Click here for COVID-19 updates affecting the campus community

Zeitler: Chippewas' MAC West title hopes rely on better play by Quinten Dormady

Central Michigan quarterback Quinten Dormady walks off the field after throwing an interception against Buffalo on Oct. 26 at UB Stadium.

To pick up a win on the road over Buffalo and become bowl-eligible on the season, the Central Michigan football team knew it would need to force the Bulls out of their rushing attack defensively while opening holes for senior Jonathan Ward and sophomore Kobe Lewis on the offensive side of the ball.

Instead, it was Buffalo who took control of the line of scrimmage from the get-go and never let up.

The result? A deflating 43-20 Chippewa loss in which Buffalo held the CMU offense to a mere 73 yards rushing.

“They took us out of our game,” said coach Jim McElwain. “We didn’t get in rhythm, we didn’t have any explosive plays.”

After rushing for an average of over 300 yards per game over the past three contests, I was really surprised to see the Chippewas struggle so mightily in the run game. 

Ward rushed for 64 yards on 14 carries, which isn’t terrible – that’s 4.6 yards per attempt – but he was used heavily on only one drive early in the game. He rushed six times for 25 yards and had a 13-yard catch on that particular drive, ending the possession with a 1-yard run to punch it across for a touchdown and a 7-3 Chippewa lead with 4:45 to play in the first quarter.

It was the only lead CMU would see all evening, and Ward rushed only seven more times for 33 yards over the next 50 minutes of game time.

Lewis was similarly locked up by the Bulls’ defense; he gained 29 yards on eight carries.

With the ground game stifled, the Chippewas looked to senior quarterback Quinten Dormady to step up and lead the team to a victory through the air.

Dormady completed 25 of his 32 pass attempts against the Bulls for 272 yards and tossed two touchdowns. 

Looking at that stat line, Dormady played well: it’s tough to get a 78% completion percentage against a solid opponent in Buffalo.

But to be honest, Dormady left an awful lot to be desired on the field at UB Stadium on Saturday. 

He fumbled the ball away on a strip-sack early in the second quarter as the Chippewas were building some momentum, then threw two ill-advised balls in the fourth quarter that were picked off. 

The second interception was returned for a touchdown; Dormady’s three turnovers resulted in 17 Buffalo points.

Even looking past his trio of turnovers, Dormady never did much of anything that stands out to me as I look back on the game. The vast majority of his passes were short balls out to the sidelines or over the middle, and most of those completions were pretty easy. 

From what I could tell, Buffalo’s strategy was to allow passes thrown underneath and keeping everything in front of the secondary, trusting that the defensive backs would collapse in time to make open-field tackles.

That strategy worked. 

In each of the Chippewas’ three consecutive wins coming into the road game at Buffalo, explosive scoring plays were what separated CMU from its opponents early and gave them a lead to protect.

Against Buffalo, however, there were no such big plays.

When Dormady was called upon to put a little more air under the ball and take shots downfield, he looked hesitant. 

Dormady was sacked four times on the evening for a loss of 27 yards, and on at least two of those sacks, it was due to indecision by Dormady as he looked at a deeper target.

When asked about the performance of his starting quarterback following the loss, McElwain was short in his response before detouring quickly to a more vague answer concerning the play of his team as a whole.

“You know, he was just OK,” McElwain said. “Obviously with the fumble on the sack, ball security is of importance, but there’s a lot of guys, where, you know, we need to play better and play right.”

McElwain didn’t say anything bad or controversial about his QB, but to me, McElwain’s brevity on the subject of Dormady spoke volumes: the CMU first-year head coach wants a lot more from Dormady. 

After entering the transfer portal leading up to the 2019 season, Dormady was the first standout name to join McElwain at CMU. He committed to the Chippewas less than two weeks after McElwain was hired by CMU on Dec. 2.

I remember hearing the news in the offseason that Dormady would be coming from Houston to Central Michigan as a graduate transfer. I remember thinking that he would undoubtedly assume the role of starting quarterback – after all, he used to be the starting quarterback at Tennessee.

Given his pedigree and experience, I thought that Dormady would have his way with the secondaries of the Mid-American Conference and pick apart opposing defenses at an impressive clip.

To be blunt, Dormady has not been impressive. The former SEC starter is in his sixth year as a Division I collegiate football player, yet he appears uncomfortable under center at CMU. 

As it stands right now, CMU trails only Ball State and Western Michigan (tiebreaker) in the MAC West standings. If the Chippewas want to hang onto the hopes of making an appearance in the MAC title game, they’ll need Dormady to find his comfort – and quickly.

Northern Illinois comes to Mount Pleasant for a noon game against the Chippewas on Nov. 2 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The Huskies are 3-5 overall and 2-2 in conference play but are fresh off a 49-0 trouncing of Akron and will be riding that momentum into Saturday’s game.

If I’m the NIU coaching staff, I’m daring Quinten Dormady to beat my defense. I’m taking a long look at the strategies employed against CMU by Western Michigan and Buffalo: stop the run and don’t let anything behind the safeties.

In his five starts at quarterback for the Chippewas, Dormady hasn’t shown the ability to do much more than manage the offense when the rushing attack is rolling. 

He’ll have to prove himself a major threat in the last quarter of the regular season to give his team a shot at a division title.