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Five Things Learned: Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Miami (FL) Hurricanes

When a game is lost in the margins, it’s hard to feel good about it. But given the circumstances, CMU fans should be impressed.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Central Michigan at Miami Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Central Michigan Chippewas (2-2) came into their game against the Miami (FL) Hurricanes (2-2) as nearly five-touchdown underdogs heading into Saturday, with most sportsbooks giving CMU a 30-point spread at best.

They certianly didn’t play up to that spread’s expectations, as the Chippewa defense completely smothered a Hurricane offense which had wallopped on Bethune-Cookman just a week before at the same stadium. The CMU offense even amanged to sneak in a few surprises on a stout Manny Diaz-led defense, making the game an absolutely nightmare for Canes fans who were already questioning if “the New Miami” was on the right track.

The Hurricanes got the victory, yes, but it’s the Chippewas who are probably the team which feels best about its chances moving forward.

Here’s a few observations about the game we picked up:

The Chippewa defense keyed in on Dan Enos’ playcalls and neutralized any hope of big plays

One of the major storyines coming into the game against Miami was Dan Enos, the ‘Canes offensive coordiantor, facing his former team for the first time since he left the program unceremoniously in 2015.

Enos certainly didn’t help quiet that narrative down, discussing his exit from CMU in a press conference and saying the school did not reward him for putting his heart and soul into the football team.

The game plan defensively heading in was to limit big plays on the outside and force the offense to operate thorugh the middle of the field, and for the large part, it worked. The Chippewa defense asserted itself against a Miami offense which looked unprepared at points in the game, and forced Enos into his worst tendencies.

No outside receiver had more than 50 receiving yards, with no pass-catcher (including tight ends) picking up more than three receptions during the game. This forced the Hurricanes to run the ball a lot more than they probably wanted to, and that didn’t go much better for them, as the ‘Canes gained 92 yards (51 net) and had a long run of 12 yards by DeeJay Dallas (14 rushes, 40 yards, one touchdown.)

The CMU defense was aggressive and relentless, picking up nine tackles-for-loss and four team sacks, and forced a turnover on the ground via a Sean Adesanya strip sack. Without the ability of the offensive line to hold up against the pressure, Miami couldn’t get the ball out to receivers and made the call to run the ball in order to not make a mistake which could lose a game. They did end up winning, but at what cost?

Credit to defensive coordinator Robb Akey for formulating a gameplan which forced the Hurricanes to play scared in adverse weather conditions.

The CMU offense punched above its weight class

Watching the game, the biggest surprise I noted (and perhaps the biggest indicator that Miami severely underestimated the Chips) was the ability of Kobe Lewis to break out early on the run. Lewis accumualted 25 yards on the groud and picked up two first downs in the first quarter on the first couple of drives for CMU right up the middle, pushing the pile for extra yards at points.

It was a message to the Canes that CMU wasn’t going to respect Miami’s defense, and for the most part, it got across. The offensive line remained disciplined and picked up excellent blocks throughout the game against one of the tougher defensive lines in all of college football, only allowing four sacks thorughout the day.

What really separated the CMU offense on the day was their ability to get receivers open in space and create confusion on the defense, especially on “clutch” downs (third-and-fourth). Kalil Pimpleton led all receivers with 11 receptions for 73 yards, while Tyrone Scott (3 rec., 69 yards) and JaCorey Sullivan (3 rec., 39 yards) picked up clutch conversions late in the game to keep the CMU offense alive with some genuinely great play. Pimpleton’s stat line could have been a lot more impressive were it not for some inopportune drops on third-down plays early in the game, but you can’t really fault him for playing all-out in such an emotionally-pitched environment.

CMU was 8-of-20 on clutch conversions, inlcuding 2-of-2 on fourth down on the penultimate drive of the game and 6-of-18 in third-down conversions, which almost doubled Miami’s totals (1-of-10 on third, 1-of-2 on fourth.)

If there’s one thing to criticise the CMU offense for, it was for not finishing inside enemy territory. CMU entered opposing territory three times early in the game, but came away with zero points, with two third-down sack fumbles resulting in turnovers and a missed 50+ yard field goal attempt. This isn’t necessarily to disredit the Miami defense; they certainly earned those sack fumbles by laying aggressively and winnin their matchups. But with the Canes playing so undisciplined throughout the game, the game was there for the taking.

To the offense’s credit, they managed to complete an impressive drive after an excellent punt return for their lone touchdown of the day on that crazy 21-play, 50 yard drive which took over eight minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter. But in a game where they lost by less than one score, it’s drives like those early ones which come back to haunt a team making an upset bid.

Their performance is certainly something to build on.

David Moore is a gamer, and won over the fans with his gutty performance

David Moore had a hell of an assignment in his second career start as an FBS quarterback, and played beyond the expectations the fanbase (myself included) had. Two weeks after turning in a legitimately awful statline agaisnt Wisconsin (one passing yard), Moore took the field at Hard Rock Stadium and finished 23-of-50 for 217 yards and a rushing touchdown, with only one interception on the last gasp drive of the game.

The 23-of-50 passing looks pretty bad, but taking into account drops and pass breakups, it was an extremely admirable performance by Moore. Moore showed great potential, with a zip on the ball that hasn’t been seen in Mt. Pleasant in quite some time. Moore was throwing into extremely tight windows with small margins-of-error and getting away with it most of the time against a rotation of defensive backs who are getting plenty of looks from pro scouts. Even on the last pass intended for Pimpleton which ultimately fell into the hands of Miami’s Al Blades Jr., that ball was still catchable and tipped off the receiver’s hands.

Moore showed an incredible amount of determination, and it was evident teammates were ready to go to war for him, as Moore kept getting up even as the hits were accumulating on him throughout the day. Moore was touched ten times on the day, with six quarterback hits and four sacks, not to mention the amount of times he was able to dodge an additional six QB pressures by the Miami defense, and yet he remained fearless, still throwing with the same amount of pep and confidence each time.

Even on the last drive of the game, where he had to come out of the game for one play due to soreness, Moore, covered in dirt and limping, led the offense down the field. He wasn’t scared of the moment at all, and the team took on that personality.

Moore, when was brought into Central, was seen to be the future of CMU football going into 2020, with this year meant to be a learning year as QB2. But with Quinten Dormady going down in the Wisconsin game and Moore being forced into the QB1 role, he may be making a case to be the QB of 2019 and beyond. Regardless, fans should be excited for the future of the quarterback position between Moore and Daniel Richardson, a true freshman out of Miami, Florida, who is rostered as QB3 and has looked impressive in practices so far.

I was previously a bit skeptical of Moore (as I am wanton to be at times,) but I am more than happy to admit when I’m wrong.

The young guns came to play in a game with stakes

The Jim McElwain-led staff thus far has emphasized youth at most major positions so far in 2019, and have shown no hesitence to sit veterans for promising prospects. This is a very different philosophy from last season, where former head coach John Bonamego was often hesitant to sit veterans for poor performance despite the circumstances, only making changes when he was forced into a corner due to injuries.

McElwain wasn’t afraid to put his confidence in young players heading into the game against the Hurricanes, with 15 redshirt or true freshmen and 10 redshirt or true sophomores listed in the two-deeps prior to the game vs. Miami.

They paid him back big time.

Jacques Bristol, a true freshman nose tackle, picked up three tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss, a sack, a fumble recovery and a safety to help put CMU on the board and get them in position for an upset bid. Kyron McKinnie-Harper, a true freshman starting at corner, picked up a major pass break-up on a potential touchdown play early in the proceedings with an impressive jumping swat, as well as five tackles (four solo.)

Sophomores Andrew Ward (seven total tackles, one tackle-for-loss) and Brandon Brown (two tackles) also picked up key pass break-ups in clutch situations for the CMU defense on the day, with Ward being the second leading tackler for the Chippewas (behind fellow true sophomore Troy Brown, who had 7 total tackles with five solo.)

True sophomore Kobe Lewis picked up 67 all-purpose yards to help the Chips maintain a balanced running attack, while Deyontai Powell-Woods and Dan Motowski, both true freshmen, were essential pieces of the offensive line rotation, picking up time at left tackle and left guard, respectively.

Young players even made contributions on special teams, with true sophomore Brady Buell hitting three of his six punts inside the 20, while averaging 39.5 net yards per punt with a long punt of 51. Redshirt freshman cornerback Montrae Braswell also had an excellent 45-yard return to set up the Chippewas’ lone touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to give the offense advantageous starting position.

CMU can turn this moral victory into momentum

A lot of fans and observers (again, myself included) were left asking a bunch of questions after the Wisconsin loss and had a lot of generally negative feelings heading into a road game agaisnt a nororiously tough Miami Hurricanes squad.

It’s safe to say the team heard all the noise and decided to show they could play a lot better than they have in recent weeks.

In my Q&A preview with State of the U, I talked about how the goals for CMU were to not get hurt and to put up points after their decimation at the hands of Wisconsin. Given Jim McElwain’s gameplan against Wisconsin, I thought it might be largely the same against Miami. But it was clear that the staff saw an opportunity for the taking, and to their credit, they exectured it about as well as you could ask for it to be executed. They fed into what worked for the offense they hope to run, and focused on making the Miami offense play scared.

This game counts as a loss on the schedule, but don’t get it twisted: this was 100 percent a moral victory and something which can be pointed to as a sign of progress for McElwain and staff.

CMU can definitely use this momentum to build positively as we head into the conference season at large. This week brings out hated rival Western Michigan on the road, where the Chippewas are already an 18-point dog, even after WMU’s three-score plus loss to Syracuse on the road in Week 4. On Oct. 5, CMU returns home to potentially play for the Michigan MAC Trophy against another in-state rival in Eastern Michigan, who has also played beyond expectation in 2019. Such an emotionally intensive start to the MAC slate (with one MAC win agaisnt Akron already in the pocket) could serve to be a launchpad for a CMU run at the MAC West division, which has looked really shaky thus far.

A perfectly timed out-of-conference game on Oct. 12 vs. New Mexico State (currently 0-4) could give CMU another win to build a bowl resume upon as well, so there is certainly hope for a great season in Mt. Pleasant if the results fall right.

If you told me a bowl game was possible last offseason after the wealth of outgoing talent and lack of experience on the roster in the offseason, I would have scoffed. Tell me the Chips would do it while down three major contributors, including the prized graduate transfer QB and dynamic running back, and I would have outright laughed.

That’s a credit to the development prowess and discipline of McElwain and his staff thus far this year, and it’s clear the culture he has brought in to Mt. Pleasant is being bought into by the roster at large. Even if CMU fades down the stretch, it can be reasonably said the future is looking bright.