After a hard-fought battle with the Air Force Academy, MSU welcomes their neighbors from the near north -- the Chippewas of Central Michigan University. Hustle Belt's James Jimenez filled us in on what to expect from the high-flying Chips on Saturday.
1. Dan Enos' departure this offseason was obviously unexpected, but it seems like new Head Coach John Bonamego has put his mark on the program already. What changes have you noticed both in the program and on the field?
For one, the team seems a lot more united than it did last year. There was a palpable tension in Enos' final year between Enos and the administration and Enos and the players. It was clear that the offense and the majority of pieces in said offense (outside of Titus Davis, Thomas Rawls, Zurlon Tipton, etc.,) just weren't working out. There was a lot of frustration and frankly, a lot of players weren't all that motivated. Coach Bono brings a different type of energy to the table, having been an alumnus at Central. He restructured the offense to more efficiently fit the personnel that is currently on the roster, and handed play-calling duties to offensive coordinator/ancient font of wisdom Morris Watts, who has over 50 years of experience coaching. The results have shown on the field, as the offense has out-shined most of their opponent's in their three games thus far. The defense has also been impressive, even through injuries. The players are buying in, and that is the most important difference.
2. The year hasn't gotten off to the best start at 1-2, but both losses were close calls against Power Five conference teams in Oklahoma State and Syracuse. What positives can the Chips take away from those games?
The positive is that the Chips haven't given up in any of those games. The defense wore down in the fourth quarter vs. OK State, but the offense still generated over 300 yards vs. a (now) top 25 defense with minimum mistakes. Against Syracuse, the Chips battled a double-digit deficit and tied the game with seven seconds left in regulation on the road. Whatever momentum came with them from the Bahamas Bowl last season has certainly shown in the first three games this season. The record isn't indicative of performance, and theoretically, they could just as well be 2-1 or even 3-0 if a couple plays ended up differently. All the games have been that closely contested, even despite almost no help from the running game in the first two weeks.
3. Many thought the passing attack would take a step back after losing Titus Davis, but Quarterback Cooper Rush is averaging almost 330 yards per game through the air through three games. How has he maintained his high level of production?
If you would have told me Cooper Rush would get 400+ yards against Syracuse on the road after a 326 yards performance the previous week before the season, I would have laughed right in your face. Thankfully, you asked me this question after his individual performances. I would credit OC Watt's play-calling and Cooper Rush's natural progression as a three-year starter for maintaining his production. Watts is a quarterback whisperer and Bonamego played the position when he was at Central, so Rush is getting a quality education in that regard. He has a good familiarity with the playbook, which takes advantage of his natural strengths and is utilizing the opportunities at his disposal. With Davis gone, the focal point isn't really on anybody because the receiving corps can cut you up in different ways and Rush spreads it around evenly amongst all of them, which is quite the feat.
4. Air Force was able to give the MSU offensive line some issues last week with their constant blitzing. Should we expect something similar from CMU?
I'm actually looking forward to this matchup. The 4-3 has seemed to work a lot better for CMU than the 4-2-5 from last season, an odd statement considering that last season, CMU ranked as the MAC's best defense. Joe Ostman will be questionable going into the game, but his running partner Blake Serpa is good to go, and Nate Brisson-Fast, Louis Palmer, and Jabari Dean should be able to cause fits along an MSU offensive line that has looked leaky at times. CMU has a "Damn the torpedoes!" approach that while potentially gives up huge plays, can also cause them.
5. CMU has won in Spartan Stadium before, can they do it again this weekend?
I really want to say yes, but I can't bring myself to do it. I was a witness to the 42-7 dismantling in Mt. Pleasant a couple of years ago, so that probably numbs my expectations a bit. However, I think the 28.5 point spread (according to OddsShark) could be a little high. Michigan State's secondary is torn to shreds, and MSU's running game has looked sort of sickly. I believe that CMU can take advantage of those flaws and make it a competitive game. I'll say MSU 42-31 CMU.
Thanks for having me on, and #FireUpChips!
Thanks again to James for answering The Only Questions!