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Chippewas fight back: Central Michigan welcomes 0-2 Akron in conference opener


Head coach Jim McElwain and his players wait to take the field to face Wisconsin Sept. 7 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

Small victories and spots of needed improvement can perfectly describe the 2019 season to this point. 

Sitting at 1-1 overall, Central Michigan football is heading into the third game of its campaign, the quarter mark of the season slate.

Jim McElwain's Chippewas have started his first season in Mount Pleasant well. Not great, but well. He scored his first win against FCS Albany and endured a horrid performance on the road against nationally-ranked Wisconsin.

Putting those to games in the rearview mirror, Akron comes to town for the Mid-American Conference opener Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

The Chippewas will be down some of their best offensive pieces in quarterback Quinten Dormady and running back Jonathan Ward. Defensive end Amir Siddiq went down with an injury last week and will not play against Akron.

Ward was seen wearing a sling on his right shoulder, and Siddiq was in a walking boot. Dormady's injury is to his knee. 

McElwain said that the injuries to all three will force them to miss "significant time," but gave no official timetable for their return. 

"That's part of the game," McElwain said. "Next man up. Whoever's the next guy has to play great."

Junior quarterback David Moore showed promise under center is slated to start in Dormady's place. Sophomore running back Kobe Lewis will do the same for Ward.

"Significantly more than two (weeks), hopefully not more than eight," McElwain said. "It's all in the doctors hands and the kids' bodies will tell us when we're able to get them back." 

Both of McElwain's first conference openers as a coach at a new program fell into the category labeled "different." He's 2-0 in his conference lid-lifters. 

At Colorado State in 2012, his first game was against a Mountain West Conference foe and in-state rival Colorado. The Rams won the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Mile High Stadium in Denver against the Buffaloes for the first time in the decade, 22-17. 

Playing against the rival to open the slate and the conference season makes for a difficult start, but McElwain was successful.

At Florida in 2015, McElwain's first SEC matchup was against Kentucky on the road at Kroger Field. The Gators won the game by scoring 14 points in the first half, seven in each quarter. The 14-6 win extended Florida's winning streak against Kentucky to 29 games in a row, which was snapped last year at 32-straight.

McElwain's preparation for his first MAC opener, it comes on the heels of one of the bigger losses in Chippewa history. Akron won last year's matchup against the Chippewas at InfoCision Stadium, 17-10, on Oct. 27.

That said, the Chippewa offense has been rebuilding since the spring and could have some explosive plays this week against the Zips.

For McElwain, it is all about moving on from Wisconsin and turning attention to Akron. 

"Right now, we're kind of in the first half of our schedule," McElwain said. "We've got to do a really good job of getting back and tearing off the rearview mirror of what happened and build on the positives and learn from the negatives."

Akron has struggled through its first two games of the season, sitting at 0-2 overall. The Zips were blown out in their opener at Illinois, 42-3, and fell to Alabama-Birmingham, 31-20, last weekend.

Quarterback Kato Nelson has been Akron's best player to this point this season. 

Last week against the Blazers, Nelson went 25-44 for 359 yards and two touchdowns. To this point, Nelson averages 240.5 yards per game.

But to secure a victory, the Chippewas are looking to protect their quarterback and shut down Akron's defense. Left guard Derek Smith said that locking in and getting past last week is paramount for everyone in the locker room.

"We just have to make sure doing our job and locking in on our assignments," Smith said. "I don't think this defense does anything that we haven't seen before." 

Akron coach Tom Arth is in his first season in the conference. His first game in the MAC will be against CMU, and the 38-year-old said his team is embracing the challenge.

"It'll be a great battle," Arth said. "Coach McElwain is an outstanding football coach, has a great staff. They have a good group and we're excited."  

Central Michigan vs. Akron

Date: Sept. 14, 2019

Time: 3 p.m.

Stadium: Kelly/Shorts Stadium

Location: Mount Pleasant, Michigan

Odds: Central Michigan -1

Over/Under: 44.5

TV: ESPN+ (Chris Vosters, Marcus Ray)

Radio: 98.5 WUPS (Don Chiodo, Brock Gutierrez and Adam Jaksa)