2010 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Central Michigan

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  • Date: Saturday, October 9, 2010
  • Time: Noon
  • TV: ESPNU

For weather information and a roster card link, see the Info Center to the
right.

Virginia Tech will return home to host Central Michigan after a tough two
games on the road. After a disappointing 0-2 start to the season, the Hokies are
now 3-2 and 2-0 in the ACC. After the next three games, they should be
6-2, though that James Madison game should have taught everyone the lesson that
how things should go aren’t necessarily how they do go.

The Hokies don’t play teams from the state of Michigan very often. In fact,
it’s only happened three times, and all three times it was against Western
Michigan.

The
Hokies vs. The State of Michigan
Year Opp. Score
2001 WMU 31-0
2002 at WMU 30-0
2004 WMU 63-0

Yep, you read that correctly. Western Michigan never scored against the Virginia
Tech defense.

However, this Central Michigan team is much better than Western Michigan. In
fact, they have been the top program in their conference in recent years,
winning the MAC three of the last four years, and making four straight bowl
games.

However, that streak is in serious jeopardy of coming to an end this season.
Central Michigan lost head coach Butch Jones to Cincinnati, and starting
quarterback Dan LeFevour to the NFL. LeFevour is one of the greatest
quarterbacks in NCAA history, throwing for almost 13,000 yards and 102
touchdowns while he was in college. He was also a great runner, with 2,948 yards
on the ground and 47 rushing touchdowns. His 149 total touchdowns are an NCAA
record.

New coach Dan Enos has the unenviable task of keeping the program going
strong without the best player in school history. So far it’s been tough. After
a season opening win against Hampton, CMU narrowly lost to a good Temple team
13-10 in overtime (don’t laugh…Temple went 9-4 and went to a bowl last year,
and are 4-1 so far this year). In their third game they blew out Eastern
Michigan 52-14, and then barely lost to unbeaten Northwestern 30-25.

However, the most disappointing setback came last weekend when Central
Michigan lost at home to Ball State 31-17. It was their first home loss since
2008, and the Chippewas just didn’t play particularly well. They are sitting at
2-3 on the season, and they need to start winning some games in order to keep
their bowl streak alive.

The Central Michigan Offense

Central Michigan hasn’t had much trouble moving the ball this year. Despite
the loss of LeFevour, they still know how to throw the football around.

Central
Michigan Offense
Category Stat Rank
Rush 126.4 ypg 86
Pass 290.8 ypg 19
Total 417.2 ypg 42
Scoring 27.4 ppg 64
Pass Eff. 133.64 54
Sacks 3.2 per game 106
Third Downs 35.71% 92

Central Michigan will typically try to throw the ball around 40 times per game,
and that includes sacks. They will try to test a Tech secondary that has given
up some big plays at times this year, but which certainly has plenty of talent.

The new quarterback is Ryan Ratcliff (6-2, 212, r-So.). Ratcliff can throw
the football, completing over 62% of his passes for 1,437 yards, with seven
touchdowns. However, he also has seven interceptions, which is setting the
offense back quite a bit. His two interceptions against Temple were very costly
and probably cost the Chippewas the game.

Ratciff does have experienced receivers to work with. Kito Poblah (6-2, 212,
Sr.) is a big target who has caught 18 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns.
He is Ratcliff’s biggest target amongst the wide receivers.

However, the best receiver so far this year has been Cody Wilson (5-10, 186,
So.). Not physically imposing, Wilson is a heady player who started seven games
last year as a true freshman. He knows how to get open, and he has 25 receptions
for 460 yards and three touchdowns. Despite the success of their passing game
this year, these receivers will likely struggle against the talent level of the
Hokie defensive backs.

Tailback Paris Cotton (5-9, 179, Jr.) is a very dangerous player out of the
backfield. Central Michigan doesn’t run the ball a lot, but Cotton averages 5.5
yards per carry and has five rushing touchdowns on the season. He is also a
threat in the passing game. His 14 receptions rank third on the team. It’s
important that the Tech defensive line and linebackers get penetration and limit
Cotton’s time in the open field. That’s when he is most dangerous.

Central Michigan’s offensive line is good and every experienced. However,
they suffered a significant loss last week when mammoth 6-8 left tackle Jake
Olson was lost for the season with a knee injury. With the loss of Olson, who
was a Freshman All-American in 2009, right tackle Rocky Weaver will move to left
tackle, and sophomore Eric Fisher will now get the start at right tackle.

Here’s a quick look at the Central Michigan starting offensive line.

Central
Michigan Offensive Line
Pos. Player Ht. Wt. Yr.
LT Rocky Weaver 6-6 290 r-Jr.
LG Jeff Maddux 6-5 320 r-Sr.
C Colin Miller 6-3 300 r-Sr.
RG Darren Keyton 6-3 301 r-So.
RT Eric Fisher 6-7 295 So.

Rocky Weaver is a former tight end, starting some games at that position early
in his career. Colin Miller is a four year starter and All-MAC performer, and he
also played high school football with Tech starting center Beau Warren.

This offensive line has good size, but the loss of Olson is a major blow. In
their first game without arguably their best lineman, I don’t see the Chippewas
having much success against the Hokies up front. I think Tech will shut down the
running game, and if Central Michigan wants a shot to pull the upset, they’ll
have to get good play from Ryan Ratcliff.

The Central Michigan Defense

The Central Michigan defense isn’t particularly athletic, but they are tough
between the tackles, headlined by a couple of very good linebackers.

Central
Michigan Defense
Category Stat Rank
Rush 138.8 ypg 54
Pass 184.6 ypg 41
Total 323.4 ypg 38
Scoring 17.6 ppg 26
Pass Eff. 120.33 52
Sacks 2.6 per game 31
Third Downs 38.96% 65

This defense had been playing very well this year, until last week’s upset at
the hands of Ball State. They allowed 306 yards on the ground, about half of
which came on big plays. As a result of those big plays, Central Michigan fell
down 31-10 and weren’t able to come back.

The strength of this defense is right up the middle. Defensive tackles John
Williams (6-0, 279, Jr.) and Sean Murnane (6-1, 275, r-Sr.) aren’t particularly
big, but they are physical and experienced. Murnane is an All-MAC performer who
has 20 career tackles for loss. However, the Chippewas don’t have much depth at
this position.

At linebacker, Central Michigan has two of the best performers in the MAC.
Middle linebacker Nick Bellore (6-1, 250, Sr.) has started every single game of
his career, and has 414 total tackles. In 2009 he had 13 tackles for loss and
two forced fumbles. He is a very effective player between the tackles.

At weakside backer, Matt Berning (6-0, 246, Sr.) is a native of Germany who
had 108 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss a year ago. So far this year, he leads
the team with 47 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. Berning and Bellore combine
to form the best linebacker duo in the MAC.

The other starter at linebacker is strongside backer Armond Staten (6-1, 214,
Jr.), who is in his first season as a starter, after spending the last two
seasons as a standout on special teams. He is the only linebacker for Central
Michigan who is undersized.

The Central Michigan defensive backs are experienced for the most part, and
they better be ready to tackle Virginia Tech’s running backs in the open field.
Thanks to the strength of the CMU defense being right up the middle, it makes
sense for the Hokies to go with their outside zone stretch plays that they had
so much success with last week against NC State.

Free safety Bobby Seay, Jr. (5-11, 187, Sr.) directs the defense, though with
two career interceptions he is not much of a playmaker. Cornerback Vince Agnew
(5-10, 193, r-Sr.) is another experienced player in the defensive backfield. He
has been a part-time starter since his sophomore season, and was the MVP of the
GMAC Bowl last year.

Agnew’s counterpart at the other corner spot is LaVarus Williams (5-11, 200,
r-So.). Williams is the best player in the secondary, and the most likely guy to
come up with a big play against the Hokies. Strong safety Jahleel Addae (5-9,
193, r-So.) doesn’t have ideal size, but he’s not afraid to play up close to the
line of scrimmage. He has three tackles on the season.

Look for the Hokies to attack this secondary through the air. Tech has
superior athletes at wide receiver, and the Tech passing game should be able to
put up big numbers this week.

In the running game, I look for the Hokies to test Central Michigan’s
inexperienced defensive ends. Joe Kinville (6-2, 248, r-So.) and Kashawn Fraser
(6-3, 247, Jr.) are first-time starters, and Kinville had never played in a
college football game before this season. These players should be outmatched by
the Tech offensive tackles, as well as tight end Andre Smith. I anticipate the
Tech offense hitting a number of nice outside runs in this game.

Special Teams

Virginia Tech has more athletes and more depth, so they should have a major
advantage in this game. This should be the game where Jayron Hosley finally gets
a chance to find some running room on punt returns. Opponents aren’t averaging
huge numbers in returns against Central Michigan, but with Tech’s athletic
advantage they should be able to create some lanes.

Central Michigan’s punt returner is leading receiver Cody Wilson. Wilson is
back there more for his hands than his athletic ability. He is averaging six
yards per return this season.

The Chippewas have used several different kickoff returners this year, but
they haven’t found much running room. Starting strong safety Jahleel Addae could
be the guy against Virginia Tech on Saturday. However, he is averaging only 15.9
yards on seven returns.

Central Michigan’s field goal kicker is a r-freshman, David Marman (6-0, 182,
r-Fr.). He was not the starter at first, but he’s gone 3-of-4 with a long of 41
yards ever since being moved into the starting lineup.

The punter is Brett Hartmann (6-4, 227, Sr.). Hartmann is averaging just over
40 yards per punt, while also handling kickoff duties.

Virginia Tech should be able to win the special teams battle fairly easily
over Central Michigan.

Final Thoughts

Central Michigan is a good program, and the best program in the MAC over the
last four seasons. However, the MAC isn’t a very good conference. The Chippewas
have lost to Georgia (56-17), Kansas (52-7), Michigan (41-17), Boston College
(31-10 and 31-24) and Clemson (70-14) by blowout margins.

They did beat Indiana one year, as well as Michigan State a year ago when the
Spartans finished with a losing record. However, the average outcome of their
games against BCS conference opponents is a loss by about three touchdowns.
Virginia Tech is favored by 21.5 points, which probably isn’t a coincidence.

However, this game isn’t about Central Michigan. It’s about Virginia Tech. If
the Hokies show up and bring it, they’ll run the Chippewas back to Mount
Pleasant without much trouble.

Personally, I’m just ready for a blowout. Boise State went down to the wire,
and sadly so did James Madison. East Carolina was decided in the early fourth
quarter, and the BC game was somewhat of a snoozer that saw the Hokies pull away
gradually. And of course, we all remember the NC State drama.

Instead of being down 17-0 at the end of the first quarter, I want Tech to be
ahead 17-0 at that stage this week. I want to enjoy a Tech football game without
worrying about the outcome. That hasn’t happened since the Hokies started
steamrolling Tennessee early in the third quarter on New Year’s Eve.

I think Saturday will be the first of three straight relatively easy wins for
the Hokies.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 41, Central Michigan 13

Will Stewart’s Take: I haven’t seen Central Michigan play this year, and
I’m in no position to really comment much on the matchup between the two teams.
It’s hard to get a read on how good CMU is (or isn’t), so I can’t say much about
how the two teams compare.

On the surface, the Hokies should now have their feet back under them and be
moving in the right direction. They have won three in a row after a
gut-wrenching start, the last two coming on the road first in a venue that has
been a chamber of horrors (BC in Chestnut Hill), and second against a good,
ranked NC State team that was undefeated and had momentum.

With four straight home games coming up, the first three against opponents
that should be outmatched by the Hokies, this is a great opportunity to continue
the winning streak, work out the kinks, build confidence, and prepare for the
ACC stretch run.

What I’ll be looking for Saturday are signs that the second half against NC
State was a turnaround point for the team, that the comeback boosted their
confidence, and that they’re feeling good about the rest of the season. The
clues will be in the body language, the intensity, and the crispness of
execution. If the team has truly shaken off the Boise State-JMU one-two punch,
you’ll be able to see it on Saturday.

One thing you may not be able to see are full stands in Lane Stadium. As of
this afternoon, the game still hasn’t sold out. The Hokies have recorded 76
straight sellouts, dating back to the 1998 Virginia game, so failing to sell out
the game would be big news. The TSL ticket board is flooded with fans selling
tickets, so both the primary and secondary markets have plenty of tickets
available (relatively speaking).

As for the action on the field, I think what you’ll see Saturday from the
Hokies will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. I’m feeling cautious, so I don’t
think they’ll come out and completely punk-slap CMU, but they will win
comfortably. A big win, on the order of 50-7, would be something to get excited
about. But I’m calling it …

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Central Michigan 13

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