Bowl Breakdown: Expect a shootout in Chippewas’ favor
Sports Editor Andrew Stover breaks down the GMAC Bowl matchup between No. 25 CMU (11-2, Mid-American Conference champions) and the Troy Trojans (9-3, Sun Belt Conference champions).
Troy’s Levi Brown leads the nation’s fourth-best passing offense (331 yards per game). The 6-foot-4-inch senior has an admirable completion percentage (64.7) and has thrown for 3,868 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Trojans attempt more than 39 passes per game, which ranks them in the top 10.
For CMU and senior Dan LeFevour, the recent records he broke tell the story. He is now in possession of the most total touchdowns in Football Bowl Subdivision history (148) and has thrown for the most passing touchdowns (101) in MAC history.
But unlike Brown, LeFevour is just as lethal to a defense with his legs, running for a team-high 701 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
Advantage: CMU. Both quarterbacks will have a lot of success in this game and, possibly, the better quarterback performance could decide the game. What gives LeFevour the edge is his ability to extend the play and turn a bad situation into a positive gain with his feet.
CMU sophomore Bryan Schroeder has picked up steam as of late. Since seeing his role increased against Toledo, he has accounted for 123 total yards from scrimmage per game the last four games, while scoring five touchdowns.
For the Trojans, they employ two thick, low-to-the-ground runners in freshman Shawn Southward (5 feet 8 inches, 184 pounds) and junior DuJuan Harris (5 feet 9 inches, 194 pounds). Southward leads the way with 574 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Harris, who has 37 more carries (137) than Southward, has 471 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Advantage: Troy. Although Schroeder has been hot lately and LeFevour gives CMU’s running game a slight advantage, the Trojans get more production out of their running backs, particularly Southward. Both Troy running backs are hard to account for because of the team’s prolific passing offense.
CMU offensive line vs. Troy defensive front seven
Though Troy’s total defense ranks 100th in the nation, it is not because of the way it defends against the run. Led by linebackers Bear Woods (138 tackles) and Boris Lee (122), the Trojans give up just more than 140 yards on the ground — 54th-best in the nation. But the team’s 31 sacks, led by defensive ends Brandon Lang (7.5) and Cameron Sheffield (7), will give CMU’s offensive tackles all they can handle.
However, CMU’s offensive line has given up just 15 sacks on the season, which ranks just outside the nation’s top 20. Tackles Jake Olson (Redshirt freshman) and Rocky Weaver (sophomore) have proven to be the least of CMU’s concerns. A veteran interior features first-team All-MAC senior guard Allen Ollenburger, and juniors Colin Miller (center) and Jeff Maddux (left guard), who have meshed well and helped any transition problems for the young tackles.
Advantage: CMU. This is the strength of Troy’s defense, but CMU’s offensive line has proven its ability to protect LeFevour and also churn out 172.9 rushing yards per game (42nd nationally).
Troy offensive line vs. CMU defensive front seven
The Trojan line pits two seniors in the interior (center Danny Franks and right guard Steven Adams), but the main attraction has to be the mammoth-sized left tackle, James Brown (6 feet 4 inches, 346 pounds). The sophomore junior college transfer has solidified a line that his given up 20 sacks in an offense that attempts the 10th-most passes in the nation.
Advantage: CMU. Though Central has generated just 20 sacks, its run defense has been superb, and senior defensive ends Larry Knight and Frank Zombo have the ability to pressure Brown. The nation’s 30th-best defense against the run, CMU has allowed less than 120 rushing yards per game (119.31). Led by first-team All-MAC junior linebacker Nick Bellore (118 tackles) and All-MAC snub junior Matt Berning (100) — Berning dominated in the MAC Championship against Ohio — Troy will have a difficult time running the ball unless CMU has glaring issues defending the pass.
Troy will get rushing yards, but they will not be the yards that hurt CMU.
CMU wide receivers vs. Troy secondary
Much like the 2008 version of CMU football, Troy’s pass defense is abysmal at best. The Trojans rank 117th out of 120 teams, giving up 277.8 passing yards per game. The one bright spot is freshman cornerback Bryan Willis (four interceptions).
CMU’s best wide receiver in 2009 has been junior Antonio Brown (1,020 receiving yards, nine touchdowns; 319 rushing yards, two touchdowns), but junior Kito Poblah and senior Bryan Anderson have brought stability to the unit. Anderson holds the FBS record for consecutive games with a reception, now 53 games.
Advantage: CMU. And it is by a wide margin. This may be the difference in the game. If Troy has a chance in this game, it has to limit the damage LeFevour and his receivers inflict.
Troy wide receivers vs. CMU secondary
Troy has five receivers with more than 300 receiving yards and eight with more than 200. The group is led by junior Jerrel Jernigan, who has 62 receptions, 947 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Tebiarus Gill has 44 receptions, 553 yards and six touchdowns.
CMU’s secondary in 2008 — like the Trojans’ this year — was laughable. But this year, depth, experience, health and continuity have done wonders. Seniors Josh Gordy and Kirkston Edwards haved locked down the cornerback positions, and others such as Dannie Bolden have stepped up as well.
Advantage: Troy. For as good as CMU’s secondary has been, especially compared to last year, this is Troy’s bread and butter. Brown has a slew of receivers to work with, and he is not afraid to spread the ball around. CMU will need all the depth it can have to stop this passing attack.
CMU coach Butch Jones, 27-13 in three seasons, has coached CMU to its second MAC title in three years. The question is if he will coach the bowl game — several teams, most notably Marshall at this point, have Jones on their radar as a head coaching candidate.
Troy coach Larry Blakeney, in his 17th season, brought the Trojans up to FBS status several years ago and has made it into a formidable mid-major team.
Advantage: Troy. Blakeney has the experience, plus some uncertainty surrounds Jones’ coaching situation. Only time will tell.
Whether Butch Jones is coaching this game or not, CMU will be well-versed in its script by then.
As a side note, there is one team that both teams played against during the season: Bowling Green. CMU beat the Falcons 24-10 on Oct. 24. Troy lost to them 31-14 in its season-opener.
The Trojans will get their points, but CMU wins in a high-scoring affair.
CMU 45, Troy 31
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