Hello again, Canes fam! We’re back for another opponent Q&A.
Joining us today to talk about his beloved Central Michigan Chippewas is James Juney, a staff writer at our SB Nation sister-site Hustle Belt.
I returned the favor and answered some of James’s questions about Miami — in a bit of a different way, but I liked it! — and you can see that conversation here:
(I’m posting my end first but will include the other side of the convo when it’s live)
And now, let’s take it away and talk about CMU:
Q1. How are things going for CMU so far, in your estimation?
Things are going all right, I suppose. There was a lot of activity in the offseason due to the coaching change (amongst other things) and fans have had fairly reasonable expectations about the season so far, given the roster situation. The first game against Albany was a bit more back-and-forth than many people probably would have liked, but it gave us a bit of a glimpse into the kid of team that CMU desires to be within the next two or three seasons. The game against Wisconsin was an expected bloodbath which left an already unproven roster even younger. Last week against Akron, both sides of the ball proved their mettle despite the losses, so there’s cautious optimism.
Q2. How has new coach Jim McElwain changed things from the Chippewa’s recent past?
For one, McElwain hasn’t been hesitant to make roster changes. Last season, Coach Bono (John Bonamego, now the special team coordinator for the Detroit Lions) largely kept the same players on the field, even if they were ineffective, until attrition and a nose-diving season forced him to break open a lot of redshirts. He was loyal to a fault. This year, we’ve seen McElwain churn through the depth charts on a weekly basis, trying to find the best fits for the system in place. One thing to point to in that direction is the cornerbacks, as the rotation of starters in the two-deep have changed in every week thus far.
Another thing McElwain has done is do a complete change in the culture of the locker room. Coach Bono was known to be a player’s coach, who really allowed his players a lot of leeway, so long as they could help on the field. That’s not to say football was secondary, but it was apparent that players weren’t always focused. There were lots of stories about loud music and smiles at the practice field, even despite the 1-11 season which unfolded throughout the season. It’s safe to say it isn’t that way with McElwain. The team now practices on a grass field, rather than in-stadium, with no music at all. McElwain has been quoted as saying Kelly/Shorts (the stadium) should be “a sacred place” and that practice should be efficient and disciplined. The results have been extremely apparent on the field so far, as they’ve shown a lot less bad in-game behaviours. Even their off-field demeanor is different; for one, players took pictures in suit and ties for the roster update this season, as opposed to game uniforms. The players are also expected to be in suits during travel days, whereas last year, players largely wore team-issue adidas gear.
To say the least, there’s an air of accountability which is noticeable in the McElwain tenure thus far that maybe wasn’t as apparent under Coach Bono.
Q3. Who on offense should we watch for on Saturday?
The key players to watch will be the backups at quarterback and running back who are forced into a starting position due to injury.
David Moore, a transfer from Memphis via JUCO, did pretty well in his first start vs. Akron, completing 20-of-31 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. He showed good pocket presence and zip on the ball in last week’s game, and seemed to have good chemistry with his receivers even despite being the backup. The coaching staff obviously prepared him for action, as the Chippewa offense didn’t miss a beat with Quinten Dormady sidelined.
Kobe Lewis, a true sophomore who was on the roster prior to McElwain, proved why he played in all 12 games as a true freshman last season, rushing for 148 yards on 25 carries with three touchdowns against the Zips in Week 3. He was an effective runner and also proved to be helpful in the passing game as well. The staff likes him for his hard-nosed rushing style, as most of Lewis’ yards came after first contact.
Kalil Pimpleton, the diminuitive but talented wide receiver, is the CMU Swiss Army knife. Coming out of the slot, Pimpleton has been an effective jet sweep rusher, slot option or outside burner all season, and the Chippewa coaching staff likes to get him involved. Pimpleton has 174 yards on 18 receptions with two touchdowns on the season thus far, and really showed out against Akron, nabbing stats in the rushing, receiving and passing columns.
Q4. Who on defense might cause problems for the Canes?
Michael Oliver is CMU’s leading tackler coming out of the linebacker spot so far this season, and with good reason. He’s proven to be effective at causing havoc plays and has been great in pass coverage. Oliver has 11 tackles so far, with a forced fumble, and has been a vocal leader in the middle of the defense.
Sean Adesanya, a former Illinois transfer, has really grown into the defensive end spot in his time at Central, and has been an integral part of the defense, picking up two sacks and an intercpetion in three games so far. He’s a speed rusher who likes to get to the quarterback and has just enough coverage skills to make things work on the passing front.
The defensive tackle duo of Jacques Bristol and LaQuan Johnson have been efficient in stopping the run, with 2.5 sacks and 11 tackles between the two of them so far this season.
In the defensive backfield, it’s been a constant rotation, especially at corner, but the staff seems to really believe in true freshman Kyron McKinnie-Harper, a local kid out of Cass Tech [MI] HS in Detroit. He’s elevated from special teams to being a starter on the two-deep in just three weeks. He was an effective shutdown corner agaisnt Akron, picking up two tackles and a pass break-up in Week 3, and the staff believes he can develop into a three-down outside corner. Miami will be his first big test, as he’ll likely get the start.
Q5. Is CMU the best “directional Michigan” school?
Author’s Note: Directional Michigan schools are the ones with...a direction in the name. The most recognizable ones are Central, Eastern, and Western, but there’s Northern as well, but that’s a hockey school.
As an alumnus of Central Michigan University, I have to say “duh” and also “hell yeah.” For one, CMU is located essentially in the middle of the Lower Peninsula and is very easy to get to from anywhere in the state. Sure, WMU is located in Kalamazoo, a relatively big city, but its hillscapes can be a little much and being on the west side of the state, it can be hard to travel to. EMU, in Ypsilanti, is right in the shadow of Ann Arbor, and largely has a reputation for being a “reject” school for Michigan hopefuls.
CMU also has a great outreach program across the state, as it has satellite campuses all over the state and boasts one of the nation’s best online programs, and even features a presence in Atlanta, Georgia. Hell, we’re more involved in Detroit than EMU is, and EMU is right on the edge of Detroit proper. It’s hard to find a WMU or EMU satellite program north of, say, Midland. It’s hard to find a more fanatical fanbase in the directional Michigan schools than Central’s.
Mt. Pleasant itself is also a very nice and quiet college town which has a very unique appeal, a nice mix of being in the sticks while still having a lot of amenities that cities might have. It’s quintessentially Midwestern in every way, with a campus that is reasonably walkable in 20-30 minutes.
Q6. Are there any potential “Antonio Brown” type talents lurking on the CMU roster?
If you’re looking for a player that’s AB-like, it’d have to be Pimpleton. Pimpleton, at five-foot-nine, 180 lbs, looks like, walks like and talks like Brown. His game is extremely similar as well, with precise routes, big play ability and blazing speed that can take the top off of defenses. CMU likes to use him in multiple positions, although he primarily operates out of the slot, and has proven to be the lynchpin which makes the offense go so far this season. A transfer form Virginia Tech who played at national high school Power Muskegon [MI] HS, Pimpleton is a versatile player who can do whatever is asked of him.
Q7. I have friends who went to Central. Is it a party school or IS IT A PARTY SCHOOL?
Oh, no doubt it’s a PARTY SCHOOL. When I was at Central, I lived in the dormitory closest to Main Street (what we call Fraternity Row) and every weekend, there would be bangin’ parties for whatever the occasion. I also remember being a delivery driver and having to dodge drunken pedestrians quite often. Once during a delivery, the house I went to tried to offer me molly instead of a tip. I like telling that story at social gatherings.
One year, Michigan State came to town, and the influx of students was such that we had a limit for how many people students could bring in at a time and even then, students from MSU still flooded campus on gameday largely based on the school’s reputation. It wasn’t out of the blue for Michigan or Michigan State students to come over on the weekends to party.
Another memory I have of CMU’s reputation was when Eric Fisher went first overall in the NFL Draft and there was much drinking, celebrating and couches and/or beds lit aflame on Main Street (which is a one-way street, by the way.) They had to bring in police ans SWAT units from multiple municipalities for that one.
Western Weekend (our rivalry with the hated WMU) often resulted in overturned cars and multiple arrests for rabblerousing as well, though heavy police presence in recent years has brought that baehaviour largely to a halt, as well as a generational shift towards consuming less vices. That said, it still has a reputation as one of the better party schools in the state.
Q8. Does CMU cover the spread (Miami -31)?
I’m inclined to say no after seeing how badly Wisconsin beat the brakes off of CMU in Week 2. Going into that game, Wisconsin was a 34-point favorite, with an over/under of 51. They hit the O/U on their own AND picked up a 61-0 shutout. I’ve seen nothing of CMU in the other two games which I could translate into any sort of positive for their upcoming game against Miami.
Q9. What would a positive result in this game look like?
This is, of course, a DAN ENOS REVENGE GAME, so I can’t help but to say I hope the CMU defense can frustrate him thorughout the day, whether that be through sacks or interceptions. My hope there is that in his efforts to dispatch the school he says didn’t invest enough in him, he makes a few mistakes that can be taken advantage of. I had to live through three years of sensationally mediocre football as a student because of that man only for him to leave by flight of night, so I’d love to see him get his just desserts.
That said, I’m going to compare this game to the one against Wisconsin, so the best results we could possibly get would be 1) to score some points and 2) to not get hurt. In the Wisconsin game, CMU lost four starters to injury, two each on both sides of the ball. Three of those starters will be out for the foreseeable future, while true freshman nose tackle Jacques Bristol (a Florida native) has seen his reps reduced as he gets back from an ankle injury.
Q10. Call your shot: Final Score prediction?
I loathe final score predictions in general, as it’s largely guesswork depending on a number of exigent circumstances, but I will say that something like Miami 49, CMU 10 would not be out of the realm of possibility, although that’s extremely an extremely positive outlook.
Thanks to James for joining us for the Q&A this week. You can check out his work, and the work of other talented writers, over at Hustle Belt.