This week, I spoke with James Jimenez over at Hustle Belt, which covers all things MAC. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the Central Michigan Chippewas, the Jayhawks opponent this Saturday. I also answered some questions for him, so feel free to jump over there and chat with some MAC fans.
1. Coming off a big win at Purdue, CMU looked to have some momentum going into their game against Syracuse. What happened to cause such a steep nosedive?
In the words of the immortal Denis Green, "they are exactly what we thought they were." That is to say, it really comes down to the fact that the Syracuse Orange were a better opponent, and CMU lost. Simple as that. Syracuse came out hungry, wanting to show that their 2OT victory against FCS foe Villanova (wow, that's actually a great basketball match-up,) was not a fluke. Meanwhile, Central scored a huge upset of Purdue on the road in the previous week, making this game against Syracuse at home a trap game, The scoreboard was really a tale of "holy crap, we came totally unprepared." Central looked flat on all sides of the ball, while Syracuse took advantage of a bye week and simply out prepared and out executed the Chippewas when it counted.
2. Last week the Chippewas were missing their two main offensive playmakers, WR Titus Davis due to injury and RB Thomas Rawls to a suspension. Are either likely to return this week? And is anyone poised to step up if they don't?
#TitusWatch is in full effect in Mt. Pleasant, and boy could they use his services right about now. Titus suffered a freak injury on a punt return vs. Chattanooga, and has not played since. He brings a sense of energy and electricity to the football field and elicits comparisons to another Central great Antonio Brown. That statement right there should be enough to state the importance of Titus to this offense and to Central's success on the football field. Titus has been week-to-week with a knee sprain, and it is unlikely that he will return vs. Kansas. For now, it looks like Coach Enos will have to rely on Kroll, who has been an unsung hero, Courtney Williams, who has already tied his last season's total in touchdowns (with one,) and a pair of redshirt freshmen named Eric Cooper and Corey Willis. Thomas Rawls, meanwhile, isn't coming back for the foreseeable future, considering the charges against him could total 12 years in prison and $15,000 in fines. We must once again rely on the Great Mulleted Hope Saylor Lavallii, who admirably replaced Zurlon Tipton last season.
3. Speaking of suspensions, on Monday WR Andrew Flory was dismissed from the team after being suspended over the summer. Ryan Oruche has already left the team. Does CMU have a discipline issue? Is this a case of good kids making bad decisions, the coaching staff recruiting risky players, or is the coaching staff losing control of the team?
Andrew Glory would have been a great nickname if he would have had a breakout year, like I think he would have had this season. Ya know, kinda like the whole Johnny Football and Kenny Trill thing down in aTm? Sadly, Andrew Flory, the hero of the 2012 Pizza Bowl and creator of one of the most cherished football plays in my sports-watching memory, is gone. Ryan Oruche didn't really ever get a chance to take the field, so in terms of production, Central loses a hell of a lot of potential on both of those players.
(Ed Note: My phone decided to auto-correct 'Flory' to 'Glory' when I originally sent these questions, hence the accidental nickname.)
The second question you pose is tricky. Having met Coach Enos three times in person, he seems to be sort of bland and Belicheckian, never particularly divulging much in the way of information. You cannot ever get a good read on him, even within the games. Publicly, Coach Enos has said that he wants his players to do the right thing and play the right way. However, he has made major investments in risky prospects multiple times, believing he can fix them, and has utterly failed in utilizing them or keeping them well behaved. Before Flory, Oruche, and Rawls, there was a Michigan transfer named Austin White that was supposed to save the CMU backfield. White and a couple others were dismissed before ever taking the field for peddling 'shrooms from their dorm room. Not all players disciplined are bad eggs or thugs; in the case of Rawls, I believe it was a good kid making a bad decision and paying the price. However, all of these incidents, regardless of those factors, show that maybe Coach Enos and his staff are losing control of their players, because it's either focus on discipline and lose games, or focus on the game and allow this type of behavior. (That's called a Catch-22.)
4. To have any success this weekend, KU will have to get their offense going. Who stands as the biggest roadblock to that happening?
Finally, we're talking about the actual game! Huzzah! Kansas will have to deal with the Chippewas running a 4-2-5 formation, which is not a base formation seen often in pro, or even college football. Coach Enos loves using his nickel (usually Tony Annese) as an extra linebacker or safety, and that position is the biggest joker in the package. Kansas had just 89 yards last week through the air (sorry to remind you about that.) Central is also one of the top ball-hawking defenses in the nation, having six interceptions in three games, while allowing only one pass of 25+ yards. Individual players to look out for are Annese at nickel, Justin Cherocci at mike linebacker, Leterruis Walton and Jabari Dean at defensive tackle, Joel Ostman at defensive end.
5. For our final question, what is your prediction for game? Do Cozart and company finally get the offense moving? Or does Cooper Rush spur the CMU offense to extend the woes of the Jayhawk secondary?
I want to be super optimistic and say that Central will win the game, but with all the negative news going on this week, combined with their sorry performance at home against the Orange will sour the mood against the Jayhawks. With Rawls gone, Central will have to rely on Cooper Rush's arm, which is not a great thing. Kansas must find a way to run through the Central defensive line if they hope to open up their passing attack, and win the game, since run defense seems to be the Chips' Achilles heel. KU will edge Central 14-10.
Bonus Question: While KU got a taste of what a successful program is like, CMU had an extended streak of success prior to the current coach. Has the success of his predecessors unfairly raised expectations for Coach Enos and his staff? Also, what's it like to root for a successful team that's enjoyable to watch?
As I implied earlier, the expectations heaped upon Dan Enos have been extremely unfair to him and his staff. After Brian Kelly and Butch Jones departed, the expectation of MAC Championship or bust was really established, and Enos laid an egg his first year, going 3-9. The fans have been asking for his head ever since. It never pays to be the guy that replaces the guy, and Enos has found that out the hard way. That being said, he has steadily improved the team despite fan grumblings, and currently, the Chips are 2nd in the MAC West behind Northern Illinois. That's kind of a big deal.
As a senior at CMU, I have an attachment to this particular team, so to see the growth and development of the Chips after Enos' second 3-9 season to the perennial bowl-qualifiers that they are now makes the games all the more exciting to be apart of, because let's face it: games are more fun to go to when they mean something. Last year, we only lost out on a second-straight bowl because Northern Illinois lost the MAC Championship, which knocked them out of a BCS bowl and pushed the bowl-eligible teams down one slot, leaving us odd man out. At the moment, we share the same record as Michigan and Michigan State, which are two schools we normally would never be mentioned in the same breath with. So that's a bonus too. Long answer short, cheering for a team that is having success is highly enjoyable.
Thanks for having me, and Fire Up Chips!