In case you missed our preseason Q&A with Ron Balaskovitz from at Hustle Belt, check it out here. The game week Q&A usually runs on Fridays, but there was so much useful info about visiting Mt. Pleasant that I decided to push it up a day. The game preview will be on Friday.
1. With fall camp and one game down (38-27 win over Southeast Missouri State), how have things changed for the Chippewas since we last talked? Any players step up since then?
Things have changed for us because there has been a collective reassessment/step back from preseason expectations after the opening game. The majority of the press up here had predicted a big step forward with a final record prediction of around 6-6 or 7-5, but the way the team played in the first half caused many people up here to panic, and expect the worst for the remainder of the season. The way the first part of the game went, it was justified, but if you look at the rest of the game, it was how many people thought it should have been the whole time.
The team did come away with plenty of positives from the opening game despite a bunch of early struggles. In the 1st quarter and first half of the 2nd quarter, the defense was gouged, giving up 24 points and 205 yards, putting us in a 24-10 hole. Damn option teams and their tricks. But from the moment they fell behind by two scores, everything changed, and the team woke up. From there out the defense swarmed, and held them to 85 yards, and 3 points the rest of the way. There wasn't any one player who caused it on defense, it was a team effort, and guys just swarmed to the ball.
On offense, it was great to see the offensive line assert their dominance and open some major holes for our running backs. CMU ran the ball at will, totaling 45 carries and 340 yards. The biggest benefactor, and breakout player was Zurlon Tipton who finished with 17 of those carries for 180 yards, as well as 3 TDs.
2. What are three keys to victory for CMU?
1. Stop Le'Veon Bell. I realize that's so much easier to say than do, Boise did everything short of send 12 players on the field to try and stop him, but if CMU is going to have any chance they have to just try and contain him, not let him run wild, try to force MSU into throwing the ball, and make Andrew Maxwell and the Spartan receiving corps prove themselves.
2. Run the ball. The biggest strength that CMU has on offense is the line. We return 4 starters this year who are all 6'3"+, 305 lbs+. The announcers during the game on Thursday joked that the scale in the weight room must only go up to 305. As I mentioned earlier, we ran the ball all over the defense last week, and the majority of the credit has to go to the linemen, our backs could have walked through some of the holes and still picked up 5 yards. It will also help to keep the Spartan D-Line from pinning the ears back and getting to pass rush at will.
3. Limit Turnovers. In our three wins last year, we only committed 2 turnovers. And last week we helped to keep Southeast Missouri State in the game with three turnovers: two fumbles, and an interception. CMU is going to have to play a near perfect game if they want to have any shot at winning, and giving MSU, and Le'Veon Bell extra chances/a short field on offense is not the way to do it. The biggest worry for me in regards to this is how Ryan Radcliff will handle the pressure that MSU will put on him. He struggled mightily in last year's game at Spartan Stadium, with two interceptions. He and the rest of the offense must hold onto the ball.
3. With game week here, how has the excitement been building in Mt. Pleasant?
It's unlike anything I've ever seen up here. Just at my apartment complex we've got signs all over the exits warning people that they will not be allowed in on Saturday without a parking permit on the car, and then we received a letter from the police department outlining all of the things that the Mount Pleasant police will be looking for this weekend.
There is a huge excitement among CMU students for the game. During welcome weekend, they held the first event for students to pick up a ticket for the game, and about 25 minutes before the event began there were easily over 2000 students in line. The university has added 2,500 extra seats to the student section bringing the number of students at the game to 10,000, and built new suites/party decks on the east sideline, which guarantees there will be a record crowd at Kelly/Shorts Stadium this Saturday.
4. What are some things should MSU fans heading to Mt. Pleasant should know for the weekend?
My first piece of advice before I even get into stores/restaurants is this: GET THERE EARLY. This is a town with 25,000 people living in it, and then 25,000 students. And there will probably be at least that many people coming into town whether they are going to the game or not. Traffic is going to be hell. Tailgate lots open up 4 hours prior to kick-off, which means they will open at 11:30 on Saturday. Try and get into town at least an hour early to get into the lots. Regardless of what lot you end up in, you will be close to the stadium, but just know there are no big roads or anything that is going to keep traffic moving at a steady pace. Also, ALL gameday parking lots are already sold out, so if you were unable to get a parking pass, you will need to make alternate plans.
Best liquor store: The Old Mission Wine Cellar. I assume most of you will be coming up 127 to get here, when you take the first Mt. Pleasant exit on your left, before you get to the first stop light in town at the south end of the stadium, there is a sign for Old Mission Road, get off there, and maybe half a mile down the road on the corner of Old Mission and Deerfield is The Old Mission Wine Cellar, featuring easily the biggest beer selection in town. Half of the store is beers from around the country sitting on shelves waiting to be had. If they don't have it on hand, they can order it for you.
Best place to watch the game: O'Kelly's or Hunters Ale House. Both are sports bars that feature giant projector screens on the walls, so the game can be seen easily from any place you sit. O'Kelly's is at the corner of Mission and Broomfield, and has a pretty straight forward menu with fair prices on beer. They usually have some sort of drink special going on during the game. My personal preference would be Hunters Ale House. At the first stop light, turn right, and maybe 2 miles down the road it will be on your left. They serve craft beers from around the state and specialty pizzas.
Best pizza: The Cabin. The Cabin is a staple of Mt. Pleasant, and in my opinion if you are looking for a regular style, but homemade pizza, this is the place to go. It's close to the stadium, so there will probably be a wait to get in. I recommend anything with sausage, and an order of their Cabin Stix.
Best burger: Freddie's Tavern. Freddie's is kind of a hidden gem in Mt. Pleasant. The TV setup isn't the greatest, but they will probably have the game on there. This is the type of bar you walk into and realize right away it's not the fanciest place you'll ever go, but their burgers are terrific. At least 10 different styles, all served on a buns from a local bakery in town. My personal favorite is the Blue Cheese Burger.
Best breakfast: If you're looking to eat off the prior day's drinking the best place in town, hands down, is Stan's. Just a small diner that's sort of hidden on Broadway Street, there will almost certainly be a line out the door to get in. Definitely worth the wait though. Huge portions, and good prices. Be warned though, this is a cash only establishment. If the line or cash only option scares you off, you can't go wrong a L'il Chef on Mission.
Other things to do: There's a casino, which is the reason 95 percent of people visit the city. If casino gambling isn't your thing but you still want to lose money, on the north end of town there is Mt. Pleasant Meadows, a horse track featuring live thoroughbred racing on Saturday's and Sunday's starting at 1 p.m., as well as simulcasting from tracks around the country. Downtown has a wide range of different bars all less then 2 blocks apart, that are certain to be jam packed all weekend long. Rubbles in downtown has live music most nights, a fairly reasonable cover, usually around $5, and some of the cheapest drinks in town. If you're a golfer there are some great courses near town like Buck's Run and Pohl Cat.
5. Give me a score prediction and why.
It's hard to say because I'm not sure we know what either team is really capable of doing this season. In the opening week, both teams had moments that made you shake your head, but also did many things that gave you hope for the remainder of the season.
I think Le'Veon Bell is too much for CMU, but the home crowd will help motivate CMU to keep it close for the majority of the game.
MSU 34 CMU 17
Have more questions about traveling to Mt. Pleasant? Leave them in the comments and Ron will do his best to answer. Thanks again to Ron for answering some questions on our end. Make sure you check out Hustle Belt for info from the other side of things.