MAC notes: WMU visits CMU with first place in West at stake

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Western Michigan will travel to Mount Pleasant on Wednesday for a Mid-American Conference showdown with chief rival and defending West Division champion Central Michigan (7 p.m., ESPN2).

But instead of stopping in Lansing for a pre-game meal, the Broncos will eat at home in Kalamazoo before hopping on multiple busses for the trip, due to COVID-19 precautions.

D'Wayne Eskridge

The WMU-CMU battle will be for first place in the West with the teams 2-0 as they reach the midpoint in the MAC’s six-game season.

The Broncos pulled out a miracle 41-38 comeback win over Toledo last Wednesday in Kalamazoo, scoring a pair of TDs in the final 45 seconds, including the winning TD on a fake spike and then scoring toss from quarterback Kaleb Eleby to a wide open Jaylen Hall (Macomb Dakota) with 17 seconds left.

WMU fourth-year head coach Tim Lester says the Broncos and Chippewas are similar teams.

“We know it’s a rivalry and for us it’s just about continuing to improve,” Lester said. “I think they’re built a lot like us. In a game like this there’s going to be two things. … And really because of who we are and because of who they are, there’s really three things.

“The first thing is the line of scrimmage. The offensive and defensive line is the strength of both teams. We both like to run the ball. We both like to be physical, so the rubber has got to meet the road and we have to control the line of scrimmage, both on offense and defense, and they’re going to attempt to do the same thing. Second is ball control. You have to make sure you hold on to it. We haven’t turned the ball over yet and they have gotten turnovers, so that will be a huge part of the game: Can you win the turnover battle.

“Now, normally in a rivalry game when you do those things you win. The caveats are, even if you do those two things and (Kalil) Pimpleton decides to go off and have a huge day, none of that matters, or if D’Wayne Eskridge goes off and has a big day. So we both have some players who trump all the traditional football thinking, but I still think it comes down to line of scrimmage and turnovers.”

Pimpleton (Muskegon) earned first-team All-MAC honors last season as a receiver/punt returner for the Chippewas. Eskridge, who has 4.33 speed, was a preseason first-team All-MAC performer for the Broncos. Eskridge had two TD receptions in a season-opening 58-13 win at Akron, including a 76-yard TD grab, then had seven receptions for 131 yards in the win over Toledo, including a 47-yard TD.

Lester compares CMU freshman starting quarterback Daniel Richardson (5-foot-10, 205-pound) to former Eastern Michigan quarterback Mike Glass.

“They are very similar, both young guys with a lot of talent,” said Lester of Eleby and Richardson.

“Richardson reminds me of a young Mike Glass, strong arm, not very tall, but he moves around well. They give him a running game. They give him a good defense. He throws on the run well and obviously he has some weapons. Coach McElwain does a good job of putting him in positions to succeed.”

Lester hopes to get starting defensive ends Ali Fayad (calf) and Andre Carter (ankle) back from injuries, but both players are doubtful.

Eagles host Toledo

Toledo and EMU will both be in bad moods when they take the field Wednesday (7 p.m., CBSSN) at Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti.

The Eagles (0-2) failed to protect a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight game last Wednesday when Ball State battled back from a 24-21 deficit, then scored with six seconds left to complete a 12-play, 79-yard drive for a 38-31 win.

EMU’s defense gave up 536 total yards, 304 yards on the ground.

The Rockets held a 38-28 fourth-quarter lead before giving up two TDs during the final 45 seconds in a 41-38 loss to WMU.

Toledo had 501 total yards and had run 40 more plays (82-42) before WMU’s final two drives.

The Rockets also scored 38 in their season opener, a 38-3 rout of rival Bowling Green when they piled up 524 total yards, 310 on the ground.

EMU’s defense will have to do a better job of stopping the run or it could be a long night.