Central Michigan's season looked in serious trouble after the first four weeks. The Chippewas hadn't been able to run the ball, score points or stop teams on defense.
In fact, the Chippewas ranked near the bottom in the country in several key offensive categories, averaging 13.8 points per game through four contests. Then second-year coach Dan Enos threw more gasoline on the fire by inciting a quarterback controversy after starter Ryan Radcliff was pulled for two series against Michigan State.
But the Chippewas looked like the same team that played in four straight bowl games in last Saturday's 48-41 victory over Northern Illinois. The Chippewas hadn't scored more than 21 points in a game until the explosion against the Huskies, leading to increased expectations for the final seven games.
"This was huge for us," Radcliff admitted. "We needed this one really bad to get back on the right foot in the MAC and just as a team, the last couple weeks have been rough on us, so this was big for us."
The Chippewas, now 2-3 and 1-1 in the MAC West, get a reprieve of sorts when they travel to North Carolina State for a non-conference game. The Chippewas have never played the Wolfpack, but own an 0-6 all-time mark against ACC teams.
Central Michigan's defense, which allowed 25 fourth-quarter points against Northern Illinois, won't have to face quarterback Russell Wilson, but must show an improvement.
"It's a huge win for us," CMU strong safety Jahleel Addae said. "We had a sour taste in our mouths the last couple of weeks. We worked hard this week on our fundamentals and playing fast, and this is a great victory for us to roll into next week."
The Chippewas showed what a good running game combined by an interception-free performance by Radcliff can mean for the team. Paris Cotton tallied 225 yards of total offense and three touchdowns against Northern Illinois. The Chippewas compiled 176 yards on the ground, allowing Radcliff more time to throw the ball. Anthony Garland got into the act with career highs of 10 carries for 62 yards, and Ben Brown added a first-quarter touchdown run.
"Paris Cotton had a great week, and I mentioned to the coaches that I thought Paris would play well," Enos said. "I didn't know it was going to be that good. And for Anthony Garland, a true freshman late in the game like that to carry those guys down to the 11-yard line, that's the difference in the game. That's how he played in high school. Ben Brown only got two carries, but he had a nice touchdown run."
-- WR Cody Wilson was almost lost in the shuffle in last Saturday's win over Northern Illinois. Wilson extended his streak to 24 straight games with a reception.
-- RB Anthony Garland might become a quality second option after rushing for a career-high 62 yards on 10 carries last week.
-- QB Ryan Radcliff's four-touchdown passing game last week equaled his season total of touchdown passes in the first four games. Radcliff moved into eighth place on the CMU career touchdown passing list with 25.
SERIES HISTORY: First meeting.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense will try to show that last week's scoring output wasn't an aberration. The Chippewas have several quality players on offense, but they have been prone to turnovers and becoming one-dimensional due to a lack of a running game. The Chippewas don't expect another 48-point effort, but taking steps toward running the ball more consistently and limiting turnovers will help when they go back to conference play.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense remains suspect, but they did hold a quality NIU offense in check for three-plus quarters. The Chippewas have received better play recently from SS Jahleel Addae, LB Cody Lopez and DB John Carr to show signs of improving down the stretch.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know what I'm capable of. I know what I've been blessed with and the abilities God's given me. At the same time, I'm not going to let other people define me and tell me my confidence is down or up. I know what I've been blessed with, and I think today is just living that out." -- CMU QB Ryan Radcliff following a four-touchdown passing game against Northern Illinois.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Central Michigan at North Carolina State, Oct. 8 -- The Chippewas can't lose their focus after a sterling effort against a quality Northern Illinois team last week. The rare, early October non-conference game on the road represents an excellent opportunity for the Chippewas to build off last week's win toward a good showing in the MAC season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chippewas showed some life in last week's upset win over Northern Illinois. QB Ryan Radcliff must build on his four-touchdown game by moving the chains and limiting turnovers. The CMU defense will key on NC State QB Mike Glennon, who has 1,242 passing yards and 12 touchdowns. The Wolfpack like to throw the ball, which will test CMU's shaky secondary.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Paris Cotton -- It will be interesting to see if Cotton gets more opportunities after last week's 225-yard offensive output and three touchdowns.
QB Ryan Radcliff -- Which Radcliff will show up at North Carolina State? The four-touchdown tossing Radcliff, or the player with 23 interceptions over the last year and a half.
SS Jahleel Addae -- He has become a reliable playmaker the last few weeks. Addae leads the team with three interceptions and is coming off a career-best 18 tackles.
-- PK David Harman was named the Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week. Harman made all six of his point-after attempts and hit field goals of 29 and 30 yards last week against Northern Illinois.
-- SS Jahleel Addae had a career-high 18 tackles last week, the most by a CMU player since 2003 and the most for a conference player this season.
A CMU Win Over North Carolina State Would …
… be the Chippewas' first win over an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.
… snap a six-game nonconference road losing streak.
… be CMU's third win in the past four years over an opponent from a BCS automatic-qualifying conference.
… even the Chippewas' nonconference record at 2-2 in 2011.
Saturday's game is the first between CMU and North Carolina State. The Chippewas are 0-6 all-time against current members of the Atlantic Coast Conference: 0-3 against Boston College, 0-1 against Clemson, 0-1 against Virginia and 0-1 against Virginia Tech.
CMU Opens Season in Familiar Fashion
The Chippewas are 2-3 through five games for the seventh time since 2003. Twice during that span, in 2006 and 2007, CMU went on to win a MAC championship after a 2-3 start. In 2007, CMU defeated Northern Illinois at home, 35-10, to improve to 2-3; last weekend, the Chippewas defeated Northern Illinois at home, 48-41, to improve to 2-3.
Harman Earns Weekly MAC Honor
Junior kicker David Harman was named MAC West Division Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance in the win over Northern Illinois. Harman was a perfect 6-for-6 on point-after attempts and 2-for-2 on field goals, converting from 29 yards in the first quarter and 30 yards in the fourth quarter. He earned the MAC's weekly honor for the first time in his career.
Dan Bazuin Selected Honorary Captain
The CMU football program is hosting former lettermen as honorary captains for each game this season. This week's honorary captain is Dan Bazuin, a four-year letterman from 2003-06. A three-time All-MAC first team selection, Bazuin was the conference's Defensive Player of the Year as a junior in 2005 after leading the nation in tackles for loss and ranking second in sacks. He finished his career as CMU's all-time leader in both categories. Bazuin was a co-captain on the 2006 MAC championship team and was named UAW Lineman of the Game in the 2006 Motor City Bowl. An Academic All- American as a senior, Bazuin was a three-time Academic All-MAC and two-time Academic All-District IV selection. He was selected by the Chicago Bears in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
CMU-N.C. State Connections
• CMU receiver Jerry Harris was a high school teammate of N.C. State defensive back Brandan Bishop.
• N.C. State head coach Tom O'Brien has faced CMU three other times. He was the head coach of Boston College teams that defeated CMU in 2002 and 2006. He also was the offensive coordinator at Virginia in 1996 when the Hokies defeated CMU. Young Chippewas See Early Action
• Of the 52 players listed on CMU's offensive and defensive depth charts for Saturday's game, 30 are either freshmen or sophomores. The Chippewas' roster includes 69 players who are freshmen or sophomores.
• Just 15 seniors appear on CMU's 2011 roster.
• Nineteen players made their collegiate debut in the season opening over South Carolina State.
• Through five games, 15 different Chippewas have made their first career start, and 26 different Chippewas have seen their first game action at the collegiate level.
• During the second half of the Sept. 24 game at Michigan State, CMU fielded a lineup on defense that included seven freshmen: NG Leterrius Walton, DT Matt Losiniecki, LB Ryan Petro, LB Justin Cherocci, LB Cody Lopez, DB Dennis Nalor and DB Jarret Chapman.
No Yellow for the Maroon and Gold
After committing a season-high eight penalties for 86 yards in the season opener against South Carolina State, CMU has been flagged a total of 12 times for 125 yards in the last four games combined. CMU did not commit a penalty in the Sept. 17 loss at Western Michigan, the Chippewas' first penalty-free performance since Oct. 31, 2009 at Boston College. CMU lost that game as well, 31-10. The Chippewas' average of four penalties per game is tied for the seventh fewest nationally.
Davis, Williams Take First Career Catches to the End Zone
True freshman receivers Titus Davis and Courtney Williams both scored touchdowns on their first career catches this season. Davis hauled in a 67-yard touchdown pass for his first career reception in the season opener against South Carolina State, while Williams' first career catch was a 79-yard touchdown throw last week against Northern Illinois.
CMU vs. the BCS AQ Conferences
CMU is 2-8 since the start of the 2008 season in road games against opponents from BCS automatic qualifying conferences. The Chippewas won at Indiana in 2008 and at Michigan State in 2009.
Harris Steps Up on the Big Stage
Sophomore Jerry Harris has posted the top two receiving performances of his career against Virginia Tech (2010) and Kentucky. Last year at Virginia Tech, Harris caught five passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs. On Sept. 10 at Kentucky, he set a new career high for receptions (six) while posting a teamhigh 91 receiving yards and catching a 24-yard touchdown pass.