FACTS & STATS: Site: Kelly Shorts Stadium (45,000) -- Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Eastern Michigan 2-3, Central Michigan 2-2. Away Record: Eastern Michigan 0-6, Central Michigan 3-4. Neutral Record: Eastern Michigan 0-0, Central Michigan 0-0. Conference Record: Eastern Michigan 1-6, Central Michigan 4-3. Series Record: Central Michigan leads, 56-28-6.
GAME NOTES: The Central Michigan Chippewas will try to finish off the regular season with a victory when they host the Eastern Michigan Eagles in a Mid- American Conference clash at Kelly Shorts Stadium on Friday.
A road victory for the Eagles is likely not in the cards based on their results this season. Eastern Michigan has just a 2-9 overall record and a 1-6 mark in league play. Both of those victories came at home for the Eagles, who have lost by at least 18 points in their six games away from home. Playing at home didn't help last time out, as the Eagles were blasted, 58-7, by Bowling Green over the weekend.
This is an important game for the Chippewas as a victory makes them bowl eligible and a loss sends them into the offseason. The Chippewas suffered difficult losses against West Division leaders Northern Illinois (38-17) and Ball State (44-22), but have bounced back to give themselves a shot at the postseason with back-to-back wins over Western Michigan (27-22) and Massachusetts (37-0). Getting to a bowl this season would give the Chippewas back-to-back postseason berths for the first time since earning three straight trips to the Motor City Bowl from 2006-08.
Ryan Radcliff threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns and Zurlon Tipton added 110 yards and a score on the ground to carry Central Michigan to a 34-31 victory when these teams met a year ago. The victory extended the Chippewas' all-time series lead to an even more dominant 56-28-1.
Though they are not the worst offensive team in the MAC, the Eagles are far from the best. Eastern Michigan is picking up only 335.4 yards of total offense per game while scoring a shade under 20 points a contest. The Eagles have not yet reached the 2,000-yard mark in passing or rushing.
Against Bowling Green the Eagles put forth one of the most miserable offensive performances of the season by any team as they totaled only 65 yards on 44 plays.
Brogan Roback and Tyler Benz have shared the duties at quarterback this season but neither found much success against Bowling Green as the two combined to complete just a single pass for four yards while being intercepted twice. Benz began the year as the starter and has thrown for 1,485 yards and 10 scores to nine interceptions on 59.3 percent passing. Roback has begun to get more play in recent weeks and has totaled 501 yards and three touchdowns while being intercepted four times and completing passes at a 39.3 percent rate.
The receiving threats for the Eagles are rather limited with only one player averaging more than 50 yards per game through the air. Tyreese Russell (41 receptions, 568 yards, three TDs) is that receiver though he, like so many others, did not have a catch against Bowling Green. Dustin Creel (36 receptions, 484 yards, five TDs) is the second best receiver and was also shutout against the Falcons.
Bronson Hill and Ryan Brumfield are the two leading rushers for the Eagles, but they combined for only 26 yards on 14 carries against Bowling Green. Hill has totaled 935 yards and five scores on 171 attempts this season and did have a game of 257 yards against Ohio. It was one of his four 100-yard efforts this season. Brumfield has added 473 yards and five touchdowns on the season but has not broken the century mark in any contest.
The biggest shortcoming for Eastern Michigan has been on the defensive end. The Eagles are last in the MAC in total yards allowed (5218 ypg). In fact no other team in the conference is surrendering more than 480 yards per game. The Eagles are also the only team in the conference surrendering more than 40 points per game as they have allowed 65 total touchdowns and an average of 45.5 points each week.
Central Michigan is far from an offensive force in the MAC. In fact the Chippewas are only accumulating a few more yards per game (336.9) than the Eagles, while scoring 21.5 points per game. Even in a 37-0 win last week, the Chippewas still managed only 298 yards of total offense.
Cooper Rush handles the duties under center, doing so in fairly uneven fashion. Rush has thrown for more than 2,000 yards as well as 15 touchdown passes, but he is connecting on only 56.4 percent of his pass attempts, while being picked off 14 times. In the win over UMass, Rush played better than usual, as he completed 13-of-21 pass attempts for 231 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead the Chippewas to victory.
Rush has relied heavily on Titus Davis when he lets the ball fly. Davis has racked up 1,090 yards and eight touchdowns on 59 receptions this season. Davis is one of only two players in the MAC to have eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the season, while his 18.5 yards per reception average is the second best mark in the league. Davis finished with seven receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns against UMass, accounting for more than half of the team's receptions and receiving yards in the victory.
Even though Tipton returned for this season, he has been limited and rushed for only 182 yards and four scores in five games. Tipton was the leading rusher against UMass with 50 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Saylor Lavalli (795 yards, five TDs) has been the much more productive and healthy back as the leading rusher and the only back to have played in all 11 games. Lavalli took a back seat against UMass though with 10 yards on nine carries.
Central Michigan can take solace in being a far superior defensive team than the Eagles. That is not saying much however, as the Chippewas are still allowing 30.3 points per game and more than 400 yards of total offense each week to their foes. J Cherocci (110 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks) and Shamari Bes Stadium. The two teams combined for only 524 yards of total offense in the affair, which ended in the 22nd win in 32 meetings between them for Rutgers.
Saturday's matchup likely won't run up a huge offensive tab either. Rutgers is posting only 379.2 yards of total offense per game while scoring just over 28 points every week. Compare that to just 291.3 yards of total offense each week from UConn as well as a scoring average far below the AAC's best (17.4 ppg).
Gary Nova has really struggled under center for the Scarlet Knights in recent weeks. Against UCF last weekend Nova completed only 11-of-34 pass attempts to finish with 1-7 yards while being intercepted once. Nova has completed less than 50 percent of his pass attempts in three of the last four games and has also been held below 200 yards passing in each of those games. Nova has tallied 2,159 yards and 18 cores overall but the with 14 interceptions and 25 sacks taken, he has been uneven to say the least.
One thing Nova has done somewhat well is spread the ball around. There are fourth different receivers with at least 300 yards and three of them have more than 400. Leonte Carroo (28 receptions, 478 yards, nine TDs) has been valuable, especially as a threat in scoring plays. Tyler Kroft (33 receptions, 428 yards, three TDs) is a reliable tight end that had eight receptions for 72 yards against UCF. Brandon Coleman (29 receptions, 423 yards, three TDs) is another solid target.
Leading rusher Paul James (671 yards, seven TDs) has played in each of the last two weeks after being absent for three games with an injury. James had 78 yards two weeks ago against Cincinnati but was limited to 20 yards on 12 carries against UCF, though he did score a touchdown. Justin Goodwin (457 yards, four TDs) held down the fort while James was out and is a solid option as a replacement.
The most alarming trend for Rutgers during its losing streak and the season as a whole, is how poorly it has played on defense. The Scarlet Knights are currently better than only Temple among AAC teams in total defense (434.9 ypg). A year ago Rutgers ranked second in the league in the category. The Scarlet Knights have still been strong on the pass rush with 27 sacks, the third most in the conference. Steve Longa (93 tackles, 3.0 sacks) is nearing the 100-tackle plateau for the unit.
Three different quarterbacks have been slotted as the starter throughout the year for UConn due to injury and poor performance. The most recent call up has been Casey Cochran, who will likely be the starter again on Saturday. Cochran threw for only 111 yards and a touchdown on 8-of-18 passing in the win over Temple. Cochran also threw his fourth interception of the contest in the game. In limited time this year Cochran has thrown for 521 yards and five scores, to four picks, on 56.8 percent passing.
The biggest threat the Huskies have on offense is wide receiver Geremy Davis. Against Temple, Davis brought in four passes for 83 yards and a touchdown for his third-straight game of at least 70 receiving yards. On the year, Davis has 51 receptions for 780 yards and two touchdowns. That far outweighs then efforts of any player on the roster, including second-leading receiver Shakim Phillips (28 receptions, 406 yards, three TDs).
In the backfield Lyle McCombs and Max DeLorenzo get the bulk of the work. McCombs (650 yards, four TDs) had his first 100-yard effort of the game entering play last week. He finished with 51 yards on 16 attempts against the Owls. DeLorenzo (290 yards, three TDs) is more of a short yardage back but he has had at least 60 rushing yards and a score in each of the last two weeks.
UConn was the only team in the conference that was better in terms total defense than the Scarlet Knights last year. The Huskies' fall from grace has been less pronounced, though at sixth in the conference (399.4 ypg), they are still quite off the mark they set a year ago. Yawin Smallwood (102 tackles) is the lone bright spot for the unit. It was Smallwood's 59-yard interception return for a touchdown that decided the game for UConn last weekend.
It took a furious rally in the second half against a 1-10 Temple squad to give UConn its first win. Even though Rutgers isn't among the league's elite anymore, the Scarlet Knights will be able to pick up a sixth win on Saturday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rutgers 23, Connecticut 17
Friday, November 29, 2 p.m. (et)