Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Few teams had as an impressive a finish to the 2012 season as the Chippewas. Following a 3-9 record in 2011, coach Dan Enos had a tough time getting his team going which made it look like another losing campaign was on the way. However, CMU managed to climb back from a poor start and book a trip to the Little Caesars Bowl, with strong play down the stretch.
CMU began its season on a positive note as it downed Southeast Missouri State, 38-27, in its opener at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. CMU suffered a lopsided, 41-7 loss to Michigan State but followed the setback with a surprising, 32-31 victory at Iowa. The Chippewas had a difficult time from there, winning only one of their next six contests. They lost by double-digit margins to Northern Illinois (55-24), Toledo (50-35), Navy (31-13), Ball State (35-14) and Western Michigan (42-31) with the only win coming during the stretch coming over Akron (35-14), which failed to win a MAC game.
Enos motivated his 3-6 squad to win four of its final five regular season games, including decisions at Eastern Michigan (34-31), Miami-Ohio (30-16) and Massachusetts (42-21). CMU kept its momentum through the postseason and defeated Western Kentucky, 24-21, in the bowl game.
Enos, who played quarterback for Michigan State, began his assistant coaching career in 1991 and worked for programs like Western Michigan, Cincinnati and his alma mater before CMU gave him his first chance to be a head coach. He is 13-24 in his career after three full seasons.
OFFENSE: CMU's offense gained some steam down the stretch of the 2012 campaign as tailback Zurlon Tipton emerged as a superstar. Tipton made a strong impression with 180 yards on 17 carries in the season opener, but he was held under the century mark in the five following games. He was a big part of the Chippewas' strong finish as he gained an average of 142.1 ypg in the team's final seven contests. Tipton managed to rush into the end zone 19 times on the season and he thinks he can reach that number once again despite the graduation of tackle Eric Fisher, who was selected first in the NFL Draft.
"Obviously you want to get better every year," said Tipton. "Collectively, we want this. We want to be one of the top rushing teams in the nation. We're going to go out and get the job. Now that we have young quarterbacks, I feel like the run game has to be there."
Although CMU lost an elite blocker in Fisher, there are a handful of experienced returners up front. Senior tackle Jake Olson will be a big help. Olson was limited to just two games in 2012 due to injury. Sophomore center Nick Beamish has great size (6-3, 305) and a solid grasp on the fundamentals of the game.
Junior wideout Titus Davis was one of the top receivers in the MAC as a sophomore, racking up 860 yards and eight TDs on 43 receptions. Andrew Flory showed his big-play ability with 340 yards and four TDs on just 17 catches as a sophomore. Courtney Williams and tight end Connor Odykirk will both see a fair amount of passes come their way as well.
The new starting quarterback has yet to be decided in fall camp. Junior signal caller Cody Kater is the front runner to take the snaps, but he has attempted only four passes so far in his career. Sophomore Alex Niznak and redshirt freshman Cooper Rush are both being considered as Ryan Radcliff's replacement.
DEFENSE: CMU was not one of the strongest defensive squads in the FBS with allowed averages of 433.3 yards and 32.4 points per game in 2012. The Chippewas allowed five opponents in a row to surpass the 400-yard mark in total offense before holding both UMass (317) and WKU (327) well below that number in their final two appearances.
The secondary lost a superstar in All-MAC safety Jahleel Addae to graduation. Two-year starter Avery Cunningham will do his best to fill in as the new defensive leader.
"I think the biggest thing about Avery is that he loves to compete," said defensive coordinator Joe Tumpkin. "In everything he goes about doing, each and every day, it is always about competing. He likes to do well, he likes to have success in that competition, he likes to win. When you challenge him he really takes that challenge to heart and tries to get better. We challenge him to be a leader. We challenge him to be better on his one-on-one and man-to-man coverage. We challenge him to be more physical. Whatever challenge we give to him, he has accepted and embraced it and has done well with it."
Cunningham finished fourth on the team with 88 total stops and also added two interceptions, six TFL and two sacks. Junior safety Jarret Chapman registered 51 total stops and broke up six passes. Junior corner Jason Wilson is also a proven defensive back that should help the Chippewas rise from their ninth- place ranking in the MAC against the pass.
The linebacking unit is a strong point on the defense. Justin Cherocci and Shamari Benton are back after ranking first and second, respectively, on the squad in tackles a season ago.
Redshirt freshman Kelby Latta and senior Alex Smith are expected to give CMU some pop from the defensive end position. The team had trouble pressuring the QB and wrapping up ball carriers in the backfield last season. After both started in 2012 as underclassmen, nose tackles Jabari Dean (6-2, 288) and Leterrius Watson (6-5, 300) will play key roles in the rush defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior Richie Hogans was reliable on fourth downs last season as he finished fourth in the league with 40.8 yards per punt. The place kicking job opened up upon the graduation of David Harman. Redshirt freshman Ron Coluzzi was a highly-touted five-star prospect coming out of Naperville High School. He is expected to be the team's place kicker for years to come.
Sophomore running back Saylor Lavallii was primarily a return specialist in 2012. He managed to average 23.1 yards per kick return as a freshman. The Chippewas are in desperate need of someone who can be more productive after fielding punts. The team averaged only 2.6 yards per punt return in 2012.
OUTLOOK: CMU has a lot of questions that need to be answered before it will be claiming its first league title since 2009. There are plenty of experienced returning players on both side of the ball for Enos to work with, but replacing Addae and Fisher will be an impossible task. The Chippewas do not have an easy non-conference slate in 2013 which could keep them from becoming bowl eligible if they struggle in league action.
"We are very excited," said Enos. "The way we finished last year gave us a lot of positive momentum going into the offseason."
Enos's squad begins its year against Michigan in The Big House. It has a more manageable opponent the following week as it hosts New Hampshire of the FCS at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, but travels to Las Vegas to tangle with UNLV the following week. The Chippewas then begin their MAC season at home versus Toledo and conclude their series of non-conference games their next time out at NC State. CMU faces three teams that played in the postseason in its next four games with Miami-Ohio, Ohio, Northern Illinois and Ball State on the docket. After facing WMU on the road, it closes out the season at home versus UMass and EMU.
The Chippewas are better defensively than last season and have a strong cast of characters to employ in the rushing attack. Whichever QB wins the job will have to be efficient enough to keep opposing defenses honest or Tipton will be bottled up consistently.
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