Takeaways from Central Michigan's dominant win over Northern Illinois
The Central Michigan football team continued to roll at home.
After defeating Northern Illinois, 48-10, Saturday in Kelly/Shorts Stadium, the Chippewas moved to 5-0 at home this season.
With the win, the Chippewas (6-4, 4-2) earned bowl eligibility for the first time since 2017, and 11th time in 14 years.
CMU is also still in the thick of the Mid-American Conference West Division hunt in coach Jim McElwain's first season in Mount Pleasant.
Here are three takeaways from Central Michigan's win over Northern Illinois.
The offense showed up at home again
CMU's offense reached a season-high for points in a half scoring 38 in the first. The mark was also the most points CMU had scored in a half since 2006 against Buffalo.
The Chippewas had 400 yards to go along with those points, gaining 252 yards through the air and 148 on the ground in the first half.
CMU finished the game with a season-high 615 total yards of offense with 327 on the ground and 288 through the air.
“We had a great first half,” said senior graduate transfer quarterback Quinten Dormady. “We came out in the second half and started slow, the defense got us some turnovers, had a chance to get some points and just couldn’t punch it in. Overall good performance by the offense.”
What made the performance arguably more impressive was the way CMU earned those yards. Instead of a few large-chunk plays accounting for most of the points and yards, the Chippewas controlled the ball.
The offense worked the ball down the field with a variety of run and pass plays using an incredibly balanced attack.
Offensive coordinator Charlie Frye pulled out all of the stops including working in a trick play near the end of the half that had Kalil Pimpleton throwing the ball deep to fellow wide receiver JaCorey Sullivan, who laid out to make the catch but couldn’t quite hold on.
Senior quarterback Tommy Lazzaro saw much more playing time than in previous games and used the opportunities well. Lazzaro had a rushing touchdown in the first quarter and then had a tough run in the second quarter.
Things slowed down in the second half as the Chippewas tried to grind out the clock to secure a victory. With the slow down, senior running back Jonathan Ward and junior running back Kobe Lewis powered the offense.
Lewis finished with 145 yards on 17 carries while Ward had 138 yards on 20 carries. Each had a rushing touchdown.
The defense bolstered the win
The Chippewas were able to force four turnovers. Three of them came in the third quarter. All four came in consecutive drives as the Huskies turned the ball over on four straight drives to open the second half.
Following a first half where the Huskies were able to get 146 passing yards, the Chippewas made half time adjustments to limit NIU to only 83 passing yards in the second half.
Senior linebacker Michael Oliver got things started with an interception, redshirt freshman Montrae Braswell had an interception and junior safety Gage Kreski got the third interception of the game for the Chippewas. Kreski forced a fumble in the fourth quarter for and senior defensive end Sean Adesanya recovered the fumble.
All of NIU's turnovers came in successive drives.
”I saw (Bowers) was scrambling out and I knew he didn’t have many threats behind me,” Oliver said. “I just stayed put, to see what he was going to try to do and when he kind of threw it short, I was like this is my opportunity.”
The second half turnovers prevented the Huskies from mounting any type of a comeback and locked in a win for CMU.
It was not just turnovers that helped the Chippewa defense. From the first drive, CMU was able to make the NIU offense one dimensional limiting the Huskies to 22 yards rushing.
That number was sitting in the negatives through most of the game and it wasn’t until about halfway through the first the Huskies were positive in rushing yards.
“We made a decision early in the week we were gonna start on defense,“ McElwain said.
Winning had serious postseason implications
Coming off of a 1-11 season in 2018, it was uncertain what McElwain would do in his first season in charge. While the win does not guarantee the team a bowl game, it qualifies them to appear in one.
”That team that’s in that locker room at the beginning of the season was picked dead last in this conference,” McElwain said. “I think we proved that we’re getting a little bit better.”
The win also keeps hopes alive for a Mid-American Conference West Division title. The Chippewas head into a bye this week, but after that will travel to take on Ball State on Nov. 16 in Muncie, Indiana.
The showdown with the Cardinals will position the winner nicely for a chance to represent the West in the MAC Championship Game.
With both a bowl game and MAC championship in play, McElwain has setup the Chippewas for success this season and in the future.
“When you’re playing in November and games kind of having something to them,” McElwain said. “That kind of means you’ve had a pretty decent season so far. That’s huge.”