Central Michigan returns home, faces Northern Illinois
Central Michigan's football players exited the field at UB Stadium last week similarly to how they did after losing to Western Michigan, heads down and some tears falling.
The 43-20 loss to Buffalo was the first lost for Central Michigan since that Sept. 28 game against the Broncos on the road.
CMU had won three-straight games — at home against Eastern Michigan (Oct. 5) and New Mexico State (Oct. 12) and a road win over Bowling Green (Oct. 19) — before losing to the Bulls.
First-year coach Jim McElwain said that the loss to the Bulls was disappointing. Especially when his team turned the ball over five times and allowed 24 points off of those turnovers.
"You aren't going to go anywhere and turn the ball over like we did," McElwain said. "We gave them short fields and they made us have long fields, and it's disappointing."
With their record of 5-4, 3-2, the Chippewas are still in the thick of the Mid-American Conference West Division race as they sit in third behind Ball State (4-4, 3-1) and Western Michigan (5-4, 3-2).
Both the Cardinals and the Broncos are idle this week as CMU rounds out a grueling 10-game stretch to open the season. Each team in the Football Bowl Subdivision has 14 weeks to play 12 games, and since the Chippewas will have played 10 games in the first 10 weeks, they have two bye weeks in the remaining four.
The last of those 10 games comes Saturday at home against Northern Illinois.
Meaning, after a tough stretch at the end of the NIU game, Central Michigan will have a week of rest before playing each of its two final games of the season.
"We've got a lot ahead of us," McElwain said. "I'm looking forward to getting back home. This will end a 10-week stretch and our guys have been playing their tails off."
In terms of responding to losses, the Chippewas have found intermediate success. Following the Wisconsin loss on Sept. 7, CMU rebounded and defeated Akron on Sept. 14 at home, 45-24.
The next week, the Chippewas fell to Miami (Florida), 17-12 on Sept. 21, then followed with the 31-15 loss at Western Michigan.
After the loss to the Broncos, that's when CMU beat Eastern Michigan, 42-16, then NMSU, 42-28 and then finally Bowling Green, 38-20.
Now, as the season begins to wind down, the Chippewas still have a chance to secure bowl eligibility and have a shot at the MAC Championship Game. McElwain said that finding a steady path will help lead the team to success.
"I think that's the biggest piece for us as a young program – just understanding the week-to-week and not getting on that rollercoaster," McElwain said. "It'll be interesting to see how our guys come out this Saturday."
Northern Illinois brings a 3-5 overall record and a 2-2 mark in conference play while having a similar road record as Central Michigan at 1-4 in games away from Huskie Stadium.
Opponents are outscoring NIU, 203-199, to this point in the season but the Huskies have outgained their opponents by 35 yards through eight games this year.
Quarterback Marcus Childers is the man under center for NIU and he has completed 26 of 40 passes (65 percent) for 252 yards and four touchdowns, including three last week in the 49-0 win over Akron. Childers threw just nine passes against the Zips.
Childers can also run the ball, he has 144 yards to his name on the ground and two touchdowns. The redshirt junior has appeared in five games this season taking over for starter Ross Bowers, who threw for 1726 yards in seven games.
Tre Harbison is the lead running back and he has 724 yards rushing with seven touchdowns. The NIU rushing attack has will be a top focus for the Chippewa defense.
"They run the stretch play really well," said defensive tackle Robi Stewart. "They run it well but if we can shut it down, we have a decent shot at everything else down."
Offensively, Central Michigan looks to rebound following its five-turnover performance against Buffalo. Three of those turnovers came from quarterback Quinten Dormady. The senior graduate transfer was intercepted twice and was stripped on a sack towards the end of the first quarter against the Bulls.
With the potential for a postseason berth just one win away, the Chippewas need to take care of the football to earn the win they need. They will have three games to complete the task at hand.
"They've got some talented guys on defense," said wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton. "We try not to let that phase us and keep our heads in the playbook and we just go out and execute the game plan."
Central Michigan (5-4, 3-2) vs. Northern Illinois (3-5, 2-2)
Date: Nov. 2, 2019
Stadium: Kelly/Shorts Stadium
Location: Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Odds: NIU -1.5
TV: CBS Sports Network (John Sadak, Randy Cross and Ashley Holder)
Radio: 98.5 WUPS (Don Chiodo, Brock Gutierrez and Adam Jaksa)