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Friend vs Foe: Central Michigan

August 29th, 2013 by Justin Potts


The first edition of this year’s Friend vs Foe series features Ron Balaskovitz, the Central Michigan writer for the Mid-American Conference SB Nation site, Hustle Belt. He will provide his perspective on how Central can beat Michigan on Saturday. You can follow Ron on Twitter @Rovitz. On the Michigan side, Josh is taking over this weekly series this season for Maize and Go Blue. You can follow him @Jdemille9.

Three things must happen.

The first, is that Central needs to win the turnover battle. The biggest thing for any team who is hoping to pull off an upset is to keep possession of the ball, and not give the favorite short fields to work with. That is certainly the case for CMU on Saturday. Last season against Iowa, CMU won the turnover battle, but the biggest thing in that game was that they had zero turnovers of their own. Particularly against a team with an offense as good as Michigan is expected to have, CMU needs to have long drives, and force Michigan to drive the length of the field if they’re going to score.¬†Last year, CMU was clobbered at home by Michigan State, but CMU played a strong first quarter, and was only down 7-0 at the end of it. But the second quarter saw multiple turnovers, and the score went from 7-0 to 24-0 in the span of 15 minutes. And that was against a bad offense. If CMU has more than one turnover on Saturday against a good Michigan offense, they’re dead.

Cody Kater has thrown four career passes (MLive.com)

The second, is that CMU needs to establish the running game, to help out new quarterback Cody Kater. CMU has a very strong offensive line, and one of the few advantages that they have over Michigan is at the running back spot, with returning senior, Zurlon Tipton. Last season Tipton ran for nearly 1,500 ¬†yards, and had 19 touchdowns, he was the main reason CMU ended last year on a four game winning streak. But the key for CMU to get a running game going is to help ease the burden on the shoulders of new starter Cody Kater. Kater has thrown four passes at the D-1 level, and I think many CMU fans would prefer that he not have to try and make all the plays in his first game. CMU has a talented, and deep receiving corps this year, but if they can’t get the run going, to draw the secondary up, it could be a problem for those guys to get open, and for Kater to try and find them in the smaller windows. This is probably the battle that I’m looking forward to the most on Saturday, seeing if CMU’s big offensive line can open up enough holes to keep the Michigan defense honest.

And finally, CMU needs to figure out a way to make Michigan’s offense as one dimensional as possible. In a perfect world, the front four of CMU will get pressure on Devin Gardner, and cause the passing game to struggle, forcing the inconsistent Michigan running game to step up. But the problem for CMU is that their front four isn’t very good. Last year CMU only had 15 sacks as a team, and struggled to get pressure on opposing QB’s on a consistent basis, which in turn, made their secondary look bad because they were left in coverage for extended periods of time. CMU has to figure out a way to get stops against Michigan, not only so they don’t have to pass every series just to try and keep up, but so that their defense doesn’t spend all day on the field, and get worn out in the second half. The CMU coaches have to know that if they try and matchup one on one with the Michigan athletes, they’re going to get burned, so I expect CMU to send lots of pressure and blitzes, something they don’t normally do, to try and cause havoc and turnovers.

First games are always tough to predict. Inevitably there is some turnover on both sides and each team enters the season with varying degrees of questions. Central Michigan breaks a new quarterback into an offense that was less than stellar last year. They were pretty good passing, but the run game wasn’t anything to write home about. I expect them to be right around the same 7-6 team they were in 2012. MAC teams cannot be taken lightly, as evidenced by Toledo under the last regime, but CMU should not present anywhere close to as tough a test as our season opener last year.

Michigan has come full circle now that Devin Gardner is entrenched in the starting role. Brady Hoke and Al Borges can finally run their offense. We caught a glimpse of what it might look like last year but now that Team 134 has had a full offseason to prepare and hone their craft we will get to see why Devin Gardner was the top-rated dual threat quarterback in the country coming out of Inkster High School in 2009.

If Fitz Toussaint lives up to the preseason hype he's in line for a big game (Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Last year Michigan relied on Denard Robinson to provide its run game. Fitzgerald Toussaint was slow out of the gates after his early season suspension and was finally getting some momentum when he broke his leg against Iowa. I wasn’t sure Fitz would come back strong, let alone be the No. 1 running back, but by all accounts it’s his job to lose, and I’m inclined to believe Hoke and Co. when they say he has looked good so far. If Gardner and Fitz can come out of the gate strong and give Michigan a truly balanced attack then this offense has a chance to be really dynamic. Not Oregon dynamic, but tough to stop nonetheless.

The defense is without its heart and soul, Jake Ryan, for at least a few games but they should be able to weather the storm without him. Blake Countess is back, as is his last year’s fill-in, Raymon Taylor. Michigan gave up the fewest plays of over 20 yards last year (35), but that’s all they did against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. All of the Gamecocks’ five touchdowns came on big plays or directly following a big play. If Michigan wants to not only win this game, but compete for a Big Ten title they will need to limit the big plays given up.

On offense, Michigan needs to establish the run, first and foremost. If they can do that it will open up the passing game, namely the play-action. Having the threat of both a run game and a passing attack will be tough to stop. Turnovers were an issue last year, though a lot of them were forced throws into bad situations. An offseason of work should have that under control. Win the turnover battle and you usually win the game.

On defense, Michigan needs to avoid giving up big plays, or at least limit them. Last year the Wolverines struggled to get pressure on the quarterback with just the front four, and that’s something Greg Mattison has made a point of emphasis this season. If they can create some havoc in the backfield the secondary should have easy pickin’s (pun intended). They don’t need to get a ton of sacks or tackles for loss, but if Frank Clark and the rest of the line can become well acquainted with Cody Kater it’s going to be a long day for the Chippewas.