September 17, 2009

Previewing Saturday's home opener

Riding high off a big win over Michigan State, the Central Michigan Chippewas continue out of conference play in the home opener against the Alcorn State Braves. The Chippewas have been underdogs in the previous two games against Arizona and Michigan State, but will flip-flop roles and play the favorite against the FCS division Braves. The two teams last met 31 years ago with the Chippewa prevailing 24-16. Alcorn State has won the only other meeting, making the series tied at one. Unlike the previous two meetings, however, the Chippewas will be highly favored.

The Braves are a program in flux at the moment, they dismissed head coach Ernest Jones in the off-season and promoted defensive coordinator Earnest Collins Jr. to the head spot. To make matters worse, the Braves are coming off a 2-10 season and went only 1-6 in the SWAC conference.

If their game against Southern Miss is any indicator, the Braves haven't improved much from last year and have some rebuilding to do. The Eagles were able to rack up over 600 yards of total offense and ran for 398 yards on the Braves en route to that 62-0 victory. Things didn't get much better for the Braves on the offensive side of the ball as they accounted for a grand total of 171 yards and only 13 first downs. Starting at quarterback for the Braves was senior Tim Buckley (6-foot-1, 185 pounds), who completed 8-20 passes for 94 yards and two interceptions against Southern Miss. His favorite target and arguably the Braves top offensive weapon is junior wide receiver Ed Johnson (5-foot-8, 202 pounds). Those two have the ability to make plays…if they have time. If there is one glaring weakness on the Alcorn State roster, it's their size, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. On the O-line, the Braves have just one senior (OL Shaun Magee at 6-foot-1, 310 pounds) and only one player who is taller than 6-foot-3. The defensive line is a mixed bag as well, featuring many in the 5-foot-5 to 5-foot-10 range. Those that have the height, don't have the necessary weight, and those that have the weight, don't have adequate height. Having an undersized D-line like the Braves have should allow the Chippewas to establish a solid running game and go after the Braves in much the same way Southern Miss did with 60 carries. As a team overall, the Braves are not a physically imposing team and lack the necessary size and experience to compete with most Division 1 programs

On the flip side, CMU is coming off one of their biggest victories in history and are on a mission to prove that a win against Michigan State does not make their season and negate their season goals. Dan LeFevour had a performance for the ages and showed why he is one of the best signal callers in the nation. Wide receivers Antonio Brown, Bryan Anderson and Kito Poblah all had impressive performances while running backs Paris Cotton and Bryan Schroeder carried the load on the ground in addition to showing their receiving skills out of the backfield. While all those players figure to make some big plays, it probably won't be for long as CMU will most likely jump to an early lead. Expect the Chippewas to play some backups and freshman, including the much anticipated battle at back-up quarterback between Ryan Radcliff and Derek Rifenbury. Also expect significant playing time from Tim Phillips, Cody Wilson, Jeremy Wilson, Malek Redd, Jerry Harris and Eric Fisher on offense and Kyle Zelinsky. D.J. Scott, Alex Smith, Aaron McCord, Cody Petit and Evan Ray on defense.

This game should be over by halftime if the Chippewas are focused and over their victory over MSU. Look for familiar stars to light the scoreboard up early and newcomers to make their mark as they gain valuable experience. On defense, the starting unit should prove a tough challenge for the Braves and CMU will be able to showcase the newly added depth that has improved the unit.

Final prediction:

Central Michiagn: 48
Alcorn State: 10

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