Chippewas prepare for Kent State's flashy offense
This week's edition of Wednesday night MACtion may shape up to be an offensive explosion.
Central Michigan (5-4, 3-2) will welcome in Mid-American Conference East Division leader Kent State (5-4, 4-1) in front of a national television audience at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The Chippewas are coming off a 42-30 triumph at rival Western Michigan.
With WMU in the rearview mirror, the quest for a MAC title is still on. There's little margin for error for CMU thanks to a pair of conference losses.
"Our guys maybe got a little momentum coming off the last game," said head coach Jim McElwain. "We'll see. The opponent is really, really good. Their turnover margin is unbelievable. The way they play, the speed at which they play, it's really fascinating and very effective."
Meet the opponent
Led by Sean Lewis, the youngest head coach at the Division I FBS level, Kent State's offense is capable of taking the MAC by storm. The Golden Flashes are averaging 38.4 points per game in conference play, including a 52-point showing in a win over Northern Illinois on Nov. 3.
The key to this offense is quarterback Dustin Crum, a senior who returned to use his extra year of eligibility despite drawing pro interest. He's a dual-threat quarterback who has thrown for 2,092 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for 440 yards and eight scores.
"He does an unbelievable job," McElwain said.
Crum has plenty of weapons at his disposal, starting with running back Marquez Cooper. In nine games, Cooper has run for 731 yards and seven touchdowns. Between Cooper and Crum, the Golden Flashes have the conference's second best running offense.
Out wide, Kent State is led by Dante Cephas. The redshirt sophomore has 55 catches for 807 yards and six touchdowns. Cephas caught five passes for 124 yards against NIU last week.
For all the offensive fire power, Lewis' squad is equally as dangerous defensively when it comes to creating turnovers. It's a unique dynamic, as the Golden Flashes own the worst defense in terms of yards allowed but lead the league in interceptions.
The squad has intercepted 13 passes on the season, including three apiece from Keith Sherald Jr., Elvis Hines and Montre Miller. Despite the success, Kent State allows 34.9 points and 495.3 yards per game on average.
Freshman kicker Andrew Glass is 13-for-17 with a long of 42 yards this season. Josh Smith, a fellow freshman from Australia, has averaged 37.1 yards on a total of 44 punts.
Big question: What gives on defense?
With two of the most explosive offenses battling it out, this has the makings of a high-scoring affair. When defensive stops are few and far between, making the most of each is pivotal.
What defense can create opportunities for their offense?
The numbers point to Kent State, as the Flashes have been outstanding when it comes to creating turnovers while the Chippewas have intercepted just four passes all year. However, CMU ranks ahead of its opponent in nearly every other measurable defensive category.
CMU quarterback Daniel Richardson has made few mistakes since taking over behind center. In a matchup against a defense that thrives off of creating these mistakes, the young quarterback will be tested.
Key to victory: Get to the quarterback
One area that has been relatively consistent, and consistently good at that, has been the Chippewas' pass rush. With the full unit appearing to be healthy now with the return ofLaQuan Johnson, CMU appears to be in good shape with its front four.
Defensive coordinator Robb Akey will need everyone to be at their best on Wednesday, as Crum turns undisciplined play into big gains. Whether he uses his arm or his legs, the Flashes' veteran quarterback thrives on defensive mistakes.
The Chippewas have the conference's third-highest sack total, with 25. They've had success limiting dual threat quarterbacks this season, including a seven-sack showing against Toledo's Dequan Finn.
Crum causes plenty of problems to defenses, but CMU's defense could seize an opportunity by being the aggressors and getting after him.
Kent State (5-4, 3-1) at Central Michigan (5-4, 3-2)
All-time series: CMU leads, 24-11
Last meeting: CMU 42, KSU 23 (Nov. 14, 2017)
Time: 8 p.m. E.T
Stadium: Kelly/Shorts Stadium
Location: Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Odds: CMU -2.5 (SI Sportsbook)
Over/Under: 75 (SI Sportsbook)
TV: ESPNU (Drew Carter, Barrett Brooks)
Radio: 98.5 WUPS, Varsity Network (Adam Jaksa, Brock Gutierrez, Chris Jared)