FACTS & STATS: Site: Kelly/Shorts Stadium (45,000) -- Mount Pleasant, State. Television: ESPN3. Home Record: UMass 1-5, CMU 1-2. Away Record: UMass 0-4, CMU 3-4. Neutral Record: UMass 0-0, CMU 0-0. Conference Record: UMass 1-5, CMU 3-3. Series Record: Central Michigan leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The Central Michigan Chippewas are two wins away from bowl eligibility as they host the Massachusetts Minutemen to begin their season ending two-game homestand at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
The Chippewas managed to win their final three games of the regular season to become bowl eligible last year and took the first step towards repeating that late surge last week with a 27-22 victory over Western Michigan. CMU's win improved it to 4-6 overall and also rose it to a 3-3 Mid-American Conference standing. Coach Dan Enos's team will need to get past the Minutemen and defeat Eastern Michigan on Nov. 29 to qualify for the postseason.
UMass came up just short in its final game of the season at Gillette Stadium as it fell 14-13 to Akron to drop to a 1-9 overall record. Coach Charley Molnar's team has not been victorious since its 17-10 decision over the winless Miami-Ohio RedHawks on Oct. 12. The Minutemen have not won a road game since Nov. 10, 2012. If they fail to upset CMU, they will have one last chance to earn an away decision when they face Ohio University at Peden Stadium on Black Friday.
This will be only the second time these schools square off on the gridiron. The Chippewas coasted to a 42-21 triumph over UMass in 2012, which was the first year at the FBS level for the Minutemen.
Molnar has continued to face the difficulties that come along with the transition from the FCS to the higher ranks in his second year at the helm of the program. UMass has one of the least productive offenses in the nation and has managed to score only 11.7 points per game. It is one of just two teams in the MAC averaging less than 300 total yards per outing as well.
The poor play under center continued for the Minutemen in their loss to Akron. A.J. Doyle started after missing the team's previous game due to injury. Doyle hit on 13-of-21 throws for 75 yards and was picked off once before leaving the game mid-drive the third quarter. Mike Wegzyn took the snaps for the Minutemen and was much more effective as he passed for 76 yards and a score on 4-of-7 efficiency, but he was also intercepted once.
The rushing attack also failed as Jamal Wilson carried the ball a game-high 22 times for 70 yards, while Lorenzo Woodley was held to just 31 yards on 10 attempts. Woodley had been on a hot streak prior to the team's bout against Akron as he had established new career-highs in rushing yards (163) and carries (38), while scoring his second TD of the season in his previous outing against NIU. UMass has an NFL prospect lining up at tight end in Rob Branchflower, who has averaged 52.2 ypg in six outings. Sophomore wideout Tajae Sharpe is by far the Minutemen's leader in receiving with 591 yards and 56 catches.
UMass has allowed 308 points in 10 games. It has not been able to get off the field due to its oppositions' ability to convert 41.9 percent on third-downs and also 50 percent on fourth-downs. Sophomore Randall Jette became the first player to force two fumbles in a game in the Minutemen's FBS era versus Akron, but the Zips still managed to achieve 18 first downs to just 14 by UMass.
CMU's hopes for a run into the bowl season became more realistic when star running back Zurlon Tipton returned from an injury that was thought to be season-ending. Tipton, who finished fourth in the MAC in rushing in 2012 with 1,497 yards and 19 TDs in 13 games, played his first full game with seven screws in his surgically-repaired ankle against the Broncos last week. The senior did not appear to have lost a step as he picked up 114 yards and scored two TDs on 29 carries.
Freshman QB Cooper Rush nearly ended the team's postseason hopes with three interceptions, but he also amassed 167 yards and a score on 16-of-25 efficiency. CMU has one of the top wideouts in the nation in junior Titus Davis, who is the active FBS leader in career reception average at 18.9 ypc. He has managed to reel in 52 catches for 936 yards (second in the MAC), despite having an inexperienced passer running the offense. Davis is tied for second in the school record book with current NFL star Antonio Brown with 22 TD receptions.
The Chippewas are ranked 10th in the league in scoring defense with an allowance of 33.3 points per game and are positioned in the same spot in total defense (434.5 ypg). Senior linebacker Shamari Benton was all over the field when the team visited Waldo Stadium last week, registering a game-high 14 tackles, including 1.5 TFL. Benton is second in the MAC in tackles on the season with 102, while Justin Cherocci is third with just three less stops.
CMU's late season schedule has its chances of climbing back to the .500 mark looking good. UMass is a very young program and it will continue to grow into a contender as its underclassmen develop. However, the Minutemen will have no answer for Tipton or Davis, who both have a great chance of finding the end zone in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Central Michigan 28, Massachusetts 13
Saturday, November 23, 1 p.m. (et)