Following a rough Saturday, the Syracuse Orange (1-1) jump right back into things by hosting the Central Michigan Chippewas (2-0) this weekend. While SU is coming off an upset to Middle Tennessee, CMU pulled off their own surprising win on Saturday, pounding Kansas on the road.
We don’t know a ton about the Chippewas, so we figured we’d ask someone who does. James Jimenez -- who you should follow on Twitter — from SB Nation’s Hustle Belt -- joins us to discuss everything you’re hoping to learn about Central Michigan. We also answer some questions over there.
Central Michigan looked like a completely different team in week two vs. week one. What changed for the Chippewas in the Kansas win?
They were ready this time around, for one. CMU has held Kansas close in both the previous bouts, and Kansas honestly played right into CMU;'s strengths thrughout the game. CMU is a pass-based offense, Kansas kept anticipating the run. CMU is an aggressive, pass-rushing defense. Kansas kept throwing anyway despite having moderate success on the ground. It was a mismatch from start to finish at all positions.
In terms of the game against Rhode Island, I wouldn't look too hard into that, given some distance. CMU has a history of playing entirely too close to FCS teams in recent memory; Chattanooga (2013) and New Hampshire (2012) immediately come to mind for many Chippewa fans. I feel like coaches tried to get too cute during the URI game, keeping the play packages vanilla and switching out QBs for the sake of doing so. They came in approaching the game like a glorified scrimmage and nearly botched it. They weren't about to let that happen twice.
Would you call this a one-dimensional offense right now? Jonathan Ward has run the ball reasonably well, but overall, seems the passing game is what guides this attack.
You know, I can't really make heads or tails of the offense right now, even after having watched two full games. CMU decidedly favored the run in the first game, as could be seen with Ward and Devon Spalding's rushing numbers from the URI game. New offensive coordinator Chris Ostrowsky ran a run-based spread offense at Northern Michigan too, so it was interesting to see the Chips stick to the air against Kansas.
Ultimately, Shane Morris was finally given some ownership of the offense and he repaid the coaching staff's condfidence with a 499-yard, five touchdown performance. The only reason I hestiate to say the offense is one-dimensional is because they may have to get more balanced out of necessity. Corey Willis and Brandon Childress both sustained injury against Kansas. Willis has already been confirmed out for this one, and Childress we’ll know soon enough. That likely leaves the Chips without two of their top three pass-catchers.
How does Shane Morris differ from long-time starter Cooper Rush at quarterback?
The difference is night and day. They're built similarly, yes, and they have similar jersey numbers as well, but the similarities end there. Morris, for one, is left-handed. He also has a lightning fast arm, something Coop didn't really flash a lot. Morris is also more likely and more capable of scrambling to gain yards on offense than Rush, which he has shown multiple times this season.
That said, Morris isn't as accurate as Rush, often under-or-overthrowing his receiving targets, even on simple screen throws. Morris isn't as surgical or patient in the pocket as Rush either. He relies on pure instinct at times and can panic in the pocket, which blows up on him.
This isn't to say one quarterback is better or worse than the other. This is only to say they're both very different players, and I think Morris's vertical, quick-motion style adapts better to the style of play Coach Bono wants to deploy.
Opponents have collected 13 tackles for loss against the Chippewas so far. Is offensive line a point of concern at the moment?
Yes, it's definitely a concern. It's not encouraging to give up that many tackles for loss when your competition thus far has been URI and Kansas. The coaching staff revisited their offensive line last week and re-arranged a few of the starters and backups and that seemed to work this past Saturday, as CMU only gave up 4.5 tackles for loss. Last year, Rush's numbers could be directly attributed to the line's lack of pass protection. This season, there's a lot of youth on the line and it's going to take some time for those players to gel, especially at the right guard spot, where true sophomore Logan Slaughter is getting the starts.
What's Mitch Stanitzek up to? We'd like to say hello and "thanks" for that dirty hit on Eric Dungey a couple years ago.
Yes, Syracuse fans, Mitch Stanitzek is still on the roster. He dealt with some injuries last season and managd to keep his starting spot when defensive coordinator Greg Colby changed up some of the defensive line spots, converting defensive ends to defensive tackles and vice versa. He's currently running opposite Joe Ostman (who some Syracuse fans may remember for getting in Terrell Hunt's face in the 2013 game between these two squads) and has been pretty decent at stopping runs.
Expect to see a lot of no. 44 out there.
Since Syracuse's coaching staff is different from the last time we played, what about the Orange's up-tempo offense is poised to present the most difficulty on Saturday?
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Syracuse's athletes are decidedly better than Kansas's athletes. Both schools, from what I've gathered, run similar, Air Raid-based offenses. So my main concern is whether or not CMU is going to have the depth on defense to compete with Syracuse's offense. Josh Cox's move to safety gives CMU a unique, ballhawking look, but that means sophomore Sam Bunting will be playing opposite Amari Coleman, and Eric Dungey will be picking on him throughout the game. That could prove to be dangerous if he gets burned multiple times.
Early in the Kansas game and coming out of the half of the same game, CMU showed a propensity for having lapses on defense, where they allow big streaks of points before ultimately locking down. The key for Syracuse is to attack early and often. If they do that, I'm going to be concerned for the defense's psyche as the game advances. If they come out scared of CMU's passing defense (which is, admittedly, looking great right now) it will be a long day.
Name one off-the-radar player for CMU who could really alter the outcome of this game.
I'm gonna name two, just for fun. On offense, look for Logan Hessbrook, a transfer tight end from Saginaw Valley State. He's starting in place of the injured Tyler Conklin, who is dealing with a foot injury. The production thus far has been very similar to what Conklin produced last season, and that's largely because they're similar players. Hessbrook is a 6-foot-3, 238 lbs. receiving tight end who has enough speed to play on the outside (he was a receiver at SVSU.) He showed off his wheels against Kansas, nabbign a 47-yard scorcher from Morris on a wide-open play down the right sideline.
On defense, I'd look for outside linebacker Alex Briones. He's been primarily a special teams player for most of his career, but he was given a starting chance this season and has ran away with it. In two games, he has 21 tackles (18 solo,) two tackles for loss, a sack and an interception. I'll grant it's been agaisnt less-than-stellar opponents, but he can't help the schedule. I'm surprised he isn't getting more love from media.
Finally, a prediction for the "rivalry" game.
I'll tell you what: I've been looking forward to this game for awhile. The last two iterations of CMU-Syracuse have seen CMU at less-than-full strength, so I'm eager to see what happens when both teams enter the game with their best feet forward. I understand it will also be an emotional match-up, given there are still a few players from both sides that remember the thrilling, yet intense bloodbath that was the last game.
After the emotional dust settles, it should be a good matchup with lots of fun and weird moments. Ultimately, I think Syracuse will pull away, though I don't think it will be an easy win. Syracuse 42, CMU 31.
Thanks again to James for taking the time out to answer these. Be sure to follow him and Hustle Belt on Twitter, and head over to the site too for the latest on Central Michigan and the rest of the MAC.