September 25, 2009

CMU v.s. Akron Preview

The time has finally come for the Chippewas football team. MAC conference play starts this weekend in Kelly/Shorts against the Akron Zips, and CMU gets a chance bring another conference championship back to Mount Pleasant. A title would be their third in four years and take away the sour taste after losing out last year. The first hurdle is an Akron team surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty. Fired coaches, recruiting violations and a dismissed starting quarterback, Akron has had it all the last few weeks…but sometimes a team is most dangerous when their backs are against the wall.

The Zips will look to Matt Rodgers for steady quarterback play as incumbent starter Chris Jacquemain was suspended, and later dismissed earlier this week for a violation of team rules. The sophomore Rodgers had his first start against Indiana last week and had an up and down first game. He completed 14-23 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown and added a 9-yard touchdown run, but also threw four interceptions and never really allowed his team to get into a winning position as the Zips fell to Indiana 38-21. This Saturday's contest at Kelly/Shorts stadium will mark his first start on the road, and he absolutely cannot afford to turn the ball over that many times in enemy territory and expect his team to win.

Fortunately for Rodgers, he will have some weapons at his disposal, starting with wide receiver Deryn Bowser. The 6-foot-1 and 210 pound Bowser has caught 14 passes this year and scored on 5 of them, meaning he is a big play threat and their go to guy in the redzone. Joining him on the outside is 5-foot-9 and 195 pound Jeremy Bruce and 6-foot-1 Dashan Miller. Offensively the Zips also have a veteran line, starting two seniors, two juniors and one sophomore in 6-foot-5 right tackle Jake Anderson.

Defensively Akron runs a version of the 3-4 defense and utilize the size of their front line that goes 280, 275 and 290 pounds. Standing out in that group is Almondo Sewell, a 6-foot-1, 280 pound wrecking ball at defensive tackle. The back seven is built for speed and slightly undersized, but redshirt freshman middle linebacker Brian Wagner has been a pleasant surprise early on. The Zips have some size at safety, but boast their top four corners at 5-foot-9 or shorter. As a whole, the defense currently ranks first in the MAC against the run, but opponents have average 32 carries per game against them and have clearly tried to move the ball on the ground against the Zips.

Akron currently sits at 1-2 (0-0), but suffered their two losses to Big Ten schools Indiana and Penn State while their lone win came against Morgan State. What that means is that the Zips are a real hard team to get an early grasp on, although their performance at home last week against Indiana was lackluster to say the least. Rodgers will have a full week to prep as a starter with the Jacquemain era officially over, and their rush defense has been impressive. CMU has the offensive weapons to exploit Akron's defense and look for the Chippewas to go to the air early and often.

Bryan Anderson and Kito Poblah are both match-up nightmares with their size against Akron's corners. Should they get one on one match-ups at all, look for quarterback Dan LeFevour to throw deep and let his receivers make a play. To compliment that, Antonio Brown proved last week on special teams that he is a threat to make a big play every time he touches the ball and the wideout has been about as sure handed as you can get. Expect CMU to look at establishing a running game, as they likely return Bryan Schroeder back from injury after missing last weeks game, and combine him with the speedy Paris Cotton. Akron's 3-4 defense will present some challenges for a young offensive line as they blitz from just about anywhere, but they have played well as a unit since Arizona and continue to improve every game.

Salivating. That's exactly what the CMU defense is doing right now as they prepare to welcome a new quarterback into the most hostile stadium in the MAC. Expect CMU to pressure Rodgers early and often and force him to beat them with his arm and decision making skills. Coming off their first shutout since 1996, the Chippewas defense is looking to continue their positive momentum as they have yet to see 30+ points scored on them as was the norm in 2008. Frank Zombo[db], [db]Nick Bellore and Co. should have the opportunity to make big plays as Akron adjusts their offense and attempts to find an identity. A key match-up will be cornersKirkston Edwards and Josh Gordy facing off against Deryn Bowser, one of the MAC's top wide receivers. Similar to the way CMU uses Antonio Brown, the Zips love to get the ball in the hands of Bowser and let him make plays, so CMU's secondary has to be ready for reverses, direct snaps and bubble screens.

Akron has some talent, there is no debating that. Yet, last week they fell straight on their face in opening the brand new InfoCision Stadium and lost to Indiana. CMU presents many of the same challenges the Hoosiers did, but with more weapons on the outside and a much more dynamic signal caller in LeFevour. Add in the fact that this is at Kelly/Shorts, and CMU should start conference play 1-0 with a relatively easy win.

PREDICTION:

Central Michigan: 34
Akron: 13


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