For every Ohio football game, Speakeasy Sports will be going into the den of the opponent to get first-hand analysis. By reaching out to team beat reporters and opposing players, Speakeasy provides a unique look-in at how the ‘Cats will fare against their adversaries. In a question-and-answer format, Speakeasy chats with another team’s reporter to gain a new perspective on Ohio’s opponents. Also, we will be chatting with other team’s players in a podcast format that appears after the Q&A.
This week, Speakeasy talks to Aaron McMann, football beat writer at the Central Michigan Life, Central Michigan University’s student-operated campus newspaper. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronMcMann.
Speakeasy Sports: Central Michigan struggled from an offensive standpoint early on against the Miami RedHawks this past Saturday, but they finally got things going toward the end. What do you have to say about how the Chippewas finished the game?
Aaron McMann: They kind of came on in the second half. The first half was kind of the story of the season; they struggled on offense for a bulk of the earlier season. The freshman quarterback, Cooper Rush, struggled, threw interceptions, fumbled earlier in the first half. In the second half, I think they wore the Miami defensive line down quite a bit. They were rushing it down Miami’s throat. Our running back, Saylor Lavallii, ending up rushing for a season-high 151 yards and two touchdowns. We came out early in the second half running the ball, which opened up the passing game for Cooper Rush, and I think we just outmuscled them in the second half.
SS: Speaking of the rushing game, it was a big blow losing star running back Zurlon Tipton for the season, but it looks like Rush is picking up a lot of the slack from missing him. He’s the fourth-ranked quarterback in passing yards per game. What do you have to say of his performance in the absence of a dominant back in Tipton?
AM: It’s been a whirlwind so far this season. Cooper Rush came in; he was the No. 3 guy on the depth chart. Our starting quarterback, Cody Kater, got injured in the season opener in Michigan. Our backup, Alex Niznak — he’s a sophomore — came in, looked pretty good, ended up starting the second game against New Hampshire — the home opener — and he couldn’t get anything going on offense at all. Coach Dan Enos pulled the plug on him in the second quarter for Rush, and that was kind of a test, and Cooper did well. He had a pretty good first half a week later, and in the second half he ended up coming back and beating us. Cooper threw two picks and didn’t look too good. He’s thrown nine interceptions in four games. He’s looked good in spots. He has a very good arm. Of the three quarterbacks, I think he has the best arm, but you can still tell he is a freshman because he still makes the freshman mistakes. He throws into read coverages when he shouldn’t be, but I think in time he will improve. Going forward for the rest of the season will be interesting to see what happens. He’s bright, he’s got a good arm, but he’s still making the mistakes that he has to flush out here.
SS: As far as weapons that Rush has to work with, what do you have to say about the receiving core that CMU has put on the field this season? Would you say that it’s a pretty balanced team out there?
AM: Coming into the season, we had Titus Davis; he’s our No. 1 receiver. In a way he’s our playmaker, but other than Titus, we haven’t really seen a second receiver jump out. Andrew Flory, he’s had spurts here, and he’s only a sophomore. But other than that, we’ve had issues here. Courtney Williams, he’s had issues holding onto the ball, dropping passes. We lost Jesse Kroll to injury a few weeks back, so other than Titus Davis, no one has really jumped out at receiver, and I think we’re still trying to find that No. 2.
SS: Looking at the Ohio Bobcats, what are some of the match-up advantages that you see Central Michigan holding over the Green and White on Saturday?
AM: I honestly don’t see many match-up advantages for CMU. I think overall (Ohio) is going to be the superior team against us. I think you guys have played a weak schedule, but at the same time I think you guys are a much better team than us. Your quarterback is much more experienced than ours. Your rushing attack is overall balanced. Obviously Beau Blankenship has proven himself there. I don’t see many match-up advantages going into the game for CMU. I think our secondary will be okay. Our secondary has been a bit of a surprise this season. They’ve mustered four or five picks so far this season early on, so I think the secondary can give you guys problems — I think it will — but I think overall I don’t see, coming into this week, I don’t see CMU actually staying close. I think Ohio will win this game pretty comfortably by two touchdowns.
SS: Now Tyler Tettleton hasn’t been playing the best football of his career at Ohio University this season, and with the CMU pass defense ranking fourth in the MAC in yards given up per game through the air, do you see that as an advantage?
AM: It’s funny you say that because I did a story on that last week. CMU is at the top of the MAC in terms of yards allowed through the air, but at the same time we’ve given up a ton of yards too. Over the last two years CMU has switched to a 4-2-5 defensive scheme, so we’re trying to prevent against spread offenses, but at the same time, they kind of play zone. So we give up some yards, but at the same time, we try to avoid giving up the big plays. Defensive coordinator Joe Tumpkin said last week that they’re trying to avoid giving up the big plays. They got beat a couple of weeks ago at Toledo. They got beat there, so our secondary is improving. The safeties are one of the strengths of our team, the corners are still young and do get beat on occasion, so it’s going to be interesting to see how Tyler does this weekend.
SS: Can you name an x-factor that may be a potential threat to Ohio this Saturday?
AM: I think Cooper is your guy, Cooper Rush. I think if he can come out confident in the first half and throw the ball how he knows, then I think he can make a difference for CMU. I think it will give them a chance to win the game. I haven’t really seen him consistent this season. We’ve seen him in spurts there early on, he got into a slump for three games and he came on in the second half last week against Miami. It’s going to be interesting to see how he comes out in the first half. I think right now it’s a confidence thing with him. If he can come out, make a couple quick, short passes and get his confidence down, then he can become the x-factor for CMU if they want a chance of winning against Ohio.
SS: Can you give us a score prediction for the game on Saturday?
AM: I haven’t come up with it yet, but I’m going to say off the top of my head right now that Ohio wins, 34-24.
On the second episode of the Speakeasy Sports Dinner with the Enemy, podcast host Zak Kolesar chats with Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush and linebacker Justin Cherocci: