Notebook: On injury updates, atmosphere of Camp Randall Stadium, and the expectation to win
Jim McElwain was just a wide receivers coach for Michigan State in 2003. It's been 16 years since then, but there's one game he vividly remembers.
November 15, 2003. Lee Evans didn't play for the Spartans. He was a Badger. But that night at Camp Randall Stadium, McElwain wished he had played for him.
Evans made 10 receptions for 258 yards and five touchdowns in Wisconsin's 56-21 victory.
"I think he could’ve won the Heisman against us in that one," McElwain said, laughing.
This time, it's running back Jonathan Taylor.
“I hope he doesn’t want to win the Heisman against us," McElwain added.
Taylor is no joke. The whole nation understands that.
The 5-foot-11, 219-pound ball carrier went for 2,072 yards from scrimmage in 2017. Then, in 2018, Taylor tallied 2,254 yards. Throughout both seasons, he accumulated 29 touchdowns.
He hasn't skipped a beat in 2019, annihilating South Florida for 183 total yards and four touchdowns in a 49-0 season-opening win.
"He’s an unbelievable player," McElwain said of last year's Doak Walker Award winner.
'We should be in pretty good shape'
During Central Michigan's season-opening 38-21 win against Albany, tight end Joel Wilson went down with a foot injury that put him on crutches and forced a cart to take him off the field.
Initially, McElwain thought it was an injury that could've kept Wilson out for an extended period.
Wilson's injury wasn't as bad as the coaching staff anticipated, but he still won't be able to play this weekend.
"When we will get him back, it won’t be for at least a couple of weeks," McElwain said. "He’s in really good spirits. That’s a positive, and he’s handling it well. He’ll come back and play well for us."
Offensive lineman Nick Follmer has returned since being diagnosed with bursitis in his knee. He will play against Wisconsin after sitting out against Albany.
True freshman wide receiver Javon Gantt (knee), quarterback George Pearson (leg) and offensive lineman Romeo Tarver (knee) all underwent successful surgery.
"They’ll be done for the season," McElwain said.
Other than Wilson's injury, McElwain explained everyone else that gets significant playing time should be healthy come Saturday.
'I go back to environments'
Along with watching from the opposing sideline as Evans dominated in 2003, McElwain recalled the energy at Camp Randall Stadium. It was a matchup where his No. 21 Michigan State squad was upset by the unranked Badgers.
Everyone was loud.
There was another case of energy in McElwain's past, and it came when No. 25 Florida hosted No. 3 Ole Miss in Gainesville for a clash between SEC blue bloods.
An announced attendance of 90,585 fans packed Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, popularly known as The Swamp.
The Gators went up 25-0 at halftime and ended with 13 points in the fourth quarter for a 38-10 victory in McElwain's first season, improving the team to 5-0.
"The Swamp was electric, as it always is," McElwain said. "We put it on them pretty good."
McElwain expects the same atmosphere when his Chippewas roll into Camp Randall on Saturday to face Wisconsin.
For the Badgers, it's the home opener.
"I think this is a great environment for our guys to go into," McElwain said. "It’s a great place to play, and I’m excited for our guys to see what Camp Randall is all about.”
'You never look at it as pulling for an upset'
McElwain doesn't believe in a set formula to pulling off an upset. However, getting ready to take on a challenging opponent is part of the battle.
And McElwain knows how his team prepares, and that's why he expects the Chippewas to win.
"It doesn’t matter what walk of life you’re in, you go in with the expectation that you’ll go do your job and expect to win," McElwain said.
To win, McElwain added he looked for his players to focus on the routine of practice and the day-to-day focus needed to be successful. At this point, after just one win, the Chippewas are practicing harder than ever, McElwain said.
Senior safety Da'Quaun Jamison, the leader of the defense, isn't afraid of the threat Wisconsin poses. The Badgers are disciplined, not flashy and seemingly unlimited.
"They do what they want and stick to it," Jamison said. "Our defense, we are just looking for a physical battle up front, stick to the course and play how we play."
Jamison said last week's win was expected, just like this week's against one of the best programs in the nation.
"It's an expectation and doesn't change," he said. "It's a new standard we have here. With that being said, we have to get a little bit better than last week and see what we bring to the table. We'll see how the cards fall."
Offensive lineman Oge Udeogu, a graduate transfer from Iowa State, agreed with McElwain on how the Chippewas have focused on details this week. For Udeogu, it's about protecting quarterback Quinten Dormady better than in the opener.
"That's the big emphasis this week – details," Udeogu said. "That translates to how we will play Saturday. You always want to improve. This week, we are working on perfecting our craft, so we can do a better job protecting."
'You have to wrap him up'
Most people would likely agree that the only way for the Chippewas to end on the winning side is by shutting down Taylor.
Too bad there's not a foolproof way to slow him down.
Led by coordinator Robb Akey, CMU's defense plans to give all it has, even if it doesn't end up being enough. McElwain said the most important aspect of containing the Taylor is by remaining gap sound and wrapping him up.
McElwain added that "peeking our heads back and forth" is something the Chippewas need to avoid while trying to stay gap sound.
"You're not going to knock him over by just hitting him," McElwain said. "As we do in all our tackling circuits, getting him to the ground is going to be the big thing. Being gap sound defensively.”
There could be situations where one of the cornerbacks has to cover Taylor, McElwain described.
CMU's two-deep depth chart features sophomore Brandon Brown, true freshman Kyron McKinnie-Harper, sophomore Norman Anderson and sophomore Darius Bracy at cornerback.
The top three safeties are Jamison, sophomore Devonni Reed and junior Alonzo McCoy.
Jamison, in his last season with CMU, made his feelings about stopping Taylor clear.
"If everyone hustles and you get 11 hats to the ball, anybody can be stopped," Jamison said. "As long as we are flying around and being physical, you can stop anyone you want."
Wisconsin's offensive is well known for being physical. The best shot at winning, Jamison said, will be if the Chippewas match the level of intensity at Camp Randall Stadium.
"When you match that, it could be hard for them to make the game one-dimensional," Jamison said. "That could be a great toward us."
It might be Jamison that has to step up in defensive coordinator Robb Akey's unit.
“You might have to take a guy out of the secondary at times to add it to the front," McElwain said. "They do a great job of seeing that in their play-action game.”
Regardless of the plan, stopping Taylor won't be easy.
NCAA waiver update
Defensive back Brian Edwards had his initial waiver for immediate eligibility denied by the NCAA, but he's currently going through the appeals process.
"We’re sending it up the ladder," McElwain said. "After that appeal, we’ll know where they are at and what our next course of action is, if there’s any."
Defensive end Deron Irving-Bey's waiver has been assigned to an NCAA case manager. He was academically dismissed following the last fall semester but has since re-enrolled.
"Whatever that means," McElwain said, pausing for a short giggle.
"Means they are looking at it. No word on him, but we should know something when they get it reviewed."