November 2, 2012

Five Keys: CMU vs. WMU

It's that glorious time of year again. The time when the weather turns cold, the leaves are falling, and two bitter rivals battle on the gridiron for a trophy cannon. That can only mean one thing: It's Central/Western time.

Both teams come into the game with subpar records, meaning the game doesn't mean as much as past games, or means more, depending on who you ask. Both programs were riding high following victories over BCS opponents (UConn for WMU, Iowa for CMU) but have since fell into a funk. The Broncos come in at 3-6 overall, and have been in a tailspin ever since quarterback Alex Carder went down with an injury. On Saturday they will have much to play for, a chance to turn their season around, a chance to keep a bowl game alive, and a chance to reverse the curse that has been Kelly/Shorts Stadium. On the other side, Central Michigan will have a chance at their first two game winning streak since 2009, and also to extend their season with a bowl game. And avenging a 44-14 beatdown at the hands of the Broncos in 2011 might also be on their mind.
In other words, this game might be a little important. Let's take a look at the Five Keys for tomorrows contest.

1) Z for Zurlon

RB Zurlon Tipton has been a key cog in the Chippewas offense for the entire season, but it wasn't until last week that he officially proved he could be The Offense. He led the NCAA in rushing last week with a 243 yard, 3 TD performance on 37 carries, and was finally trusted to carry the offensive workload. Despite the fact that he has averaged 6.4 YPC on the season, Tipton only carried the ball 41 times in the previous three games combined. But he was finally trusted as a workhorse, didn't fumble, and made big plays over and over again. CMU would be wise to use that formula again against the Broncos.

2) Use All Angles of Attack

It is that point in the season when coaches have a pretty good idea of what they have. It doesn't matter what personnel changes they make, their unit has displayed what they are capable of. In regards to the CMU defense, they realized that their personnel just do not have the depth, experience or talent to play in conservative scheme. Last week, they changed up the formations, blitzed from all depths of the defense, and generally confused the Akron offense. The result? They produced a few turnovers and made some key fourth down stops. CMU will have to rely on that philosophy again, as they simply can't let teams march up and down the field on them. Like Akron, the Broncos also feature a first year starter in Tyler VanTubbergen, and he has played like one at times with 10 interceptions on the year. If they play aggressive, they should be able to force some mistakes.

3) Not a Chance

As a rushing offense, Western Michigan is remarkably similar to CMU. They both have proven they can run the ball, but have been down early in games so often that they are forced to go to the air. The Broncos average 158.6 YPG on the ground, but saw that number rise to 197.3 YPG in October. Former CMU recruiting target Dareyon Chance has been the primary ball carrier for them, and he has 719 yards and 3 TD's this season. Ironically enough, the Broncos three wins have come in games where he wasn't very effective, but establishing their running game will still be a major priority against a CMU team that gives up 222.6 YPG. Juniors Brian Fields and Antoin Scriven also figure to receive carries, as they both bring different skills to the table than Chance.

4) Turnover Town

If there is one key to the winning recipe for Dan Enos and Central Michigan, it has been winning the turnover battle. Outside of the opening game vs. Southeast Missouri State, the Chippewas have not had a turnover in a game they won (Iowa, Akron). The only game they have lost this season where they won the turnover battle was Toledo. If they can limit the mistakes and create a few turnovers by WMU, the will have a terrific chance to win. Winning the turnover battle is by no means rocket science, but it could be the biggest key in this game.

5) Radcliff's Rule of 35

We couldn't possible do a Five Keys article without reference to the Chippewas lightening rod of criticism: QB Ryan Radcliff. Despite a solid year statistically, Radcliff has come under fire and even been pulled once in the Navy game. But he still gives CMU their best chance to win, and he has proven that he can lead this team when the offense is balanced. That brings us to the key number of 35. That refers to pass attempts, and out of nine victories in the past three years, only one has come with Radcliff attempting 35 or more passes, and that would be the 36 he attempted in the 2010 win over Western Michigan.

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