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2021 Mid-American Conference Football Week 2 Game Preview: Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Robert Morris Colonials

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After departing Columbia with a bitter taste in their mouths, CMU looks to consume some sweets in their FCS tune-up vs. Robert Morris.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 season kicked off on Saturday for the Central Michigan Chippewas (0-1), as they came within 10 points of the Missouri Tigers on the road in what was a start-and-stop effort for both sides. It was a game where CMU showed they could hang tough with teams which overmatched them from a talent standpoint— but also showed some glaring inconsistencies which they’ll hope to address in this week’s action.

But ultimately, when previewing this game, it’s hard to know exactly what we’re getting.

Robert Morris went 0-3 in the abbreviated spring season, and didn’t look particularly good in any of those games. There also isn’t a lot of information to pull from for the Colonials as to what their 2021 roster looks like. Their tilt on Sept. 11 will be the first of the season (for reasons we’ll get to in a minute) in what will be a very pressure-filled weekend for RMU.

This game is, in fact, such a mystery, that no book is taking bets on the game, which in this day of legal sports gambling, is ultra-rare. Such treatment is typically reserved for cataclysmic circumstances, so seeing it on an FCS/FBS matchup shows how strange of a situation the game will be on Saturday.


GAME NOTES

  • Time and Date: Saturday, September 11, 2021, at 3 p.m. Eastern time.
  • Network: ESPN3 (A valid cable subscription is required for viewing.)
  • Location: Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
  • Spread/Total: No odds offered
  • All-time series: First meeting between CMU and RMU. CMU is 2-0 against Big South teams all-time.

Getting to Know the Colonials

The Colonials finished the Spring 2021 season, which was originally meant to be a six-game slate, 0-3 due to COVID cancellations. They weren’t very lucky, getting blown out in all three matches, with three-score losses to #7 James Madison (16-36), #2 Kennesaw State (0-35), and a two-score loss to Charleston Southern (14-27.)

Most, if not all, of the Colonials roster makes a return to the field for the Fall 2021 slate, and will have their first action of the season this upcoming Saturday. The roster returns 43 lettermen and 21 starters, with 16 of those players sitting at the same positions heading into this game. The Colonials, mid-transition into the competitive Big South Conference, was selected to finish last in the conference during preseason buildup.

Last week was meant to be their debut, but they were forced to cancel their contest with the Dayton Flyers after a COVID outbreak within their roster which affected upwards of 27 players. The Colonials will be missing several starters from their offensive line unit—though it isn’t known who as of publication— as well as most of their tight ends room, which could make for a long day for the offense. Defensively, the Colonials will return their defensive coordinator Dave Plungas, who missed last week after contracting COVID despite his inoculation.

RB Alijah Jackson, who rushed for 174 yards and a touchdowns on 59 carries in the Spring 2021 season, and has picked up 1,713 yards and 10 touchdowns during his career at RMU, will miss this game, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Jackson was a capable runner in 2019, amassing 971 yards, but had a major regression in Spring 2021, averaging 2.5 yards per run.

Positively for the Colonials, they do bring back fifth-year senior QB George Martin (2,093 yards and 10 touchdowns in 23 games at RMU), former McNeese State WR D’Andre Hicks (19 receptions, 182 yards, two touchdowns in Spring 2021) and their lone all-conference player in linebacker Aniello Buzzacco (183 tackles, 11 tackles-for-loss, one sack in 24 games for RMU) to face the Chippewas with.

The Colonials also bring back the vast majority of their defensive starters, including all eight defensive linemen across the two-deep. Buzzacco and Jamar Shegog (28 tackles, forced fumble, fumble recovery in three games) will man the center of the defense as well, giving RMU some good experience heading into the game.

A run-heavy offensive unit without a starting running back and finished 96th in FCS with a 52 yards per game average on the ground could have a long day against a stacked CMU defensive front. The middling defense (67th in FCS with 386.3 yards allowed and 79th in FCS in points allowed with 32,7 points per game average) will face perhaps the best offensive unit by sheer talent they’ve faced since the 2019 Buffalo Bulls with their defensive coordinator coming off a bout of COVID.

Even with head coach Bernard Clark Jr., who is well-respected in coaching circles having won Coach of the Year honors in 2019 when RMU was in the Northeast Conference, the outlook will be fairly grim for the Colonials in Mt. Pleasant.


Getting to Know the Chippewas

The Chippewas revealed their hand regarding their QB situation on Saturday, as former Washington transfer Jacob Sirmon took all but one snap at the position. CMU had been teasing that they would play “multiple QBs” and that it was a “true competition”, but it was Sirmon who stayed in, even when he started to struggle towards the end of the first half and well into the third quarter.

That’s not to say it isn’t still a competition; Sirmon finished 23-of-45 for 295 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions (with a third dropped by the defense), and needed a late drive to get those numbers to look more respectable. 2019 starter Daniel Richardson, in his one snap on the field, threw a rainbow pass into the corner of the endzone to JaCorey Sullivan on a pivotal third-and-goal play to cut the Mizzou lead to one score.

It’s more than reasonable to expect to see both of those players— as well as freshman Tyler Pape— get snaps against RMU.

The receiver room, save for Sullivan (eight receptions, 102 yards, two touchdowns) had a quiet day, with Kalil Pimpleton held to just 38 yards. Neither Remi Simmons or Lavar Gumms, who both transferred in during fall camps, contrinuted very much, while freshmen contributors Tyson Davis and Finn Hogan (who had both played their way into the rotation) are both injured for a significant amount of time after taking licks in Columbia.

Thankfully, they’re fairly set at running back to make up for it, with Lew Nichols III (19 rush, 135 yards, one touchdown) leading the charge. Darius Bracy had a raucous debut as a change-of-pace back, breaking off several long runs to set up CMU in advantageous position. Even freshman Marion Lukes got in on the action, and could prove to be a versatile contributor going forward.

The offensive line had a lackluster performance in pass protection against Mizzou, giving up 9 sacks and 14 tackles-for-loss on the day, with the lowlight coming when LB Blaze Alldredge (10 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 6 tackles-for-loss) plowed over the interior of the line and wrapped up Jacob Sirmon before he could get a chance to read the field. It’s clear there is still work to be done there, especially at the guard and center spots, to protect the quarterback and allow the offense to operate. But whatever it is they’re doing in the run game is certainly working, as there were several times where they opened up huge gaps in the Tigers defensive line to allow the backs through for explosive gains.

Defensively, the Chippewas had an admirable effort after some initial blunders at the start of the game, holding Missouri to 468 yards and 22 first downs, while also forcing the Tigers to to 1-of-11 on third-down conversions and 0-1 on their lone fourth-down conversion. What ultimately turned out to be the death knell for the defense was penalties; four CMU defensive penalties led directly to scoring drives for the Tigers, which ultimately proved to be a key factor in CMU’s inability to pull off the upset.


Prediction

Simply put, there’s no reason Central Michigan should lose this game.

RMU is coming off an exhausting spring season of football, will be rusty from a lack of game action last week, and likely severely affected by COVID cases. They’ll be matched up against a motivated CMU team, who is playing in front of their home fans in a newly-renovated stadium for the first time since 2019.

Jim McElwain also makes his return to the sideline, after sitting out last week due to appendicitis, which should open up the playbook and decision-making on both sides of the ball. Tim Skipper, the linebackers coach and acting head coach last week, did an admirable job as a stop-gap coach, but the entire staff and players will welcome the return to noirmalcy that having McElwain in the building brings.

Any result which doesn’t have CMU winning by a three-score margin would be great cause for concern, especially with LSU on the horizon.