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Five Things Learned: Central Michigan Chippewas vs. New Mexico State

The Chips picked up a much-needed win, but there’s still a few things to clean up as they head into next week.

James H. Jimenez

There were plenty of questions surrounding the Central Michigan Chippewas (4-3, 2-1 MAC) coming into the game against New Mexico State (0-7, independent) on Saturday, in the light of starting quarterback David Moore getting suspended.

But CMU looked largely good to go in a dominant, if slow-to-start, 42-28 effort over the hapless Aggies, who were unable to prevent themselves from elimination for a bowl game bid. It was an expedted win coming in, and ultimatley proved itself to be, but it certainly wasn’t an easy one.

The Chips found themselves with a seven-point lead to end the half and had to outscore NMSU 21-7 in the second half in order to walk away with the W on home turf. It’s a credit to the players and staff for making halftime adjustments when they needed to do so, but there’s still plenty to take away, both good and bad, for CMU moving forward.

This offense goes inside-out

CMU’s gameplan going into Saturday was to run the ball and wear down the defense through the middle. It just so happens that’s exactly NMSU’s weakness on the defensive side of the ball, and the Chippewas made them pay for it.

NMSU was one of the worst teams in the country against the run coming in, giving up 14 touchdowns and an average of 225 yards per game. CMU eclipsed that number by a good mile, finishing with 352 yards on the ground, with three touchdowns scored between Kobe Lewis and Jonathan Ward. They were able to push the ball downfield late too, with backup QB Tommy Lazzaro and third-string back Kumehnnu Gwilly picking up 18 and 17 yards, respectively, in the latter parts of the game with no yards lost.

Lewis was especially efficient, carrying the ball 23 times for 151 yards, scoring twice. He averaged 7 yards per rush, with a long carry of 57 yards to help carry the offense as a pace back. Ward finished the day with 131 yards, a touchdown, and a fumble out of the endzone after an awkward landing on an attempted broken tackle. He showed himself nicely as well, picking up yet another big play touchdown for 75 yards after ripping off two such runs last week.

With Ward graduating this season, Lewis is setting himself in prime position to carry starting running back duties in 2020. The fact he’s already splitting carries with Ward as-is is especially encouraging. Lew Nichols, who previously participated in a handful of other games, seems to be the RB2 of the future, as he’s been replaced in-game by Gwilly, another senior.

Quinten Dormady showed a lot of rust

If there’s one concern to have on the offensive side, it’s in the ability to get the pass game going.

The staff seemed to be working Dormady early, to try and get him more comfortable in the passing game. It had very mixed results. He had the 44-yard touchdown strike to Kalil Pimpleton, but only completed one other pass in the first quarter, finishing 2-of-8 for 47 yards. The second quarter showed a lot of improvement, as he completed all seven attempts and finished with 105 yards at halftime. The third quarter was a 3-of-5 effort for 20 yards, as CMU had largely established the run at that point. The fourth quarter (once again, game largely in hand) had Dormady go 2-of-2 for 14 yards and his second touchdown.

Pimpleton was very clearly a security blanket for Dormady, as they connected six times on the day. Outside of the 44-yard strike, Pimpleton had five receptions for 15 yards, forcing CMU to find other ways to get him involved. Ward also seemed to be a heavy option for Dormady, as he was targeted four times out of the backfield for 36 yards. No other receiver had more than two receptions, showing NMSU greatly limited outside options for CMU’s passing offense.

It’s his second game of full action after sitting for over two years in both Tennessee and Houston, and it showed up in a big way against NMSU. There were plenty of missed opportunities due to Dormady over-or-underthrowing receivers, most notably on an attempted pass to JaCorey Sullivan for a potential touchdown, where the pass ended up well to the left of Sullivan, who had to dive in that direction to make a play on the ball and prevent an interception.

ESPN certainly wasn’t a fan of his performance, as they gave his finishing statline (14-of-24 for 134 yards and two touchdowns, no interceptions) a paltry 16.6 adjusted QB rating despite getting a passer rating of 132.7.

To be fair, the Aggie defense was relentless at the front seven, consistently getting pressure on the backfield, picking up seven tackles-for-loss and a fumble on Dormady during a sack attempt. It’s easy to see how he could hear footsteps in that sense. The NMSU defense also had one of their best games of the year in pass defense limiting CMU to just 134 yards on the day.

It could also be rust, as Dormady is working his way back from injury, but we do have to acknowledge what the box score indicates, seeing as CMU is now more or less Dormady’s team going forward due to the suspension of David Moore.

Offensive playcalling looked pretty much the same

Jim McElwain insisted the offensive gameplan would not change with Doramdy at quarterback, as opposed to Moore during the week, much like how it didn’t change when the inverse was true.

For the most part, that proved to be the case.

CMU still ran a lot of the same concepts and personnel on offense with Dormady at quarterback, and he seemed to have a command of the playbook, making adjustments on the line several times in-game. This was most evident on the first Kobe Lewis touchdown run, when Dormady put all three receivers in motion from right to left to get a read on the defense before handing the ball off to Lewis for the score.

The ratio of run plays to pass plays was virtually identitcal to last week against Eastern as well. In Saturday’s game, CMU ran the ball 56 times to 24 pass attempts in a blowout win. Last week against EMU with Moore under center, that ratio was 45 rushes to 24 passes. It’s more or less the pace the Chippewas want to go, as CMU has shown that more passes equals a less likely chance of winning (see losses to WMU and Miami [FL].)

They’ve also been fairly effective in converting third-and-fourth downs, going 8-of-18 on third-down and 2-of-3 on fourth down against NMSU, putting their season totals to 38-of-102 (38 percent) on third down and 12-of-17 (70 percent) on fourth-down. In fact, take out the WMU game, and CMU can claim a near-perfect fourth-down conversion rate (11-of-13.)

Defense has a few holes, but nothing that can’t be fixed

CMU turned in a fairly decent performance against the running game, really limiting the dynamic Jason Huntley to one big play (for 37 yards) en route to a 67-yard performance. Overall, they allowed 121 yards to three runners, with quarterback Josh Atkins (eight rushes, 14 net yards on 40 gained) and Christian Gibson (nine rushes, 40 yards) contribting alongside Huntley.

It’s the first time they’ve allowed 100+ yards rushing at Kelly/Shorts this season, after limiting their previous three opponents to no more than 63 yards. In two of their three losses, CMU gave up over 100+ yards on the ground (188 to WMU, 199 to Wisconsin), so to give up 100+ yards and win is very much a positive.

The passing offense was where the Aggies were able to make the most of their opportunities.

Atkins finished the day 24-of-40 for 264 yards for three touchdowns and one interception, with scoring throws to three different receivers. It was Atkins’ second-best performance of the season, tying his season-high in touchdowns and finishing with a positive TD-to-INT ratio (also for the second time) after coming in with a 6:11 TD-to-INT ratio on Saturday.

CMU was often caught sleeping on the touchdown throws, as all three were caught with relative ease, most notably on the OJ Clark connection in the second quarter. This isn’t an indictment, necessarily. It’s a very young defense, especially on the boundaries and they’ll make a few mistakes here and there.

The defense did cause a handful of turnovers, which helped to change the tide of the game, as Kyron McKinnie-Harper forced a fumble (with Michael Oliver recovering), while Troy Brown picked up a beauty of a sideline interception to kill a promising NMSU drive.

They’re sure to tighten up as the conference season starts up, They’ve certainly shown a lot of promise up to this point after coming into the season as an unknown unit.

Special teams are performing as expected

Ryan Tice seemed to shake off a poor performance against EMU with a 2-of-2 day for the Chips late in the game, as he accounted for six of CMU’s second half points. Both kicks sailed straight through the uprights from 35 and 43 yards out, well within his range.

It made last week look like a fluke, as he was badly affected by the wind.

Brady Buell has a firm hold on the punting job, as he boomed four punts for 174 yards for a 43.5 yard net average, with a long of 51 yards, including at least one punt downed inside the 20.

Kick and punt return teams looked excellent throughout the game, as Montrae Braswell (three kickoff returns, 73 yards, long of 24) and Kalil Pimpleton (three punt returns, 72 yards, long of 40) showed an excellent eye for gaps in kick/punt coverage to give CMU advantageous position to start drives with.

Field position is important, especially for a run-oriented offense, and CMU’s special teams have done a good job of delivering opportunities to succeed.