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Get to Know the Opponent: Central Michigan

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The Chippewas have one of the worst offenses in the country

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

After opening Big Ten play last week with a win at Indiana, the Spartans come back home to finish off their non-conference schedule. A noon home game for the first time this year, MSU will take on in-state opponent Central Michigan. CMU is no stranger to Michigan State fans, as they seem to pop up on the schedule every other year or so. So let’s re-educate ourselves with CMU ahead of Saturday’s matchup.

School: Central Michigan University

Nickname: Chippewas

Conference: Mid-American

Location: Mount Pleasant, MI

Head Coach: John Bonamego (4th season)

Record: 1-3 (0-1 in MAC)

All-Time Series: Michigan State leads 7-3

John Bonamego has taken his alma mater to three consecutive bowls as coach of the Chips. His squad is coming off an 8-5 season last year, having finished by winning their last five regular season games before losing to Wyoming in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. This year’s team is off to a tough start, having lost their first three games of the year before getting into the win column last week against Maine.

Team Stats

Central Michigan comes in as the third worst scoring offense in the country, averaging just 15 points per game through four games. They have scored 20 points only once this year, in their opening game loss at Kentucky, when they scored exactly twenty. In terms of yards CMU is the second worse offense in the country averaging only 258.5 yards per game.

On the ground CMU is 112th in the country in rushing yards averaging 120 per game. They are even worse in yards per attempt with their 3.12 yard per rush average ranking 122nd out of 130 teams.

It doesn’t get much better through the air either as the Chips also check in at 122nd in total passing offense at 138.5 yards per game. They are 124th in yards per pass with a 5.1 average per attempt. They have thrown three touchdown passes while being intercepted six times, which leads to the sixth worst passer rating in the country.

The offense is helmed by second year coordinator Chris Ostrowsky, who enjoyed great success last year with a team that averaged nearly 390 total yards per game, and over 28 points per game. So this start has to be especially frustrating for him.

On defense CMU fares a little better, checking in at 62nd in the country in scoring defense allowing 23.8 points per game, which is only one point more than MSU. They are even better in total yardage defense, where they allow 334.3 yards per game, good for 37th in the country, and actually better than MSU in that category.

The Chips have struggled against the run however, allowing an average of 194.25 yards per game, which ranks 104th in the nation. They allow 4.45 yards per carry, which is 85th in the country.

The passing defense on the other hand, has been very good for CMU. The Chippewas rank sixth in the nation allowing only 140 passing yards per game, and they are ninth in the country in yards per attempt at 5.1. They also have five interceptions to go with five touchdown passes allowed.

Now it should also be mentioned that their three FBS opponents so far this season rank 116th, 117th, and 123rd in passing offense, while Maine checks in as the 68th best passing offense in the FCS. Not exactly a dynamic group there.

The defensive coordinator is Greg Colby, in his fourth year in charge of the CMU defense. Last year’s group led the MAC in passing defense and was third in the country with 31 takeaways. CMU currently is 37th in the country with seven takeaways.

Players to Watch

The quarterback position has been split so far between Tony Poljan and Tommy Lazzaro. Poljan has had more attempts and yards but has four interceptions against only one touchdown. Lazzaro looks to have taken control of the job with a more balanced effort, despite a slightly lower completion percentage. He also adds an element to the running game, rushing for 99 yards on 26 attempts and two scores.

Jonathan Ward was a 1000-yard rusher for Central last year, but has just 156 yards and no touchdowns through four games this year.

Freshman receiver Julian Hicks leads the team in catches and yards per game despite having played in only two games for a team that lost their top three pass catchers from last year.

On defense, Mike Danna leads the team with four sacks and five tackles for loss. Linebacker Malik Fountain is averaging 11.75 tackles per game and has one of the team’s four interceptions.