When Central Michigan installed the 4-2-5 defensive scheme last year, it was to put more speed on the field to combat the popular spread offense.
The spread had taken over college football, and many schools in the Mid-American Conference adopted the offensive philosophy that relies heavily on frequent short passes.
Putting an additional player in the secondary, increasing the number of safeties to three to help out the two cornerbacks, would prevent long passes and allow CMU to clamp down on any receivers in open space.
“When you play in a spread-open league, we see a lot of spread teams,” defensive coordinator Joe Tumpkin said. “With the way football has evolved, you’re seeing more of these spread offenses and we had to be prepared for that … You have to base it on that.”
And while it moved CMU from 11th in the conference in total defense to seventh last season, the number of yards the Chippewas allowed actually increased from 428 yards per game to 432 yards. The numbers are more the same this season, with the CMU defense allowing 432 yards per game through the first five.
“We’re giving up too many big plays,” Tumpkin said. “Some of it’s the opponents that you play – we played Michigan and gave up some points, New Hampshire’s a good football team and then we got into a little bit of a shootout at UNLV.
“Some of it’s who we’re playing, but it’s also about the improvement of the some of the guys that we’re playing.”
CMU (1-4, 0-1 MAC) gave up a season-high 483 yards to North Carolina State on Saturday, allowing the Wolfpack to rush for 239 yards on the ground, including two second-quarter touchdowns that came on 29 and 42-yard runs, respectively.
Similarly, the Chippewas allowed 418 yards against a Toledo team that featured two quarterbacks, one — senior Terrance Owens — who burned them on several long-yardage plays.
When Owens came into the game in the second quarter, on his fourth play, he found receiver Bernard Reedy down the right sideline for 44 yards. The play helped set up a touchdown and two-score score lead for UT.
UNLV’s spread-geared quarterback, Caleb Herring, torched CMU for three touchdowns and 266 yards passing in less than three quarters.
“We’re trying to just go out there and play hard every play,” said senior linebacker Shamari Benton. “When things happen they happen, we just have to come together as a defense and continue to play the game.”
Like the offense, injuries have also played a roll with backup tackle Jabari Dean going down to injury, starting tackle Matt Losiniecki missing two games due to injury and inexperience at corner.
“You can’t let it factor into everything,” Tumpkin said. “Guys have got to step up. Your job out there is to still defend and put yourself in the best situation to win.”
And while CMU is last in the league in points allowed (39.4), head coach Dan Enos says it has more to do with the quality of opponents, pointing to a variety of ways teams have scored on them.
“We’ve given up a punt block for a touchdown, punt return for a touchdown, I think we’ve thrown two pick-6s and had a fumble returned for a touchdown,” Enos said. “So it’s hard to really evaluate them. At times, we’ve played very well and times we’ve given up too much. I think we’re going to find out a whole lot about our defense in the next seven weeks.”
Contact Aaron McMann: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.