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Film Room: Central Michigan Chippewas

Jim McElwain is the new Chips head coach, sorry Jim

NCAA Football: Georgia at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Central Michigan Chippewas are on to another new head football coach, their second in five years. It’s not as though John Bonamego was a complete disaster, he did finish with a final record of 22-29 and had win totals of seven, six, and eight; but his final season was 1-10 and the Chips administration wanted to go another direction.

That direction is in former Colorado State Rams and Florida Gators head football coach Jim McElwain. McElwain is a former NFL assistant, National Championship assistant at Alabama, and SEC East Champion head coach of the Gators. McElwain saw himself fired after a 3-4 start to the 2017 season. He coached at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh in 2018 before taking the Chip head coaching position.

Coach McElwain takes over a CMU team that has a pre-season S&P+ ranking of 122nd in the nation. That’s a far cry from the Gators roster he inherited and led to a 10-win season in his first year in Gainesville, FL.


Will Grier and Feleipe Franks are both dual-threat types that lean more towards throwing from the pocket but can move enough to extend a play or just flat out run the football. Grier was suspended as a freshman and moved on to West Virginia where he became a star. Franks struggled under McElwain but Dan Mullen seemed to get the best from him.

At Alabama, the Tide were looking for pocket passers that could control the clock and not force turnovers. McElwain relied on John Parker Wilson and Greg McElroy as his quarterbacks winning two National Championships with McElroy behind center. Neither were runners in the Bama offense but I see McElwain looking for athletes at CMU to make plays while he gets his offensive line in the right shape.


McElwain has always been more of a pro style coach which is why he was hired by Nick Saban during the Crimson Tide’s pro style, ground and pound, era (2008-2011) and Jim Harbaugh in 2018. From what I can tell, McElwain likes wide zone and split zone in his running scheme.

Wide Zone run concept

I think one can assume that McElwain will continue to run his zone concepts like wide (below) and split zone (further below) while at CMU. Florida’s offense was stagnant but just as much of that came from his inability to find a quarterback as it did from the scheme itself. Remember, most of football is Jimmy’s and Joe’s and especially at the QB position. You can see that just from FSU after Jameis Winston, Miami after Ken Dorsey, or Florida after Tim Tebow.

Split Zone run concept

If you’ve read any “film room” posts you know that I love the split zone running concept. If you watch LSU’s defender wearing number 26, the h-back crossing the formation drags him out of the play and the running back for Florida is able to stay play side.

Defensive coordinators reading cross back really get their linebackers confused with split zone. Yet, defensive coordinators reading near back can as well. And reading the offensive line (tackles for outside linebackers and guards for inside linebackers) can see poor results, too.

Play-action pass and scramble

This is just a standard tight set with a play-action pass. But the advantage of having a dual threat QB like Will Grier is obvious as he outruns the defensive end rather than having to throw the ball away and lose a down. Instead, Grier scores and the Gators started hot with Grier at QB.

Double under passing concept

Unlike Chris Rix up at FSU in the early 2000’s, McElwain was opening up the playbook and reads for Grier as a young freshman. If you can remember that far back, Rix was sort of a read-and-run QB early in his career versus Ken Dorsey who used his mental acumen to survey the field and go through senior level progressions as a young freshman.


Central Michigan doesn’t have the firepower to keep up with the Miami Hurricanes. As Bill Connelly pointed out in his CMU preview- The Chips have almost no offensive talent and McElwain is basically starting from scratch. Miami is going to destroy CMU if the ‘Canes come out with fire. A real test of Coach Diaz’s coaching ability will be keeping the ‘Canes interested in back-to-back dud games against Bethune Cookman and Central Michigan after big games against Florida and UNC that are sandwiched around a home game against mini-rival Virginia Tech.