As Central Michigan coach Dan Enos and players stood at the podium Saturday, reality began to set in.
A team expected to at least match last year’s 6-6 regular-season record, and quietly hoping to improve by a game or two with the talent returning on offense, is now 1-3 with the toughest portion of the schedule still ahead. This week, they begin preparation for North Carolina State, the first of three games on the road.
“Thanks for reminding me,” a joking Enos said following CMU’s 38-17 loss to Toledo.
He could have easily just responded with typical coachspeak, that “we’ve got to take it one game at a time.” And he did, but later conceded that he can’t look at the next three games as a whole.
(Don’t forget about the game after that: Oct. 19 against Mid-American Conference-favorite Northern Illinois.)
“Because it gets uncomfortable for you,” Enos said.
The Chippewas enter this stretch at a pivotal point in the season. Injuries have taken a toll – and should be considered when assessing the team’s performance. Aside from the Michigan game, and that was to be expected, it’s not like this team is getting blown out every game.
In fact, it’s been a season of adjustments for CMU. From adjusting to injuries to its starting quarterback and tailback, expected to carry much of the load offensively, to adjusting mid-game to the play of opponents.
“Last week we’re up 21-0, (Saturday) we’re down 24-17 going to the fourth quarter,” Enos said. “Like I told the team after the game, we’ve got to find a way to win. We’ve got to make plays and find a way to win.”
Against New Hampshire, it was adjusting to a UNH offense that found a way to move the ball with ease. Against UNLV, the Chippewas failed to adjust to the Rebels’ change at quarterback and defensive scheme that eliminated CMU’s run-game.
Enos has addressed at length the issue of putting together a complete game, particularly after the loss at UNLV. Players continued to echo the same point on Saturday.
“Guys up front are doing their jobs, and I’m just trying to find holes as best I can,” said sophomore tailback Saylor Lavallii. “We just got to put together a 60-minute game.”
Finding that mix will be tough on the road. If anybody knows this CMU offense and Enos’ schemes, its former Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren, who took the N.C. State job after last season.
After that, it’s 0-3 Miami – a winnable game, but note CMU’s 5-16 road record, 4-8 against MAC opponents, since 2010 – and MAC East power Ohio (3-1). Conceivably, this team could return to Mount Pleasant in mid-October with a 2-5 record, or worse, 1-6.
“We talk to these guys every day about handling adversity, about being a man, facing things head on and being tough, never quitting,” Enos said. “Believe me, we’re never going to (quit) around here.”
Contact Aaron McMann: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.