Minnesota set to expose Chippewas' out-of-conference woes
The Quick Lane Bowl is set to go down in Detroit next Monday night between the 7-5 Central Michigan Chippewas and the 5-7 Minnesota Golden Gophers. After a close loss to then second ranked TCU, Minnesota’s season didn’t turn out how they had hoped as they lost five of their last six games. Central Michigan was a two-point loss at Western Michigan and a five-point loss against Toledo away from an undefeated season in the MAC. The Chippewas lost all three of their out-of-conference games against FBS teams this year.
Central Michigan’s offense begins and ends with the passing game. The Chippewas drop back to pass on 60 percent of their snaps and quarterback Cooper Rush had the 11th highest passing grade among FBS quarterbacks. The junior has the ability to push the ball accurately down the field. On passes over 10 yards down the field he is 101-172 for 2,072 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. That nearly matches Minnesota’s output through the air for the entire season.
The big question will be can their dreadful offensive line give Rush enough time and create any running lanes for their backs. Out of 128 FBS programs, CMU’s offensive line ranked 95th in pass protection and 126th in run blocking. Minnesota might only be ranked 116th in run defense, but I’m not sure it will matter with an O-Line that’s inept.
Rush has a handful of talented targets to throw to as well. Jesse Kroll (+11.0) is the most prolific of the bunch, but Anthony Rice (+10.0) and Corey Willis (+7.8) both grade out as top 100 receivers. As a whole Chippewa receivers have only dropped 16 of 327 catchable passes, making them among the most sure-handed in college football.
They’ll have the pleasure of facing a Minnesota secondary that will have their best player back for the bowl game in Jalen Myrick. The junior cornerback had a +9.3 overall grade in 483 snaps, but hasn’t played since the Gophers loss at Ohio State in early November. Outside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (+12.8) should also help out against the Chippewas’ attack. The senior owns the 14th best coverage grade among all linebackers in the country.
While Central Michigan has relied on the pass all year, Minnesota never got anything going through the air. Mitch Leidner was the third lowest graded quarterback in the Big 10 this year (-14.6 overall). His 67.9 accuracy percentage was 84th best in the nation among 137 qualifiers.
They’ll likely lean on their running back tandem of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. Brooks, a freshman, has been particularly impressive. Brooks’ averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 104 attempts, including 3.7 of those after contact. His elusive rating was also 27th best in the country. He’ll run it behind an offensive line that isn’t very imposing. They rank 51st in pass blocking among the 65 power five schools and 45th in run blocking. Only guards Connor Mayes and Joe Bjorklund have positive grades for the season.
That’s not great news for the Gophers as Central Michigan boasts a pair of talented defensive ends. Seniors Louis Palmer and Blake Serpa own grades of +15.3 and +15.2 respectively to pace their defensive front seven.
Other players to watch
S Kavon Frazier (+9.6 overall)
RT Derek Edwards (-32.0 overall)
CB Josh Cox (+5.7 overall)
DT Steven Richardson (+12.8 pass rush)
RT Jonah Pirsig (-18.7 overall)
WR Drew Wolitarsky (+4.0 overall)
Minnesota 27, Central Michigan 24