There were no expectations for the Central Michigan football team heading into 2019.
Former Florida head coach Jim McElwain emerged as the surprising new hire for CMU after taking a year off the coaching cycle to be receivers coach at the University of Michigan, taking over a program which went 1-11 the previous season.
The team was expected to finish in last place in the MAC West division race, with only the late Don Chiodo giving CMU votes to win the division and the title game in the preseason polls.
CMU defied every reasonbable expectation, finishing the regular season at 8-4 and winning the MAC West title, giving them an opportunity to play Miami for the MAC Championship. They wound up losing both their postseason games, but the story of the 2019 Chippewas is in the journey.
|Thur., Aug. 29||vs. UAlbany||W 38-21|
|Sat., Sept. 7||at Wisconsin||L 0-61|
|Sat., Sept. 14||vs. Akron*||W 45-24|
|Sat., Sept. 21||at Miami (FL)||L 12-17|
|Sat., Sept. 28||at Western Michigan*||L 15-31|
|Sat., Oct. 5||vs. Eastern Michigan*||W 42-16|
|Sat., Oct. 12||vs. New Mexico State [HC]||W 42-28|
|Sat., Oct. 19||at BGSU*||W 38-20|
|Sat., Oct. 26||at Buffalo*||L 20-43|
|Sat., Nov. 2||vs. NIU||W 48-10|
|Sat., Nov. 16||at Ball State||W 45-44|
|Fri., Nov. 29||vs. Toledo||W 49-7|
|Sat., Dec. 7||vs. Miami (OH)* [MAC Championship Game]||L 21-26|
|Sat., Dec. 21||vs. San Diego State [New Mexico Bowl]||L 11-48|
No one particularly knew what to expect out of the 2019 schedule after CMU’s poor showing in 2018 (despite a favorable schedule.)
The signs were there that the schedule could fall in favor of the Chippewas if they were able to get off to a good start, thanks in part to two BYE weeks at the end of the season, and that ultimately became the case.
After an expected loss to Wisconsin and an unexpected one to Miami [FL], CMU pulled out of the non-conference schedule with a 3-2 (1-0 MAC) record, with at least four home games remaining, and would go on to finish the year 5-2 after that five-game sample.
CMU lost their biggest road tests in-conference (to WMU and Buffalo,) but managed to pull off two desparately-needed ones against BGSU (their first road win) and Ball State (which secured a chance at the MAC West title.) It certainly helped they went 6-0 at home in 2019, a vast improvement from 1-5 in 2018. Coach Jim McElwain stressed that the Chips had to learn how to win at home first, then move on to winning on the road. If 2019 is any indication, CMU has a bit of work to do, but seems to be on the right track.
The end of the season is a heaping bit of disappointment for CMU fans, but it has to be looked at with rose-colored glasses. If you told that same CMU fan December 2018 the Chippewas would have fought for a MAC title and play in a bowl game, you’d have likely been laughed out of the room.
- Miami (FL): This road game against the Hurricanes was expected to be a loss all the way, but it certainly wasn’t the way the Chippewas were expected to lose. A week removed from losing starting QB Quinten Dormady and starting RB Jonathan Ward to injuries, CMU threw haymakers on both sides of the ball, holding Miami to 7 points and forcing a safety in the first half, while scoring 10 points in the second half and forcing a punt late to have a chance to win the game. It was a wet and sloppy affair, but it also served to be a coronation for backup QB David Moore, who kept CMU alive until the very end, with a 23-of-50, 217 yard performance.
- Ball State: Down 41-24 with about two minutes to go in the third quarter, CMU looked doomed on the road against a Cardinal team that was firing on all cylinders. It forced the Chippewas into a corner, and they wildly adjusted their philosophy on offense in order to gain an advantage. QB Tommy Lazzaro was the talisman who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, with two rushing touchdowns in the redzone using the read-option package to tie, and ultimately win the game in the final minutes. Jonathan Ward (105 yards, four rushing touchdowns) was also a major contributor, as the defense shut down any BSU attempt to move down the field in the fourth quarter.
- Toledo: With everything on the line and in an unfamilar position, CMU faced Toledo, a team which had their number over the last decade. The game wasn’t remotely close, as the assembled fans endured the rain and sleet to celebrate the program’s first divisional title (and first win over Toledo) in a decade.
- Wisconsin: A 61-0 loss is definitely going to be a low point, regardless of opponent. The low point of the game was ultimately losing Dormady and Ward to injury for close to a month as a result of the beatdown. It was a crash back to reality which forced CMU to revisit their gameplan and personnel on both sides of the ball.
- Western Michigan: This loss was perhaps the most inexplicable of all the losses CMU suffered. CMU absolutely broke down in all phases, with an astounding 15 penalties throughout the game to help extend WMU drives or force the offense into unfavorable positions. CMU kept pace with WMU offensively in terms of passing and rushing statistics, but it was the margins which ultimately betrayed them, as they had three turnovers (two INTs, one fumble) and three turnover-on-downs on four attempts.
- Miami (OH): CMU had a de facto home-field advantage and a seemingly favorable matchup, but got punched in the mouth on the very first play of the game and never seemed to recover after that. They played like a team who expected to lose the game, with an early fake punt deep in their own territory and a number of strange playcalling decisons throughout. They managed a huge rally in the fading moments of the game, but an untimely penalty, combined with a bad final drive on defense, took away any chance of being able to sneak away with a chance to win.
A lot of senior leadership will leave the program in 2019, but considering the youth of the team in general, that shouldn’t be too much of a gap to get over. The losses of two offensive linemen will hurt, along with perhaps CMU’s most dynamic offensive player in Ward, but the pieces on the roster should fill in capably. The losses of Oliver and Jamison, two of the most vocal leaders on the team, will be perhaps the biggest loss for CMU in 2020, as a young squad will have to find leaders.
(All stats from 2019, unless otherwise noted.)
- QB Quinten Dormady: 6-4 in 10 starts, 190-of-294 (64.6 percent), 2,312 yards, 14 touchdowns, nine interceptions.
- RB Jonathan Ward: 183 rushes, 1,108 yards, 15 rushing touchdowns; 34 receptions, 329 yards, one receiving touchdown.
- OL Oge Udeogu: Iowa State graduate transfer, started in 12 of 14 eligible games.
- OL Steve Eipper: Played in 41 games in career at four of the five positions along the line, with 24 starts.
- DE Sean Adesanya: 35 tackles, 16.5 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery. Made 16 starts in 24 appearances as a Chippewa after transferring from Illinois.
- DT D’Andre Dill: A key rotational piece at nose tackle, who made 19 starts in 29 appearances as a Chippewa; finished with eight tackles, .5 tackles-for-loss and a fumble recovery in 2019.
- MLB Michael Oliver: 87 total tackles, nine tackles-for-loss, one interception, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery. Made 20 starts in the last two seasons.
- S Da’Quaun Jamison: 68 total tackles, five tackles-for-loss, one sack, two passes intercepted, nine passes defensed; 26 starts in 37 career games.
- K Ryan Tice: 13-of-21 on field goal attempts, 65 kickoffs for an average of 55.9 yards per kick, with 19 touchbacks. Former Michigan and Tennessee transfer.
CMU is a young and talented squad which will have a number of key contributors returning, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They expect to return all but one or two players on the offensive side of the ball, while the defense should lose only about three or four starters. They’ll return both first-team all-MAC receivers and at least one of their 1,000+ yard rushers, while keeping a potentially good secondary mostly intact.
- QB David Moore: JUCO transfer via Memphis, started four games (2-2 record) before suspension (under appeal, would face six-game suspension in 2020 if upheld.) 94-of-164 for 1,143 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions.
- RB Kobe Lewis: 182 attempts for 1,074 yards for 12 rushing touchdowns; 23 receptions for 164 yards. 359 yards on 15 kickoff returns. Started two games in relief of Ward, appeared in all 14 games.
- WR Kalil Pimpleton: 82 receptions for 894 yards, eight touchdowns; seven rushes for 81 yards. 24 punt returns for 208 yards. Started all 14 games in first season of action; named first team all-MAC WR in 2019.
- WR JaCorey Sullivan: 57 receptions, 808 yards, three touchdowns. Started all 13 games appeared in; named first team all-MAC WR in 2019.
- TE Tony Poljan: Made full conversion from QB to TE in spring camps; started all 13 games appeared in. 33 receptions for 496 yards and two touchdowns.
- DT Jacques Bristol: Started six of 14 games as a true freshman at nose tackle; 23 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, four sacks, one fumble recovery, one forced safety.
- DE LaQuan Johnson: Converted from DT to DE in spring camps; started 11 of 13 games in first full season. 33 tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss, six sacks, one forced fumble, one blocked kick.
- OLB Troy Brown: Converted from safety to OLB in spring camps; started all 14 games. 91 total tackles, 16.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack, three interceptions, five passes defensed, one fumble recovery.
- DB Kyron McKinnie-Harper: Started 10 of 12 games played as a true freshman; 36 tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss, 10 passes defensed, two forced fumbles.
As of publication, we don’t have the MAC schedules just yet, but it’s reasonable to expect CMU to be in the run for the MAC West title after McElwain’s first year at the helm showed championship potential.
In the out-of-conference slate, CMU draws San Jose State (5-7 in 2019) to begin the season, before back-to-back games against Big Ten opponents in Nebraska (5-7 in 2019) and Northwestern (3-9 in 2019.) Unlike this season, CMU will not have a conference game in the early weeks, as they close the OOC slate with an FCS game vs. Bryant (4-8 in 2019.)
That sets up for a pretty exciting potential record, should CMU be able to figure out their quarterback situation. Quinten Dormady and Tommy Lazzaro have graduated, while expected starter David Moore is currently appealing suspension. That leaves graduate transfer Jett Duffey, sophomore Daniel Richardson an true freshman Tyler Pape to fight for reps.
It’ll be hard to know exactly how CMU will look until they take the field, but a 2-2 mark in the OOC is a minimum expectation, while a 3-1 mark would put them in the catbird seat for best MAC team.
What do you think will happen? Let us know on Twitter or below in the comments section!