The Central Michigan Chippewas (0-1) are set to open the 2022 home campaign in celebratory fashion, as CMU will dedicate the field at Kelly/Shorts Stadium on Saturday afternoon to two Chippewa legends in Roy Kramer and Herb Deromedi, two names who helped make the Chips program what it is today.
They’ll take on South Alabama (1-0) in the contest in a first-ever meeting for the two programs.
These are two teams with very similar outside expectations; USA was selected to finish second and CMU was selected to finish third in their respective divisions, with some belief that both teams could compete for the conference title outright in certain circumstances.
That makes this week key for both teams, as USA looks to prove they’re a legitimate contender to the rest of the Sun Belt with an upset performance against a legitimate Group of Five team on the road, while CMU seeks a win which should hopefully launch them into the rest of their extremely favorable schedule.
Here’s what we can expect to see this week:
- Time and Date: Saturday, September 10, 2022, at 1 p.m. Eastern time.
- Network: ESPN+ (A valid subscription is required for viewing.)
- Location: Roy Kramer/Herb Deromedi Field at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
- Spread/Total: CMU is a five-point home favorite, with an over/under of 59, per OddsShark.
- All-time series: First meeting
Getting to know the Jaguars
The Jaguars are in their second year under Kane Wommack, and started the 2022 campaign off with a pretty emphatic (if expected) victory against Nicholls State last week.
The Jags were selected to finish second in the re-assembled Sun Belt West division, with two first-place votes behind perennial SBC power Louisiana, and return a number of contributors from a roster which was an overtime loss to Coastal Carolina at season’s end away from reaching a bowl game in the first year of a new staff.
An old friend returns to Mt. Pleasant to lead the Jags offense in former Toledo QB Carter Bradley (2,337 yards, 14 touchdowns, eight interceptions in four seasons), who won the job over 2021 spot starter Desmond Trotter (596 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions.)
Bradley will have a decent receiving corps to rely upon, with Jalen Wayne, who replaces the since-graduated Jalen Tolbert, coming back as the team’s leading receiver with 53 receptions, 630 yards and two touchdowns. Starting alongside Wayne is Caullin Lacy, who showed up as a reliable speed option vs. Nicholls State last week, leading all Jag receivers with six receptions for 72 yards. They’ll also depend upon tight ends in the passing game, with Lincoln Sefcik (32 rec., 218 yards, five touchdowns) and Ole Miss transfer DJ Thomas-Jones the names to look out for.
JUCO running back La’Damian Webb has taken over lead back duties, leading the way vs. Nicholls with 98 yards and two touchdowns on 18 rushes, while Braylon McReynolds was a threat both on the ground and in the air, with 25 yards on three rushes and four catches for 39 yards and a touchdown.
The offensive line is stacked pretty deep as well, with four of their five returning starters comig back to the roster and mixing in with former Jacksonville State transfer P.J. Mixon and former Florida State transfer Dontae Lucas getting into the mix. Center James Jackson was the only 2021 starter to retain their job on the line last week due to a combination of injuries and position battles.
If there’s one concern to be raised, it’s on third-down, where the Jags finished under 25 percent agaisnt Nicholls last week. CMU was one of the better third-down defenses in the country in 2021, and that could be a decider in this game.
Defensively, this will be one of the tougher assignments for the Chippewas, as the Jags were a Top 5 team in the Sun Belt in every defensive metric, and the 40th best in the NCAA, allowing only 36.4 points per game and 354.7 yards per game in 2021.
A lot of the contributors to that defense return, with first-team all-Sun Belt contributor cornerback Darrell Luter Jr. (team-leading four interceptions last season) leading the way. Jaden Voisin (eight tackles vs. Nicholls) could also be a contributor in the backfield after all-SBC safety Keith Gallmon (59 tackles in 2021) suffered an injury in the lead-up to the 2022 campaign which will sidelined him all season.
South ‘Bama runs a bit of a strange defensive formation, opting for one edge, one defensive tackle and a nose tackle on the line, two linebackers and six defensive backs, including “WOLF” and “HUSKY” backs. This gives them a lot of speed— and a lot of opportunities for takeaways, as they had a +5 turnover margin in 2021.
Wy’Kevious Thomas (49 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss) and Gi’Narious Johnson (25 tackles, three sacks-for-loss, one sack) will anchor the line for USA, while the Sherrif— Jamie Sherrif, that is, returns as the pass rushing end after missing 2021 with a knee injury.
Linebacker AJ DeShazor Jr. (64 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, one sacks) had a career-best year in 2021, and returns alongside rotation mate Quintin Wilfawn (45 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack) at the strongside position. Wilfawn was USA’s leading tackler vs. Nicholls last week.
The specialists for USA are very reliable, with kicker Diego Guajardo (26-of-35 career) and punter Jack Brooks (43.2 yards per punt) back for the season.
Getting to know the Chippewas
The Chippewas got off to a slow start against Oklahoma State, but showed every part of why they’re a formidable MAC team to contend with in the second half, posting up 29 points while limiting OK State to 14. They lost the contest 58-44, but it should be noted it was such a close game at the end, the Pokes had to bring the starters back in to preserve their win.
Daniel Richardson was named the MAC West Offensive Player of the Week for his Thursday night efforts, going 36-of-49 for 420 yards and four touchdowns and an interception on the day, and should have an intriguing matchup with a defensive secondary which has some playmakers.
As expected, the pair of transfers CMU brought in at receiver showed out as well, and will offer a tough matchup for the Jags, as both Jalen McGaughy (six-foot-two, 225 lbs.) and Carlos Carriere (six-foot-five, 203 lbs.) are two physical presences who also have good speed and acceleration. If those two can’t get going, there’s still the ever-dependable Joel Wilson at tight end and leading returning receiver Dallas Dixon out of the slot.
The offense will, of course, revolve around how good the running game is. All three of CMU’s running backs return this week, with Lew Nichols highlighting the backfield. Nichols was somewhat limited by an understandably talented OK State defensive line last week, but still picked up two touchdowns and 72 yards on 26 attempts. This week should offer Nichols a chance to show what he’s made of, as USA’s rushing defense should offer a more even challenge. Myles Bailey and Marion Lukes will also have opportunities to spell Nichols and show off their own skillsets.
Defensively, there’s still some work to be done, as a new-look unit will need time to come together. The front seven, typically a strength for Central, was flatly neutralized last week, especially early on in the game. The unit collected just one sack (courtesy of Thomas Incoom), and should be hungry to get going on USA.
CMU’s 4-2-5 base defense should have much better luck against the Jags, as the opposing roster is still integrating some new players on the outside. CMU’s front seven will engage in havoc fundamentals, with linebackers Kyle Moretti and Jsutin Whiteside expected to be major contributors in filling run gaps while edges Thomas Incoom and redshirt freshman Michael Heldman are expected to lead a pass rush which was one of the nation’s best last season.
The defensive backfield is an extremely up-and-down unit; at its most capable, they’re a playmaking force which can shut down passing lanes, but at their floor, they’re a unit susceptible to the big play, as we saw last week.
Sophomore cornerback Donte Kent is the leader of the clubhouse, with his 14 pass break-ups leading the MAC in 2021, while also finishing as the team’s seventh-leading tackler (55 total.) The safeties are all new faces, with former running back De’Javion Stephney (eight tackles vs. OK State), Jayden Davis (an overturned interception and four tackles) and Trey Jones (team-leading nine tackles) getting the majority of time.
Specialists are a mixed bag for CMU. Marshall Meeder missed his only attempt vs. Oklahoma State from 50 yards out, but has generally been a reliable and talented kicker for the Chips. Perhaps having some kicks under his belt could go a long way in getting him going. Luke Elzinga, meanwhile, is consistently one of the best punters in the MAC, averaging 41.3 yards per punt, with 25 punts inside-the-20, and 10 punts of 50+ yards.