Know Thy Opponent 2014: Central Michigan Chippewas

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

Can Purdue get off to a 2-0 start with a pair of MAC opponents in 2014?

I had a strange dream last night. I dreamt that I was a student again, only I was publishing H&R and living with Juan Crespo on campus. We were part of a dark day in Purdue sports, and both football and basketball lost to Ball State on the same day. Football even blew a four touchdown lead in the last 12 minutes.

Purdue isn't playing Ball State this year, but it is playing a similar MAC squad in Central Michigan. Both teams are among the better teams in the conference, but they couldn't get on the same level as Northern Illinois the past two years.

2013 Record: 6-6, 5-3 MAC

Bowl result: None

Blog Representation: The Hustle Belt

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 5-0

Last Purdue win: 32-25 at Purdue on 9/20/2008

Last Central Michigan Win: None

Last Season for the Chippewas

Purdue and Central Michigan played a series of rather entertaining games in the span of about 12 months the last time around. The Chips had a two-game contract with us, appearing in Ross-Ade Stadium in 2007 and 2008. As things went they also met in the 2007 Motor City Bowl, which is exactly what bowl games should be: entertaining without a hint of defense played. Purdue won all three games, but Dan Lefevour made us sweat the last two out. Chris Summers hit a field goal as time expired for a 51-48 win in the bowl game and a touchdown by Kory Sheets with less than a minute left won the last meeting.

Lefevour is gone, thankfully, and since then the Chips have settled back into the MAC pack. They recently had a No. 1 overall draft pick, but went 6-6 last year and missed a bowl game as one of the few teams eligible that stayed home.

Basically, Central beat the teams it should and lost to the ones it should have lost to. They won the Directional Michigan state championship with a win at Western and at home over Eastern. In the only two games against ranked opponents they were blown out by Michigan and Northern Illinois.

Central Michigan Offense

The Chips weren't terrible on offense, but they weren't great either. They averaged a rather pedestrian 28.6 points and 340 yards per game and generally had a good balance between the run and the pass. Their season was really a tale of two halves. After a 1-4 start they rebounded to win five of their final seven games. Sure, four of those wins were over Miami (OH), Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, and UMass (possibly the worst three FBS teams in the country), but wins are wins. We certainly have no right to discount anybody's victories.

CMU will have experience back under center with quarterback Cooper Rush back as a sophomore starter, thus giving Purdue two straight sophomore QBs to face along with our own Danny Etling. Rush is a very different quarterback than Lefevour. He is almost exclusivpocket passer with only 12 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown all season. As a passer he was almost dead even along with CMU's .500 record. He completed 57% of his passes for 2,349 yards, 15 TDs, and 15 INTs. He was also sacked 26 times.

Rush did not play in the opener, as Cody Kater was the original starter. Kater compled all of two passes before breaking his collarbone and missing the rest of the season. Kater could start again as a senior, but has just 10 passing attempts in his career.

As everyone Purdue will play, the Central Michigan ground game in 2013 was far better than Purdue's. Saylor Lavalliiis a very compact 5'9" 213 pound rusher that had 807 yards and 5 TDs last season. He is built a little like a bowling ball and Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore is capable of making a big play.

What will help Rush (and hurt Purdue) is the talent at wide receiver. Titus Davis is a big 6'2" 190 pound receiver that we have struggled for years to cover. He caught 61 passes for 1,109 yards and 8 touchdowns a year ago and will be the No. 1 target for our infamous 20 yard completion given up over the middle on 3rd and 17. Courtney Williams and Andrew Flory give Rush a good second and third option as well. Overall, 6 of the top 7 receivers return to the offense.

Here is what the extensive SB Nation preview had to say about Davis:

Meanwhile, there isn't just potential at wideout -- there's proven production. Titus Davis has caught 144 passes for 2,720 yards and 24 touchdowns in three seasons at CMU; he is potentially the best big-play receiver in the mid-major ranks, and "Just throw it up to Titus" was a rather effective gambit on passing downs.

This can be a huge problem for Purdue, and someone like Anthony Brown needs to step up and hold Davis in check, especially on third and long. For far too long players like Davis have burned Purdue in third and long situations, especially when we know exactly what is coming.

The offensive line returns all five starters, which is both a good and a bad thing. It is good from a  continuity standpoint and five guys have at least 10 career starts, but bad in that they gave up too many sacks and did not produce a great running game. Left guard Andy Phillips was a Second Team all-MAC selection in 2013 and leads the line with 30 career starts.

Central Michigan Defense

It looks like Central Michigan is going to be able to score some points, especially with a dynamic wide receiver like Davis. The question is can Purdue do the same? The run defense did not do a lot last season, ranking 98th in the FBS. If Purdue can create some holes there will be room to run. Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert could have a day with a few big plays.

The entire front seven returns led by nose tackle Leterrius Walton. Walton is a big boy plugging the middle at 6'5", 323 pounds and he can get into the backfield with 9.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Unfortunately, he was just about it in terms of a pass rush.Louis Palmer and Blake Serpa did not generate a lot on the ends.

Middle linebacker Justin Cherrocci has turned from an unrated recruit into a pretty solid linebacker. He had 84 tackles, four sacks, and an interception a year ago and he knows to go where the ball goes. Unfortunately, he is just about all CMU has at linebacker.

Most of the secondary returns, however. It will be the strength of the defense and was effective at generating turnovers last season. Kavon Frazier and Jason Wilson each had three interceptions while Tony Annese and Brandon Greer each had two. Should a pass rush develop this can be a really good secondary. This makes me concerned given our protection problems. The secondary is more than capable of turning a small mistake, like a mis-thrown ball while on the run, into a big mistake.

Central Michigan Special Teams

Consider almost everything here completely up for grabs. CMU will be breaking in both a new punter and a new kicker, so Purdue will have a slight advantage given the continuity that Thomas Meadows and Paul Griggs. The only returning player is Titus Davis, who was used in some punt return situations last year with little effect. Expect Mostert to be a huge weapon here, but we can say that against anyone.

Game Outlook

Consider this game a baby step forward, especially if the Boilers can take care of Western Michigan the week before. Central returns 18 starters to a team that was far better at the end of the season than the beginning last year. Given that Purdue struggled greatly against everyone last season makes this a very possible MAC over B1G upset. It is still a game that Purdue can win, but it will be a lot tougher than the Western game a week earlier.

That's what makes this game so interesting. I expect Purdue to beat Western because there has to be improvement and Western was awful last season. Central is better, and if Purdue can get past them we'll be sitting at 2-0 and we'll have already doubled 2013's win total. More importantly, I think that some confidence can start kicking in.

Neither of our first two opponents have much of a pass rush, so any line issues should show up early. If we can't protect Etling or open holes in the first two games it is not going to happen the rest of the year. If we can do those things, then maybe a "hey, we really can have an offense" attitude will begin to creep in.

This is an opponent Purdue can beat, and if it does, it shows one of the first signs that things are indeed headed in the right direction. Prediction: Purdue 24, Central Michigan 21

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