This week we interview Central Michigan beat writer Nate Schneider of the Morning Sun. Here is a link to my answers to his questions. Below are his answers to my questions.
1) What strides if any has CMU quarterback Ryan Radcliff taken in this his senior year?
I think the main strides Radcliff has made is in his decision-making and not forcing things that aren't there. Those strides have specifically been noticeable in the last two games as in the first two he was average versus Southeast Missouri, then extremely poor against Michigan State. But he has made the right reads the last week and shown the leadership a fifth-year senior and third-year starter should be showing. The one interception he threw at Northern Illinois was on a tipped pass and not necessarily his fault. Aside from a slightly shaky beginning, he played well and dealt with five or so drops by receivers. He was very effective and gave CMU a chance to win.
2) A 31-point loss at Northern Illinois looks deceiving. How close was Central Michigan to being in this game until the end?It was very close until the latter minutes of the third quarter. Down 27-21 five-plus minutes into the third, Radcliff threw a deep pass down the left sideline that in my opinion wide receiver Titus Davis should have reeled in for a touchdown. There was some debate as to whether Davis should be expected to make the catch, but in my opinion and many others including Chippewas head coach Dan Enos the catch should have been made. It could have been a game-changer. Instead, Radcliff threw the interception on the tip a few plays later and NIU turned it into a touchdown. Then two CMU drives later and the score still a manageable 34-24 deficit early in the fourth, running back Zurlon Tipton tried to power ahead for extra yards near midfield and was stripped before he went down. The Huskies turned it into another TD and the rout was on. Those two turnovers were the difference. Up until then, Central Michigan had a great chance to pull the upset but the back was broken after that and it turned out to be more lopsided on the scoreboard than much of the game dictated.
3) What's the mood around the team about opening up MAC play in back-to-back weeks on the road against two of the top teams in the MAC?Enos and company saw the schedule and knew it would be difficult. The reality is that the entire four-game stretch of Michigan State, Iowa, Northern Illinois, and Toledo with three of those contests on the road was clearly going to be the most difficult part of the season to manage. I think the overall mood is that this is the hand that they were dealt and there is no use complaining about it. The win over Iowa clearly helped morale and I honestly don't really think it was damaged much in the loss at NIU. I think the feeling is that the win was there for the taking and if a cleaner effort had been given, there was a chance to pull the upset. This game at Toledo is huge in the mindset of the CMU coaching staff and roster I believe, because if somehow an upset can be manufactured the rest of the schedule is less daunting than what has been dealt with thus far.
4) Is this a make-or-break year for CMU coach Dan Enos?I don't necessarily it is a make-or-break year. The administration really likes what he is doing in terms of recruiting and community engagement, although the fan base as a whole has soured a bit on him after the back-to-back 3-9 seasons. The win at Iowa did help regain some trust, however. With Enos sitting at 2-2 right now, I feel five or six wins this season will keep his job safe for sure. But a collapse that leaves CMU with another 3-9 record could signal the end of the line.
5) What's this team's greatest strength? How about greatest weakness?I think CMU's greatest strength is in the offensive balance. The experience at quarterback helps, then it has a strong running back in Zurlon Tipton as well as wide receiver depth beginning with Cody Wilson and Davis. When you look at the offensive line, it is strong all across the board starting with 6-foot-7 left tackle Eric Fisher who is a potential NFL first round draft pick. Even when the Chippewas lost fellow 6-7 right tackle Jake Olson to a knee injury against MSU, another senior in Mike Repovz stepped in admirably. Repovz had started a total of 17 games prior to his two starts this season in Olson's absence, so it was not as difficult of a transition as it could have been. The biggest weakness would have to be defensive tackling and over-pursuit of opposing ball carriers. I think Enos said Tuesday that he counted somewhere between 17 and 19 missed tackles, so that has to be shored up if CMU has any shot at making noise in the MAC. Plus far too many times against NIU 11 players went to the ball, leaving the entire opposite side of the field open to cut back. Another weakness would have to be in special teams. Kicker David Harman and punter Richie Hogan have both been solid, but both kickoff and punt coverage need major work as large chunks of yards have been given up seemingly every return.