Game 2: Kansas at Central Michigan – Preview and Prediction

Can Kansas end a historical road losing streak on Saturday? The models say it’s possible, but logic says it isn’t.

Opponent: Central Michigan University Chippewas

Opponent’s Record: 0-1 (lost 35-20 at Kentucky in week 1)

Location: Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant, Michigan

Game time: Saturday, September 8, 2018 at 2:00 pm

TV channel: Jayhawk NetworkESPN+

Radio: 810 WHB

Odds: CMU -5

Breakdown

I was wrong last week. Vegas had Kansas shuffling between -6 and -8 on the spread. Sagarin had KU as six-point favorites, and S&P+ had KU as high as 16-point favorites. So, while math told me KU should’ve won, knowing Kansas football, I should’ve known better.

Now we’re onto week two, where a big streak has the opportunity to be put to bed. One area that math and logic coalesce is in KU’s inability to compete on the road. The Jayhawks have lost a D1-record 48 straight games on the road, spanning nearly nine full calendar years. According to this site, Kansas has been the worst team in college football against the spread since 2009. It’s not particularly close, either.

Central Michigan is KU’s most likely chance to avoid a winless season. KU will have to improve from week one and play smart football away from Lawrence to come away with the win.

When Central Michigan has the ball

Central Michigan is led by 6’7” sophomore quarterback Tony Poljan. Poljan was featured last season as a wide receiver and tight end. He can move, as CMU likes to get him in space. CMU is pretty inexperienced at their skill positions, but they do have some dynamic playmakers. Junior Jonathan Ward is an explosive running back who the Chippewas will move around a lot. He left their game against Kentucky and the offense took a noticeable downturn in his absence. One of the biggest matchups that Central Michigan will look to exploit is their 6’7” tight end Bernhard Raimann, who will be up against KU’s Bryce Tornedon in the slot. Poljan’s athleticism is going to put Kansas defenders in a tough spot. Not only is he big, but he is also shifty, and he made some throws off platform that kept Kentucky’s defenders guessing.

For KU to have success against Central Michigan’s offense, they need to play solid assignment football. Poljan’s ability to keep plays alive allows for more defensive lapses and given KU’s performance in week one staying focused will be essential. Central Michigan won’t overwhelm KU deep, so look for both Mike Lee and Tornedon to be around the line of scrimmage more. CMU likes to pound the football with both Poljan and running back Kumehnnu Gwilly, considering his ability to run between the tackles. Kansas must dominate the interior line and open lanes for Joe Dineen and Keith Loneker to do what they do best. If the Jayhawks don’t match Central Michigan’s physicality, it could be long run after long run for the Chippewas.

When Kansas has the ball

This is an interesting matchup for KU. Central Michigan has some good edge rushers and loves to bring pressure to the quarterback. Based on what we saw versus Nicholls, that doesn’t sound good for KU. Peyton Bender displayed a unique inability to sense pressure last week. I expect CMU to go after Bender early, often, and in a variety of ways. The Chippewas are an aggressive defense that looks to take advantage of opposing teams mistakes. If KU’s offensive line gives a repeat performance of the Nicholls game, then it could get ugly fast. Against Kentucky, CMU forced four turnovers that very easily could’ve been six.

Central Michigan is undersized up front, but they make up for it in physicality. Kansas needs to establish itself on the edges to soften up the middle of the Chippewas defense. Expect the Jayhawks to get the ball to Steven Sims in space early and often to try and restart him after a pedestrian performance last week. CMU has aggressive defensive backs, but a couple of times against Kentucky they jumped the gun, leaving them susceptible to big plays. I wasn’t impressed with the tackling ability of the safeties in space, so again it’s likely Kansas will try to get one on one matchups for Sims, Robinson, or Charlot.

Final thoughts and prediction

The season might have essentially ended for KU fans last week, each week we get closer to a coaching search, but on Saturday, Kansas will field a football team. Based on what we saw last week from Kansas and Central Michigan, it’s hard to see the Jayhawks bouncing back. I think KU will play with more fire, but CMU looked more physical than the Jayhawks. Combine that with KU’s recent history on the road and I have to pick the Chippewas. A bigger question is, will there be an interim head coach for the Jayhawks next week when Rutgers comes to town?

Central Michigan 24, Kansas 17. CMU -5.

Season record: 0-1, 0-1 ATS

Last week’s prediction: Kansas 34, Nicholls State 26 (actual Nicholls State 26, Kansas 23)