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COLUMN: Central Michigan’s talk triggered Wisconsin, and it may not end pretty


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Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain watches his team prepare for Wisconsin Sept. 3 at the East Grass Field.

A heated exchange before Central Michigan's game against No. 17 Wisconsin. 

Who would've thought?

I've seen this before. It was just last year in the 2018 season opener against Kentucky.

When running back Jonathan Ward was asked about Benny Snell Jr., now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, he didn't hold back.

"I don’t know him," Ward said of Snell. "I don’t think there’s anything too special."

Then, when asked about Kentucky's defense, Ward made a similar comment.

"I’m not seeing anything really special," Ward added. "We just have to come out and play to the best of our abilities."

On 3rd-and-11, with 6:52 remaining in the second quarter, former starting quarterback Tony Poljan threw a bubble pass to Ward. The ball was clearly going out of bounds, but Kentucky cornerback Chris Westry "crushed" him, as the announcers explained it. Westry was ejected for targeting; Ward didn't return to the game.

Coincidence?

Maybe... Maybe not.

Ward only managed 11 carries for 36 yards in the 35-20 loss to the Wildcats. Snell went for 125 yards and two touchdowns.

Ward had 212 rushing yards and one touchdown in 2018. That same year, Snell registered a career-high 1,449 yards and 16 touchdowns, vaulting him to a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Turns out the comments before the game didn't end well for Ward, or anyone on CMU's team, regardless of if the end result was based on the trash talk or not.

Well, the Chippewas are showing their confidence again, this time with comments from first-year coach Jim McElwain and defensive lineman Robi Stuart. One Wisconsin player took it as trash talk.

"Look, they have no idea what's about to come," McElwain said. "I feel really good about these guys and the preparation."

Wisconsin, a nationally ranked program, hasn't had a losing season since 2001. The Chippewas, may I remind you, were 1-11 in 2018.

The same Wisconsin squad that has the reigning Doak Walker Award winner in running back Jonathan Taylor, who has his sights set on swiping the Heisman Trophy this year. The Badgers defeated South Florida, 49-0, in their season opener, while the Chippewas only defeated FCS Albany, 38-21.

For reference, Wisconsin's starting offensive line averages 319 pounds, and Central Michigan averages just 289 pounds on the offensive line. The same example can be used for the defensive front – Wisconsin at 291 pounds, CMU at 263 pounds.

Stuart, a defensive tackle, is one of the senior leaders for the Chippewas. Like McElwain, he had something to say on the debut of the "Coach Mac Show."

"They talk this big talk like, 'Wisconsin this, Wisconsin that.' I'm like, 'Chippewas this, Chippewas that.' You know what I mean?" Stuart said. "We line up in practice the same way they do. Let's go get this."

Sure, both teams line up the same way in practice. However, nobody from Wisconsin displayed "big talk" during the week leading up to the game until McElwain and Stuart did, so I don't know what Stuart even meant.

Back in late August 2018, Snell responded to Ward's comment by taking the high road, letting his statistics speak for him.

"I’m a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in the SEC," Snell said of Ward's comments. "My play speaks for itself."

Wisconsin's response wasn't as polite.

Linebacker Chris Orr answered McElwain on Twitter, saying, "Bring that dumb talk to the camp silly man smh (shaking my head)."

He added the hashtags "BTFOCM" and "OnWisconsin."

Trust me, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what "BTFOCM" means. It starts with "beat" and ends with "Central Michigan." Just think about it.

We live in a world where trash talk is acceptable in sports. It gets the fans excited, hypes up the players and takes the game to the next level. Showing self-assurance is important, and I think that's what McElwain and Stuart were attempting to do, but against tougher opponents, those remarks can easily be mistaken for trash talk.

Since courage is easily mistaken, I'm curious as to why the Chippewas decide to test it against opponents that, on paper, are expected to win by a large margin. In this game, CMU enters Camp Randall Stadium as a 35-point underdog. It's also Wisconsin's home opener.

There's nothing wrong with being confident, don't get me wrong. I think senior safety Da'Quaun Jamison said it best when explaining that winning is the expectation under McElwain. 

No matter who, no matter where, no matter when.

Wisconsin, despite being ranked nationally, applies to that mentality.

"I'm up for the challenge," Jamison said. "I like what we bring to the table. I'm confident in each of our guys, and the scout team got us ready."

Jamison didn't say anything that would entice a comment from anyone on the Badgers. He was honest, confident and reasonable for a group that's rebuilding and going up against one of the nation's best in a hostile environment Saturday.

The comments made by McElwain and Stuart, on the other hand, came off as cocky to Orr based on his response. I'm sure others on the team saw the comments, as well. When you're facing a team with the size, speed and clear upper-hand that Wisconsin has, it's probably not the best idea to upset them before the game even begins.

But that's what the Chippewas did, whether they meant to or not.

We’ll see how things shake out on the field at 3:30 p.m. in Madison.

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