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Five Things Learned: Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Wisconsin Badgers

We have to admit: it was really hard to find anything of note this go-around.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I’m just gonna come out and say it: CMU played poorly on Saturday. It was the definition of failure on all fronts for certain, as they looked every bit of a team whose slate had been wiped clean in the offseason.

Many fans of Central football, myself included, had already chalked this up as a loss for the most part, so it certainly doesn’t come as a shock to see the Chippewas fall to the now 14th-ranked Badgers. What’s truly shocking was the awe-inspiring way that CMU managed to lose the game. Simply put, the team was not ready for Saturday’s game, and it showed.

There’s plenty to talk about as we set the table for Week 3’s early conference game against Akron, and we’ll get right to it.

Albany’s success in the passing game wasn’t a fluke after all

In the opening game of the season, CMU managed to keep the running game largely in check for the visiting Great Danes, but that was by design, as Jim McElwain admitted after the game in his post-game presser. CMU really got gashed for big plays on the outside by receivers, especially Juwan Green, who had 97 yards and two touchdowns in the game.

This is because Green managed to expose a weakness on the outside in coverage, getting by the corner and forcing a mismatch with a safety in quarters to score his first touchdown of the game. Green would go on to exploit a similar matchup later in the game on his second score, this time on the opposite side of the field. McElwain chalked up that success as Albany taking advantage of a break in coverage, but it was pretty clear throughout that the corners were struggling to keep their man in front of them, even if the stat box didn’t necessarily show it.

Albany was able to keep the game closer than it should have been because they were able to win on the outside and keep drives alive with the intermediate and short pass.

Wisconsin took advantage with this after running the Chippewa defense into the ground, hooking up with Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor on a 17-yard touchdown pass, and then with Quintez Cephus on 36-yard and 46-yard touchdowns on back-to-back drives after another touchdown drive for Nakia Watson. Norman Anderson and Montrae Braswell were both targeted often by the deep passes and both gave up a big amount of yards in doing so. Brandon Brown notched the only pass breakup by a corner on the day, as Devonni Reed and Alonzo McCoy found themselves playing a lot of coverage.

The youth and inexperience of the Chippewa defense was on display Saturday, and Wisconsin simply took advantage with a more disciplined and talented squad. You can’t help but feel for these corners, as they’re in situations they haven;t been asked to play in before.

They’ll get a chance at redemption against an offense that has struggled recently in Akron, but if they continue to struggle in that game, there will be questions about the composition of the defensive backfield.

The Chippewas keyed in on the run and simply failed

CMU was able to keep Albany to 45 rushing yards in Week 1, but may have shown a bit too much of their hand in doing so.

Wisconsin was more than ready for the Chippewa defense, making key adjustments in the rushing game that the undersized and undermanned Chippewas simply were not equipped to deal with. The same rushing defense that gave Albany nightmares could not get any push against Wisconsin, as their aggressive sell-out style cost them many a big play and resulted in many exhausted players at all levels of the field.

Of course, having Heisman Award candidate Jonathan Taylor certainly helps Wisconsin, as does their physical style of run game. He did not fail to impress, collecting 102 yards on 19 carries and scoring three times on the Chippewa defense. What was certainly aggravating for the Chips was that Taylor scored on the same play all three times; the Badgers lined up in a full-house pistol formation, with two H-backs lined up in the A-gaps to act as blockers, while Taylor was in the tailback position. All three times, the H-backs ran left, blocked, and cleared the way for a touchdown. CMU was unable to key in on this play, and it speaks to the lack of in-game adjustments by the staff.

Once Wisconsin realized it could have its way with the CMU defense, it failed to matter what the gameplan was for the Chips, as Wisconsin’s staff felt safe keeping in their starters until the last drive of the third quarter. The defense gave up 599 yards overall, and could not stop the badgers on “clutch” plays, giving up an 11-of-13 third-down conversion rate and allowing 37 first downs overall.

That said, credit is due for Chuck Jones (11 total tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss), Troy Brown (10 total tackles, one tackle-for-loss) and Da’Quaun Jamison (nine total tackles, one tackle-for-loss and CMU’s only sack) for coming up big in the middle of the defense against a stout running team.

About that offense….

CMU’s offense came to a grinding halt in Week 2 after posting 528 yards against Albany on Aug. 29. The Chips struggled to post 58 yards total for the game, as Quinten Dormady (5-of-12 for 36 yards and an interception) and Jonathan Ward (one rush for three yards) left early with injuries and the rest of the offense couldn’t make headway on a physical Badger defense.

The Chippewas offensive line held up admirably for the most part given the circumstances, allowing only five tackles-for-loss, and were not at fault for the sack by Zach Baun, but they could produce no room for their backs, who combined for 43 yards gained (15 net) on the day.

Only three backs had more than two carries, with quarterback Tommy Lazzaro leading all rushers with 11 yards on four carries deep into garbage time. Part of the reason for that is simply that CMU didn’t retain the ball that much. The Chips held the ball longer than two minutes and 30 seconds twice: on the first drive and on the last drive (4:08 to end the game), and failed to reach the two-minute mark on seven of their 12 drives.

CMU could not get in rhythm at any point, and it showed, as backups simply couldn’t produce in the place of the usual starters. It was a nightmare showing all around which gave CMU fans visions of 2018’s notoriously awful offense all over again.

What exactly was the gameplan?

A lot of Central fans find themselves asking this question after such a non-competitive game. It’s one thing to lose to a ranked team on the road by, say, 42-0 or 49-7. It’s quite another to lose 61-0 despite having only two turnovers and struggling to move the ball at all en route to a rout.

You expect such a game to be a chance to learn and gain experience, but there wasn’t really a lot to gain in this particular game, and the coaching staff seemed to come into the game with the idea of “don’t get hurt,” rather than to surprise Wisconsin with their preparation, like McElwain said they would Thursday night on his weekly radio show. Some Wisconsin players clearly keyed in on his comments, referencing them both pre-game and post-game to media.

The idea of “not getting hurt” didn’t happen, as Dormady (knee) will be out for the foreseeable future and starting defensive end Amir Siddiq (foot) getting carted off during the game. There’s also some mystery surrounding Jonathan Ward, who looked to have suffered a hard hit on the sack which also injured Dormady, as he sat for the rest of the game after that, with some outlets suggesting he could be under the concussion protocol.

Surprising Wisconsin with their preparation didn’t happen either, as many of the same problems which showed up on defense last week reared its head again this week and the defense largely didn’t make adjustments. The offense was perhaps the most disappointing thing of all, as it looked lifeless and afraid throughout, even with second-and-third stringers at the controls deep in the fourth quarter.

Dormady’s injury, in particular is frustrating, as he apparently played injured for two drives after sustaining the injury and McElwain admitted Dormady could not plant his foot into the ground on the drive which ended his night. The game was still winnable at that point (16-0 in the early in the second quarter,) but it’s still hard to understand why the decision to keep him in was made, knowing the circumstances now. That decision is further complicated by the Big Ten Network announcing crew’s report about how McElwain had planned to play at least three QB’s during the game.

All of this speaks to the idea that the team may have abandoned the notion of playing competitively, a framing that McElwain disputed in comments to Central Michigan Life on Sunday afternoon. One would expect the coach to dispute that fact after a loss, and you can’t say the young players who did get reps weren’t playing their hardest. But it has to be acknowledged that rotating backup players in and out against a ranked team on the road might not be in the team’s best interest, given their current status.

The depth chart will probably see a lot of changes prior to the Akron game

Changes to the depth chart will be necessitated, both by injury and by performance.

All eyes will be on the quarterback position, as Dormady likely won’t be available to play. JUCO transfer David Moore went 3-of-11 for 1 yard in relief of Dormady over two quarters, while third-stringer Tommy Lazzaro was 1-of-1 for six yards through the air and added 11 yards on the ground. Moore and Lazzaro have been listed as “OR” options at QB2 so far this season, with Moore projected to be the starting QB in 2020. The staff clearly have some belief in him, as Moore, not Lazzaro went out first in relief. But Lazzaro had the better statistical day and also has plenty of starting experience from last season, which could give him an edge to get the Week 3 start.

Running back will also be an intriguing spot to watch, as Jonathan Ward could also be questionable heading into the Akron game. Kobe Lewis and Lew Nichols seem to be the favored backs so far this season, while Romello Ross could prove a reliable veteran option.

At receiver, there are still a lot of question marks, as starting outside receiver Ja’Corey Sullivan didn’t show up on the box score at all in his first game action. Tyrone Scott, hero of the Albany game with two touchdowns and nearly 100 yards, also failed to register a stat. Only Pimpleton was the steadiest contributor as a starter this week, with three receptions for 18 yards. Keonta Nixon, Drayton Law and Cameron Cole could all get some looks, while freshman walk-on Adam Jones has also been getting some run.

With Amir Siddiq out, either Troy Hairston or Leon Page are in line for the start for the foreseeable future, which means we could see some new faces in the defensive end rotation by necessity. The injury to Siddiq, who was named the starter in place Mike Danna after his transfer to Michigan, really shows how much the defense had to replace. Hairston is a converted linebacker, while Page is an upperclassman with limited experience.

The secondary will surely continue to parse itself out against Akron, as Brandon Brown, Norman Anderson, Dishon McNary, Kyron McKinnie-Harper, Darius Bracy and Montrae Braswell continue to fight for starting reps. Thus far, Brown has kept his starting role, while Anderson overtook Bracy leading up to Week 2. In the rotation, McKinnie-Harper creeped into the two-deep under Brown, supplanting McNary, the transfer from Independence [KS] CC. It’s a young position group which suffers from the loss of shut-down corners Sean Bunting and Xavier Crawford, who both left early for the NFL Draft.

One positive seems to be with special teams, as Brady Buell seems to have secured his spot as punter after prized recruit Luke Elzinga pushed him for reps in the Albany game, with a nine punt, 407 yard performance against Wisconsin, winning MAC Special Team Player of the Week honors for his efforts.