At 2-1, the Central Michigan Chippewas recognize that there are still opportunities to get back into the hunt for a Mid-American Conference championship. The 52-44 loss to Western Michigan was damaging, but not lethal.
They'll have a chance to get back on track as MAC West contenders when they travel to Ypsilanti to take on the winless Eastern Michigan Eagles on Friday.
Among the highlights for the Chippewas this season is the complete play of wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton. The junior was heavily involved in every aspect of the offense versus Western Michigan, most notably racking up three touchdowns as a runner. Pimpleton averaged 15.4 yards per carry, with 7 carries for 108 yards. Pimpleton also contributed with three receptions for 42 yards and even completed 1 of 2 passes for 30 yards.
On the other side is Eastern Michigan. At 0-3, the Eagles have to be wondering how their 2020 season unraveled so quickly, with painfully close losses to Kent State (27-23) and Ball State (38-31). Perhaps this is the game in which the Eagles will finally be able to get into the win column for the first time since last November.
Overall, Central Michigan holds a commanding 61-30-6 lead in the head-to-head series with its in-state rivals. This is the oldest rivalry in the MAC, as it dates back to 1902, and has been played every year since 1972. More recently, the home team has won each of the last five meetings. Does that mean it's Eastern Michigan's turn?
Central Michigan at Eastern Michigan
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 27 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Central Michigan -7
When Central Michigan Has the Ball
The aforementioned Pimpleton has been dynamic for the Chippewas, but he is not the only talented Central Michigan player on the offensive side of the ball. Junior Dallas Dixon leads the team with 180 yards on 10 receptions. The combination of Kobe Lewis and Lew Nichols at running back also help supplement redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Richardson in the passing game.
Richardson has been solid, with only one interception versus four touchdown passes. He's sixth in the MAC with a 62.0 percent completion rate and seventh with 7.5 yards per attempt. But Richardson is relatively inexperienced, so a key strategy for Eastern Michigan may be to get to Richardson with timely blitzes.
When Eastern Michigan Has the Ball
The 0-3 start is obscuring the fact that Eagles quarterback Preston Hutchinson is having a solid 2020 season. Hutchinson is coming off his best game of the season against Toledo, completing 25 passes of 38 attempts for 244 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort.
Among Hutchinson's targets are a trio of capable wide receivers in Tanner Knue (14 receptions, 191 yards, 1 touchdown), Hassan Beydoun (17 receptions, 176 yards), and Quian Williams (12 receptions, 137 yards, 1 touchdown). Defensively, the strategy for Central Michigan may be to make Eastern Michigan truly one-dimensional, as Hutchinson is not only the starting quarterback but also the Eagles' leading runner with 98 yards. If Central Michigan can clamp down on the Eagles' passing game, it could make for a long afternoon.
This has all the makings of a MAC shootout, as both teams average close to 30 yards per game. With Central Michigan having a more balanced attack, it may lend to the Chippewas using their ground game to help burn the clock to seal the victory.
Prediction: Central Michigan 41, Eastern Michigan 35
Podcast: Week 13 Preview and Predictions + Interview with Kirk Herbstreit
(Kalil Pimpleton photo courtesy of Central Michigan Athletics)