and a combination of Schroeder and Paris Cotton could prove valuable against a Buffalo defense that has struggled against the run this season.

While the Chippewas high powered offense will not catch any teams off guard, a stifling defense may. Portrayed as the weak link last year, the Chippewas defense has responded by allowing only 16.8 points per game and a total of 274 yards per game, both tops in the MAC. They've also held opponents to a 29% conversion rate on third down and added eight sacks this season. Perhaps the most surprising defensive stat is located in the secondary. Ranked among the worst in the nation last year, the Chippewas have allowed only two touchdowns and an average of just 161 yards per game through the air.

"Can't say enough abut our defense, their flying around and their running to the ball, and that's critical," said head coach Butch Jones. "I think we're flying around, making plays on defense and we're getting off the field".

With the loss of James Starks, Buffalo is playing directly into the strength of CMU's defense with an inexperienced quarterback at the helm. Buffalo cannot afford to get down early in this game and allow the Chippewas offense to dictate the tempo, but that will be difficult with the experienced playmakers CMU has. Defensively, CMU must stop Naaman Roosevelt and limit the amount of touches he gets, similar to what they did with Akron WR Deryn Bowser last week.

Overall, the Bulls lack the weapons on either side of the ball to really exploit either of CMU's units and will need to take care of the ball to stand any chance of an upset. Expect the Chippewas to jump out early and never look back as they dictate the tempo with the short passing game and their rushing attack. Also expect WR Bryan Anderson to grab his first touchdown reception of the season as CMU will look for big plays early on the road.

PREDICTION

Central Michigan: 45
Buffalo: 24


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