Week 10 of the 2021 college football season means the start of mid-week MACtion, as 10 of the 12 conference teams — all save for Bowling Green and Buffalo — will play Tuesday or Wednesday. The first of the annual Great Lakes State MAC battles is set for Wednesday night when the Central Michigan Chippewas open November in Kalamazoo against the Western Michigan Broncos.
It's been tough for the Chippewas to build much momentum on the road in 2021 as they've dropped three of their four games away from Mount Pleasant, with all three road losses by 10 or more points. Central Michigan's lone road win — a 30-27 nail-biter on Oct. 9 at Ohio — seemed to turn the tide a bit, though, as they followed with a three-point overtime win against Toledo before barely falling 39-38 to Northern Illinois going into the bye.
Central Michigan at Western Michigan
Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Western Michigan -10
When Central Michigan Has the Ball
The Chippewas may have fallen a point short against Northern Illinois, but the loss marked their third game of the season with at least 500 total yards, joining the wins against Robert Morris and FIU. The upshot is a signal that this team is at its best when it can find a balance between the run and the pass, and the Chippewas did just that against both the Colonials (205 passing yards, 310 rushing) and Panthers (397 passing, 202 rushing).
Central Michigan leads the MAC with 288 yards passing per game this season, and Daniel Richardson paces the conference with 14 touchdown passes. Richardson did what he could against Northern Illinois even though the Chippewas ultimately came up short, throwing for 289 yards and three of Central Michigan's five touchdowns.
This season may be Lew Nichols III's third in Mount Pleasant, but the third-year redshirt freshman is finally making a name for himself after mostly taking a backseat in 2019 and '20. Nichols accounted for nearly all of the remainder of the Chippewas' offensive production against the Huskies, rushing 22 times for a season-high 192 yards (three yards behind his career-high 195 in 2020 against Eastern Michigan) and finding the end zone twice… while also completing both of his passes for 18 yards. Nichols' 919 rushing yards on the ground are tops in the MAC and the eighth-highest total in the FBS, with Buffalo's Dylan McDuffie a distant second, trailing by 153 yards even with one more game played (nine) than Nichols' eight. Nichols will look to keep the momentum going in order to bounce back from his 2020 struggle against these Broncos, when he rushed six times for just 19 yards, 17 of which came on a single run.
The Chippewas' high-flying offense will be up against what has seemed like a wall of Broncos on defense as Western Michigan has held opponents to a MAC-best 319.5 yards per game this season. Western Michigan has given up just 125 yards per game on the ground — which also is the lowest rushing average allowed in the conference — and has held six of eight opposing offenses under 250 passing yards — with two failing to muster even 100 passing yards. One of the Broncos' unsung calling cards on defense, though, is their third-down defense, when they've allowed conversions on just 29.2 percent of opponents' third-downs.
When Western Michigan Has The Ball
Working in tandem with — and in support of, for rest and recovery purposes — its teammates on defense, the Broncos' offense enters Week 10 with the second-highest time of possession in the FBS at 36 minutes and 38 seconds per game, trailing only Army for the top spot in the nation. Despite being middle-of-the-pack in yardage on the ground, the Broncos run the ball more than 45 times per game, the 14th-highest rate in the FBS and 11th after the military trifecta of Air Force, Army, and Navy.
The Broncos have rushed for 13 touchdowns in their five wins in 2021 — eclipsing the 200-yard mark in three of the five — compared to just five total rushing scores and an average of 137 yards per game on the ground in their three losses. La'Darius Jefferson and Sean Tyler are largely to thank for that productivity, with the pair combining for more than 143 yards rushing per game while Jefferson leads the conference with nine scores on the ground.
Kaleb Eleby sits ever so close to the 2,000-yard mark through the air, entering Week 10 with a MAC-leading 1,977 passing yards (247.1 ypg) and 12 touchdown passes, which trails only Richardson's 14 among MAC quarterbacks. Last week against Toledo was just Eleby's second game of the season without a passing touchdown (Ball State), but he managed to rush for a touchdown in each of those two. He's formed a productive connection with Skyy Moore, who leads all MAC pass-catchers with just over eight catches for nearly 109 yards per game, propelled by his 140-yard, two-touchdown effort in the win over Kent State on Oct. 16.
Like the Broncos, the Chippewas have been quite strong at stopping the run, boasting the second-best rushing defense in the MAC (behind only Western Michigan) at just 133.9 yards allowed per game on the ground. They have the upper hand over their in-state rivals in another key focal point: making plays behind the line of scrimmage. The Broncos have averaged 4.5 tackles for a loss per game, while the Chippewas lead the MAC with 6.5 TFLs per game this season.
These are two fairly evenly matched teams stuck in a logjam in the MAC West. Both are coming off tough losses, with the Chippewas squandering a golden opportunity to take down the division-leading Huskies at home while the Broncos fell disappointingly by 19 points at Toledo. Both teams' last three games have been decided by the second-half scoring margin, so late-game scoring — and defense — will be critical as a third MAC win is at stake on Wednesday night.
Prediction: Central Michigan 26, Western Michigan 24
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— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.