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2019 MAC Football Week 4 Game Preview: Central Michigan Chippewas at Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Jim McElwain returns to Florida for the first time as a head coach since his gig in Gainsville to take on a hated Gator rival.

James H. Jimenez

The Central Michigan Chippewas (2-1) get set to travel to Miami, Florida, for the first time since their trip to Marlins Stadium for the Miami Bowl to face Tulsa in 2016. This time around, they’ll face the Miami (FL) Hurricanes (1-2) at Hard Rock Stadium in downtown Miami.

A lot has changed since that bowl appearance. The vast majority of that bowl-eligible team is gone due to graduation and attrition, with the freshmen from that squad now contributing to the team as seniors. The team is also led by a new head coach, with former Florida head coach Jim McElwain at the helm in his first season, replacing John Bonamego. Central also got rid of those silver-lined jerseys (thank goodness.)

The opponent has also changed for CMU, with the infamous Miami Hurricanes on deck, as opposed to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. The venue, too, has chaned, going from a cavernous baseball stadium to a football stadium that’s known for being a rollicking environment at its most hyper. All told, CMU will hope for a decidedly different result this time around.

So what is it the Chips should expect to see, exactly?


When CMU is on offense

To say CMU’s offense has been a bit of a roller coaster to watch this season would be a severe understatement.

In two home games, the Chippewas have been explosive, averaging 531 yards on 75 plays in both games, scoring 10 touchdowns (five each passing and rushing.) In their lone road game against Wisconsin, they struggled to gain one yard, much less 43. They were overwhelmed by a combination of a physical defense and a litany of injuries, with two of their most important skill position players going down on the same play.

Some of their success can be explained by the level of compeition; the home games were against FCS Albany and MAC cellerdweller Akron, neither of whom are a homestanding Wisocnsin. CMU will hope to be able to move the ball against a talented, if undisciplined, Miami defense which seeks to force the ball out on every down of play.

David Moore looked good in Week 3 passing the ball, finishing 20-of-31 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. Moore had good zip on the ball, and hit windows which allowed his receivers to make plays on timing routes. If there’s one thing to worry about, Moore had a tendency to overthrow receivers at times, forcing receivers to make diving plays on the ball multiple times against Akron.

Kobe Lewis was fantastic in his first career start at running back, rushing 25 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns in Week 3. It took a while for Lewis to get going, but once he did, he proved nearly impossible to stop, with his last TD of the day being set up by a 45-yard shoot-gap run down the far sideline late in the fourth quarter.

CMU has seemingly discovered a core of receivers it can depend on, with six-foot-seven tight end Tony Poljan (five receptions, 90 yards and a touchdown last week), Tyrone Scott (nine rec., 175 yards and two touchdowns in 2019) and five-foot-nine slot receiver and offensive weapon Kalil Pimpleton (CMU’s leading receiver with 18 rec., 174 yards and two touchdowns) catching the vast majority of the passes.

CMU wants to get Pimpleton in space in any way they can, and will likely send him into motion from the slot position to set him up with a match they think will give him an advantage, as the former Virginia Tech Hokie has Power Five-type speed and acceleration as both a rusher and a receiver. To accomplish this, they’ll likely try to set up the run early with Lewis, using Pimpleotn as a motion man, and use the read option to get the ball out quickly on timing routes and minimize mistakes.

On defense, the Hurricanes will be a formidable foe. First year head coach Manny Diaz was Miami’s defensive coordinator in 2018, and specializes in a havoc-causing defense which flies to the ball and looks to cause a turnover on every play, regardless of down or distance.

Their reputation will precede them ahead of the game; as a unit, the defense has combined for seven sacks, 24 tackles-for-loss, seven passes defended, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble in just three games of action. They’re also one of the more penalized teams in the country, coming in at a robust 111th with an average of 73.33 yards per game.

Their aggression tends to work in “clutch” situations though, as Miami has only allowed 7-of-35 third-down conversion attempts on defense.

Safety Gurvan Hall Jr. leads the Hurricanes statistically with 18 total tackles (nine solo and 9 assisted) with two tackles-for-loss and a sack, showing excellent run support skills as a true sophomore. Fellow safety Amari Carter (eight total tackles, one interception) will roam the field to neutralize the passing game.

One question mark heading into the game will be the availability of corner Romeo Finley, who has accumulated nine total tackles, three tackles for loss and an intercption from the defensive back position. He’s on the injury report with an unspecified ailment, and would be a big loss in pass coverage were he not to be available.

Shaquille Quarterman, a senior, is the unquestioned defensive leader at the linebacker position, with 12 total tackles on the season to go along with two tackles-for-loss, a sack and a recovered fumble. He’ll have the eyes of NFL scouts throughout the season and could show out against a Central offense which showed its struggles against more talented foes in Week 2.

Gregory Rousseau will be a player to look out for on the defensive line in both the run and pass games, as he has accumulated 3.5 tackles-for-loss and three sacks in 2019 from the tackle spot.


When CMU is on defense

CMU fans will surely recognize the offensive gameplan for the Miami Hurricanes, as former head coach Dan Enos leads the way at offensive coordinator for the Canes.

Enos gave the Chippewas some bulletin board fodder earlier this week, telling the Orlando Sun-Sentinel he “didn’t feel appreciated” by CMU despite “putting his heart and soul” into building the program from 2010-2014. As CMU’s head coach, Enos went 29-36 in five seasons, never finishing higher than 6-6 in the regular season. Enos left in 2015, days before National Signing Day, to take an offensive coordinator position with Arkansas.

Enos also indicated he’d be happy to be a head coach again, a statement which comes as a shock to many CMU fans, who had earlier known him to say head coaching wasn’t for everybody.

SInce his departure from CMU, Enos has done good for himself, gaining a reputation for developing balanced attacks and being a sort of quarterback whisperer in the SEC with Arkansas and Alabama, famously helping to tutor both Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa.

His offense at Miami still runs off many of the same principles as it did at CMU, although he has added some read-option aspects to his pro-style attack which have helped to modernize his system.

Redshirt freshman Jarren Williams leads the offense at quarterback, and has yet to throw an interception in three games, completing 68-of-92 passes for 777 yards and six touchdowns. Williams is a classic pocket quarterback with great vision and has shown a good understanding of the pro-style offense Enos likes to run. About the only weakness in Williams’ game is the tendency to hold on to the ball, evident in how often he’s been sacked this season.

The Canes will also mix it up at QB, throwing in Deejay Dallas to be a running option for the Wildcat. It’s worked out pretty well so far, as Dallas has shown himself to be an excellent runner at both the QB and RB positions, with 38 rushes for 310 yards and four touchdowns to lead Miami overall. Cam’ron Harris (26 rushes, 105 yards and two touchdowns) is the primary option at RB and will certainly get his share of touches in a platoon with Dallas.

The receiving game, as it did at CMU, will run through one tight end and a few outside options.

Brevin Jordan is a pro-ready tight end with elite vertical threat skills who can take the tops off of the middle of defenses. He’s second on the team with 13 receptions and 163 yards (one touchdown), and will have an interesting matchup with the middle of the CMU defense, which has relatively neutralized tight ends in its three games thus far.

KJ Osborn will be familiar to CMU, as he played for Buffalo last season, picking up four receptions for 80 yards in the Bulls’ victory against the Chips on Oct. 6, 2018. He was one of Manny Diaz’s first targets in the transfer portal, and for good reason; Osborn has been the team leader in receptions (15), receiving yards (175) and touchdowns (2) as the primary outside receiving option in the Cane offense.

Jeff Thomas will be an intriguing name to follow, as the Canes haven’t been afraid to send him into motion to use as a rusher. Thomas has picked up 12 receptions for 103 yards, as well as 27 rushing yards on three touches. Mike Harley (nine rec., 140 yards and one touchdown) and Mark Pope (five rec., 104 yards) have also shown themselves to be big play threats on the outside.

The CMU defensive gameplan will likely look to limit big plays on the outside and force the Canes to try and make the middle of the field work by spying the quarterback, granting room to receivers inside and focusing their efforts on neutralizing the run. That’s Miami’s biggest advantage on the offensive side, and McElwain has made it clear that limiting the run is a mainstay of his defensive philosophy.

Troy Brown, Jacques Bristol, LaQuan Johnson and Devonni Reed will be the biggest names to look out for in stopping the run.

Brown, a former rotation safety who now plays linebacker for the Chips, is far and away CMU’s best tackler, with 28 total tackles and 5.5 tackles-for-loss, as well as two pass defensed and a forced fumble with a recovery. Reed, who had 97 total tackles in 2018, will be a run support safety with stopping power and is second on the team in total tackles with 15.

Bristol and Johnson are defensive tackles who can stuff both the pass and run games in rotation, with Bristol primarily operating out of the nose. They’ve combined for 11 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 2019.

In the passing game, Miami will look to take advantage of an outside secondary which was prone to the big play in Week 2 vs. Wisconsin. The slated starters for CMU this time around are true freshman Kyron McKinnie-Harper and sophomore Darius Bracy, two hard-hitting corners with man coverage skills. Montrae Braswell and Norman Anderson, who got the brunt of the big play burns in Week 2, have been relegated to rotation or special team duties.

Sean Adesanya, a speed rusher, is the best defensive lineman on the roster coming off the end spot, tied for the lead in sacks (2) and second in tackles-for-loss (4.5) with an interception and nine tackles. He’ll look to take advantage of a matchup with two inexperienced tackles on the Hurricane line to get to Williams, who has a propensity for holding on to the ball to avoid mistakes.


Game Notes

  • Where: Hard Rock Stadium in downtown Miami, Florida.
  • When: Sat., Sept. 21, at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time.
  • Weather: 85 degrees, with scattered thunderstorms expected at kickoff (43 percent chance of precipitation rising), per Weather Channel. Winds expected to be a rough 20+ MPH throughout.
  • TV/Streaming: Game to be broadcast exclusively on the ACC Network. Check your local listings. A valid cable subscription will be required for viewing. Streaming will be available on ESPN App with said subscription.
  • Odds: Miami is a 30-point favorite, with an over/under of 48, per OddsShark.


Prediction

It’s going to be a wet and stormy day from the sounds of it, which isn’t exactly ideal, but it is a situation CMU has found themselves in before this year, should there be a delay.

That said, I fully expect Miami’s talent to show through. It may not be as sure of a beatdown as the game against Wisconsin, a surefire contender in the Big Ten, but the Chippewas will have to execute an absolutely perfect gameplan to even have a chance in such a hostile environment.

An indication of success for CMU will be how competitive the offense looks against a tough Miami defense. The Chips were unable to get moving against Wisconsin, and did not threaten on offense once in that game. If CMU can move the ball on the Hurricanes or get a few points on the board, that’s an extremely encouraging sign heading into the MAC season.