Central Michigan (0-1) returns to the familiar sights of Mt. Pleasant, Michigan to play host to the visiting New Hampshire Wildcats (1-0) in their 2023 home opening contest, hoping to improve upon a 14-game streak vs. FCS opponents.
New Hampshire, meanwhile, comes into the contest seeking to prove to their FCS brethren they’re a contender. Adding an FBS upset to their result from last week would quickly establish UNH’s resume for pollsters, even if CMU isn’t exactly a brand name.
There’s a lot on the line for both teams heading into Saturday, so let’s dig into the respective previews for both teams:
- Time and date: Friday, September 9th, 2023 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time
- Network: ESPN+ (A valid subscription is required.)
- Location: Kramer/Deromedi Field at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
- All-time series: CMU leads 2-0
- Last meeting: CMU needed a heroic effort from then third-string freshman QB Cooper Rush to bridge a 13-point deficit and take down the Wildcats by a final score of 24-21 on Sept. 7, 2013.
- Current streak: CMU (2, 2003-present)
Getting to know the Wildcats
The Wildcats are not to be underestimated. UNH will come into Mt. Pleasant as the 11th-ranked team at the FCS level, coming off a season-opening win over Stonehill College 51-17 last weekend.
UNH is a near-annual attendee of the FCS playoffs, capable of making deep runs in any given year. In 2022, UNH claimed a 7-1 record in the tough-as-nails Coastal Athletic Association and made it to the second round of the FCS Playoffs, defeating Fordham (who nearly upset Ohio last season) and losing to Holy Cross (who did pull off the upset vs. Buffalo last season.)
This team is all about the up-tempo passing offense, which shouldn’t be a surprise if you trace third-year head coach Rick Santos’ lineage as a football coach. The former UNH gunslinger who learned under Chip Kelly, uses a lot of those same concepts for his version of the Wildcats.
That offense is led by junior quarterback Max Brosmer. Brosner’s performance in 2022 was laudable, as he finished ninth in the FCS in both passing yards (3,154) and passing touchdowns (28) while completing 63 percent of his passes. Last week, he went 19-of-25 for 284 yards and five touchdowns. CMU head coach Jim McElwain made note in his weekly press conference that Brosmer was someone who CMU “can’t allow to get his feet under him,” stating he knows how to take advantage of breakdowns and that he has an innate understanding of what to do in terms of making the right decisions at QB.
Another player McElwain noted as an X-Factor to stop was running back Dylan Laube.
Laube is one of the FCS’ best halfbacks, capable of playing all three phases. Laube is a Senior Bowl watchlister thanks in part to his stellar 2022 season, where he rushed for 1,205 yards and 15 touchdowns, while adding 49 receptions for 464 yards (scoring twice) and was also their leading return specialist, with two touchdowns on 34 touches. Laube earned All-American placement on seven FCS lists, and was listed three times at three different positions on the 2022 all-CAA teams at running back (second-team), punt returner (first-team) and kick returner (third-team.)
The offense will flow a lot through these two players, as was evidenced last week against Stonehill. Laube caught a touchdown, ran for a touchdown and returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the game, collecting an ultra-rare hat-trick of plays.
Wide receiver Joey Corcoran (56 catches, 670 yards, three scores in 2022), tight end Kyle Lepkowski (42 catches, 442 yards, two scores in 2022) and UConn transfer Heron Maurisseau (15 catches for 342 yards and a team-high six scores in 2022) should be the primary receiving threats.
Defensively, this team is predicated on pressure from the edge positions, hailing a pair of All-American defensive ends in Dylan Ruiz and Josiah Silver. The duo combined for 20 of the team’s 32 sacks, and 32 of the team’s 75 tackles-for-loss, setting the pace for the rest of the defense.
Silver is the end who garners the most attention, as he was named to the Buck Buchanan Award watchlist for best defensive player at the FCS level. Silver was a first-team all-CAA selection with a 55-tackle campaign in 2022, which included 17.5 tackles-for-loss, eight sacks, two forced fumbles and two blocked field goals.
Dylan Ruiz, meanwhile, was more the true passrusher, with 60 tackles, 14.5 tackles-for-loss and 12 sacks (which led the CAA and was top 10 in the FCS.) Ruis is slightly undersized for the edge spot at six-foot-one, 254 lbs., but more than makes up for it with relentless pursuit and a quick first step.
The rest of the defense is solid, but not spectacular, giving up more yards than the offense picked up in 2022 (381 yards per game), while also allowing 41 percent of third-down conversions. UNH was especially susceptible to the run, allowing an average of 155 yards per game last season.
Coverage linebacker Ryan Toscano (72 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, six break-ups and a forced fumble in 2022) and safety Joe Eichman (34 tackles, three interceptions, four pass break-ups in 2022) will be the two defenders to look out for at the other two levels of the defense.
Getting to know the Chippewas
The Chippewas will be coming off a tough loss where they’ll ask what could have been. The Chips held up strong to Michigan State in the first two quarters before a few defensive breakdowns gave Sparty all it needed to break the game wide-open.
If they had converted more in the redzone, if they’d have gotten stops near the end of the first half... you just don’t know what would have happened. It’s a gnawing feeling, but the team won’t be thinking about it too long, as they now have to face a very strong New Hampshire side at home.
Coach McElwain said during weekly press availability the staff has placed an emphasis in practice to “defend home turf”, something he says the team lost last season and needed to re-discover again. (CMU went 2-4 at home in 2022, with sole wins against Bucknell and Buffalo.)
That’ll have to start on the defensive side of the ball, which showed glimpses of brilliance in last week’s contest.
Three Chippewas set career-highs in tackle numbers, with linebacker Kyle Moretti (14), cornerback Donte Kent (10) and defensive lineman Jacques Bristol (seven) all resetting previous highs against Michigan State.
Bristol was especially proficient in run defense, getting multiple clutch stops at or near the line of scrimmage, including one which resulted a turnover on downs.
Donte Kent had a pass break-up to prevent a touchdown vs. MSU, and will need to find that knack for the ball against a UNH squad which likes to go quick and expose soft coverage. Kent was CMU’s leader in pass break-ups last season with15.
The edge rotation of Kade Kostus, Michael Heldman and Maurice White will get a lot of looks in this game, as they were largely a non-factor vs. MSU outside of White’s sack, the first of his career.
Offensively, there’s still some questions to be resolved.
Quarterback seems to be partially answered, with Bert Emanuel Jr. winning the starter’s role out of camp. He led the Chips in rushing (41 net yards, 87 gained) while also picking up 87 passing yards and a touchdown on 11-of-17 attempts (more than twice his total amount of attempts from the 2022 season.) Per McElwain, the team still hopes to employ backup Jase Bauer in certain situations as well— though it should be noted Bauer did not enter the MSU game until deep in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand.
We didn’t learn a lot about the running game last week, with no running back getting more than six carries or 27 yards. It;s projected to be a four-back rotation, with Myles Bailey, Marion Lukes, BJ Harris and Sam Hicks all expected to see time at the position. We’ll have to wait and see how they look against a motivated New Hampshire squad.
Receivers still need sorting out as well, though it does seem Emanuel is looking for the tight ends, with Mitchel Collier (three catches, 30 yards) the leading receiver last week. No other receiver had more than two receptions or 18 yards, however. This will likely be a position of focus in practice this week as the team need reliable playmakers on the outside to ensure they can maintain playcall variety. Chris Parker (who had the team’s lone touchdown) is the current WR1, with Wisconsin transfer Stephen Bracey Jr. primarily operating out of the slot.
This all sounds overly sceptical or negative for Central, but the reality of the sitation is this is a very young team who needs to suffer through adversity in order to develop. A match against a very disciplined and similarly-talented New Hampshire side should serve as motivation to such a group to show they’re moving in a positive direction.
That said, MAC squads are not prone to FCS upsets. Just last year, Buffalo lost to Holy Cross, while Ohio and Akron had to depend on last-gasp drives to take down Fordham and St. Francis (PA), respectively. The last time these two teams met, the Wildcats raced out to a furious lead CMU had to recover from. Certainly, this CMU team is similar to that 2013 squad in terms of roster build. It could well be history is repeating itself again.
Expect a tough, hard-fought game here between two proud programs with a lot to prove.