The Central Michigan Chippewas are 1-0 in 2019 after taking care of business against fellow rebuilding program Albany, even despite a nearly two-hour weather delay, and Albany’s repeated efforts to try and make a comeback rally.
It was a welcome improvement from the woes the team suffered last season playing their FCS “cupcake” game, as CMU struggled to put away Maine in a 17-5 win, but it was by no means perfect. No team wants to give up 21 points to an FCS side, especially one that went 3-8 the previous season, and CMU head coach Jim McElwain did express some frustration about that particular fact.
All told, however, it was a night of positives, as CMU scored 38 points, a point total the Chips hadn’t reached since November 24, 2017, when they scored 42 points in a win against Kent State in the midst of a five-game win streak where they scored no less than 31 points in every game.
So what did we learn from Thursday night’s tilt? A lot, actually.
The CMU offense was effective and hard to stop once in rhythm
The Chippewa offense was perhaps the most revelatory part of the game, as the CMU offense marched up-and-down the field with shrewd efficiency, running 84 plays for 529 yards, scoring five touchdowns (three through the air, two on the ground) and possessing the ball for an incredible 36 minutes.
The Chippewas showed a great variety of tempos on offense, switching with ease between read option looks, collegiate spread looks and pro-style looks throughout the day. They scored fairly fast in all but one drive, as their first three touchdown drives averaged stayed within the three-minute mark (3:33, 3:14 and 3:08, respectively) and their fourth touchdown drive lasted for a crispy 1:02. They also stomped all Albany momentum dead with a 15-play, 77 yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that lasted 7:56.
After a shaky start, Quinten Dormady came alive, missing only one pass in the second half, as he finished 27-of-37 for 285 yards and three touchdowns on the day. “It’s hard to sit on the sidelines and be a backup or be hurt,” Dormady said in the post-game press conference. “To get out there with this group that I’ve worked out with since [this] January, since I first got here, it was a lot of fun.” The Tennessee transfer has had to switch programs twice in two years and wait for his turn to play as he healed from injury, so the fact he came out with guns blazing at the quarterback spot is extremely encouraging.
Dormady wasn’t the only one who was happy it was a new season, as Jonathan Ward nearly reached his 2018 total statline in one game, accumulating 158 yards on 22 carries and three receptions for 53 yards to total 211 yards on the day. Ward struggled immensely last season, garnering only 253 total yards and two touchdowns in nine games. Despite those stats, the team holds him in high regard, as he was elected a captain before the game due to his offseason work and camaraderie with the team.
A largely unproven wide receiver corps also showed up to play, with Tyrone Scott (five receptions, 93 yards and two touchdowns) emerging as Dormady’s favorite deep play target and Kalil Pimpleton (eight receptions, 40 yards and one touchdown) being the security blanket at receiver. Keonta Nixon also proved to be a capable receiver, totalling four receptions and 33 yards.
“I think they are as good as they wanna be,” Coach McElwain said regarding the wide receiver room in Thursday’s presser. “Them understanding what they need to do to play successfully: it’s not just about catches. They’re starting to do that, and with [Pimpleton’s] leadership in there, they’re going to continue to do that.”
The CMU defense looked aggressive-- almost too aggressive at points
The CMU defense had an absolutely stellar day in executing Robb Akey’s defensive vision, causing a lot of havoc plays in the running game and forcing turnovers in the passing game with fundamental tackles and strip techniques.
They limited Albany’s running game to 45 total yards on the day and, for the most part, kept Albany’s quartet of wide receivers in check. CMU diagnosed that they had to stop the run to force Albany and pass, and for the most part, were extremely successful on that front. Only Juwan Green (five receptions, 94 yards, two touchdowns) really managed to get any headway on the CMU secondary, and even on that play, McElwain acknowledged that Albany took advantage of a safety playing in quarters and losing the matchup.
The defense allowed only 244 yards on the day, and forced at least one fumble and recovery, which could have been two were it not for a penalty on the CMU defense. Michael Oliver was an especially helpful presence, securing three tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a forced fumble on the day. CMU’s defense came up big in clutch situations too, limiting Albany to 5-of-16 on third-and-fourth downs.
If there is one concern to take away from the defense’s performance, it would be that they collected exactly zero sacks against an FCS offensive line. They did manage to get six tackles-for-loss on the day, but they’re going to have to do a bit better on that front when it comes to facing FBS competition down the road. Their aggression generally did them well for the most part, but it sometimes resulted in giving up too much down the field, something Coach McElwain pointed out, using Karl Mofor’s 36-yard reception that set up a Green touchdown reception as a specific example.
Fumbles and discipline were major frustrations
Part of the reason for such a close score at parts of the game were because of inopportune fumbles. Ward had one of the better games of his career on Thursday, but it would be remiss to not point out that both his touchdowns happened in the second half and that he gave up two fumbles at key points in the first half to end promising drives early.
“Great players can’t do that,” McElwain said. “I think he’s gonna see he’s been carrying it a little loose.” McElwain would go on to acknowledge that ball security will be prioritized in this week’s practices, even as it’s already a drill they work on everyday.
Dormady also coughed up two fumbles on attempted strip sacks, losing one for a 56-yard touchdown recovery by Albany linebacker Eli Mencer. With two of the three recovered fumbles ending in scoring drives, that means the Chippewas gifted the Great Danes 14 of their 21 points.
The Chippewas committing untimely penalties didn’t help either, as CMU totalled 11 penalties for 87 yards. Coach McElwain acknowledged that lack of discipline in his post-game presser. “Penalties are gonna happen,” McElwain acknowledged during his presser. “It’s the unforced error penalties that really frustrate you, those offsides penalties, that really bite you. The playing hard penalties, sometimes you look at things and that’s okay, but the discipline penalties, that’s what drives me nuts.”
The Youth Movement is full swing
There were a lot of fresh faces playing for the Chippewas on Thursday night, as the coaching staff was trying to figure out the combinations they might move forward with, especially in the secondary.
On offense, sophomores Luke Goedeke, Tyrone Scott, Keonta Nixon and Kobe Lewis, as well as freshmen Lew Nichols, Deiyantei Powell-Woods, Danny Motowski, Tyden Ferris and Joel Wilson all participated for CMU. On defense, sophomore Norman Anderson, as well as freshmen LaQuan Johnson, Kyron McKinnie-Harper, Montrae Braswell, Willie Reid and Jacquez Bristol got some key reps in. That’s at least 15 players who saw limited or no reps for the Chippewas in 2018, and even more underclassmen got chances on special teams, including redshirt freshman Granlin Lama at long snapper and redshirt sophomore Brady Buell at punter.
The coaching staff is very high on the potential they have in the freshman and sophomore classes, and proved their confidence in them, as Scott, Nixon and Goedeke picked up starts on offense, while Bristol, Ward, Anderson and Johnson picked up starts on defense.
The team will surely take its growing pains in 2019, but if this roster reaches the potential the coaching staff believes it has, this will be a team to look out for in the next couple years.
Crowd support was extremely encouraging, all considered
There were a lot of questions of what the gameday experience would be like for a team that went 1-11 the previous season, even with a new head coach in town and an improved in-person experience. Those questions were muddied by a 108-minute weather delay that pushed kick-off to 8:45 p.m. after a rain that started at about 4:45 and didn’t stop until about 8:20.
But credit is due where it is due: students and fans showed up, even despite the miserable conditions, and more importantly, they stayed around until well after the game was in hand. The DJ seemed to be a major hit in the commercial breaks, and the student section was especially active in-game, following the action very well.
“I want to thank the people who stayed and got to see the Chips win the game,” McElwain said in his opening remarks to media post-game. “That’s something, the smiles in the locker room after the game, were long overdue. It’s been awhile for them to get a win, and this team, we’re really proud of them.”
If the crowd continues to stick around and remain as active as they did even despite the adverse conditions surrounding Thursday’s game and the back-and-forth pace of the game, Kelly/Shorts Stadium could soon get back to its reputation as one of the best atmospheres in the MAC.