Preview: Battle for Victory Cannon holds heavy MAC title stakes

Detroit freshman Lew Nichols III protects the football against potential tacklers in textbook fashion against NIU, Saturday, Oct. 23.

Central Michigan and Western Michigan have traditionally met with a lot on the line throughout their rivalry. 

This year, however, there may be additional weight. Both teams are 2-2 in Mid-American Conference play and in a five-way tie for second place behind West Division leader Northern Illinois. 

It's also the third chance at a victory for Jim McElwain, who is looking to become the first coach since Roy Kramer to start his tenure at CMU with an 0-3 record in the rivalry.

"We've gotta do something different, because they've embarrassed us," McElwain said. "And that's not good for this university, that since being allowed to move up and play at the Division I level, this university, prior to the last 10 years, had a pretty good stronghold on this rivalry. I feel like, since I've been here, I've simply let those people down."

When the Chippewas and Broncos square off at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Kalmazoo's Waldo Stadium, McElwain and company have a chance to right the ship. 

Meet the opponent

Quarterback Kaleb Eleby leads the charge for a WMU offense that ranks fifth in the MAC in scoring and third in total offense. The junior ranks second in passing yards, with 1,977, and touchdown passes with 12. 

His top target has been Skyy Moore, who in seven games has compiled a conference-best 762 receiving yards. Moore has gone over 100 yards in five games, including his last two. Corey Crooms is second on the team with 422 yards. 

The run game has been paced by the duo of Sean Tyler and La'Darius Jefferson. Tyler has run for 631 yards, while Jefferson has notched 525. Jefferson, a Michigan State transfer, ran for a game-high 150 yards in the last meeting between these teams. 

Defensive end Ali Fayad paces the MAC with 6.5 sacks. Linebacker Corvin Moment leads the team with 47 total tackles, while fellow linebacker Zaire Barnes is second with 44. Linebacker Ryan Selig is third on the team in tackles and has one of the team's three interceptions. 

As a team, WMU ranks fourth in scoring defense with 27.3 points allowed. The Broncos are the conference leader in total defense, allowing 320.8 yards per game, and are top-3 in both passing and rushing defense. 

Nick Mihalic handles both field goals and punts for the Broncos. He's 7-for-7 on field goal attempts and averages 42.6 yards per punt. 

Big question: Can either team play a complete game? 

Both squads have struggled to string a winning effort together over the course of 60 minutes. In CMU's two conference losses, one resulted from a slow start while the other was a by-product of a poor finish. 

WMU, meanwhile, has struggled in the second half of recent games. Against Ball State, the Broncos were outscored 28-0 in the final twenty minutes. Their most recent game, a loss to Toledo, saw them go scoreless in the second half and allow 21 third quarter points. 

Pair the immense weight of the rivalry with the stakes of the conference and something has to give with these two teams. 

McElwain and his team are at their best when the run game is effectively established in the second half, while WMU and coach Tim Lester like to make big plays in the passing game. Whichever side can control the game in the final two quarters will win the game. 

Key to victory: Control Eleby

A preseason favorite for MAC Offensive Player of the Year, Eleby has lived up to the hype. He's been among the best quarterbacks in the MAC. His show-stopping performance against ACC opponent Pittsburgh, finishing 23-of-34 with 337 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-41 win, speaks for itself.

CMU has struggled containing explosive passing games, allowing a league-worst 275 yards per game through the air. Without top defensive back Dishon McNary, who has been out since week four with an ankle injury, the Chippewas will lean on Donte Kent, Richard Bowens III and Daedae Hill. 

It's pivotal for someone to step up in CMU's secondary. If this doesn't happen, Eleby could have a field day. 

Central Michigan (4-4, 2-2) at Western Michigan (5-3, 2-2)

All-time series: WMU leads, 39-37-1

Last meeting: WMU 52, CMU 44

Time: 7 p.m. ET

Stadium: Waldo Stadium

Location: Kalamazoo, Michigan

Odds: WMU -10

Over/Under: 67

TV: ESPNU (Drew Carter, Eric MacLain)

Radio: 98.5 WUPS, Varsity Network (Adam Jaksa, Brock Gutierrez, Chris Jared)