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High powered offense meets stout defense as Chippewas battle Aztecs

Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain speaks with the media ahead of the New Mexico Bowl against San Diego State Dec. 20 at Isleta Resort and Casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – When Central Michigan squares off with San Diego State, it will be the first time the two schools have ever played on the football field. 

Each school has its respective storied history, but that can be thrown out given the circumstances of a bowl game. 

One thing that cannot be ignored? 

Just how different these two schools are.

The Chippewas are coming off a 1-11 season, resulting in the firing of former coach John Bonamego and the hiring of Jim McElwain. The Aztecs however, under Rocky Long, are one of 13 schools to have played in a bowl game in each of the past 10 seasons. 

Saturday's New Mexico Bowl will feature two teams with completely different styles of play. 

Central Michigan prides itself on offensive explosion, led by playmakers such as senior running back Jonathan Ward and sophomore wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton. San Diego State is known for its ferocious defense, led by its top tackler in senior linebacker Kyahva Tezino.

Where the Chippewas produce 445 yards per contest, the Aztecs allow just 288. The Chippewas run for 186 yards per contest while the Aztecs allow only 72.

Central Michigan scores 31.9 points per game, but San Diego State allows just 12. The Aztecs possess the fourth-best scoring defense in the entire country. 

The two squads possess elite talent on opposite sides of the ball, which makes for a great matchup. 

"We’re excited to be here, to represent the Mid-American Conference against a great, great opponent that we have a little bit of familiarity with," McElwain said. "It’s gonna be a heck of a task for us, and yet I know our guys are gonna come out and play their tails off."

Long was quick to credit Central Michigan's offense. 

"I think they're a quality team from top to bottom," Long said. "Their offense gives us all kinds of issues with the number of formations, motions, flips, trips all those kinds of things they do gives us a lot of problems." 

For Central Michigan to be successful, they'll need to distribute the ball to their playmakers. 

In addition to Ward and Pimpleton, players such as sophomore running back Kobe Lewis and junior receiver JaCorey Sullivan will need to be positive factors.

"We’ve just got to go out and execute the plan," said senior quarterback Quinten Dormady, "the task at hand and play as hard as we can for as long as we can until the last whistle blows, and hopefully, the result favors us.” 

Senior center Steve Eipper welcomes the challenge of taking on one of the finest defenses in the country for his final contest as a Chippewa. 

"It’s a big challenge but I wouldn’t have it any other way for my last game to play here," Eipper said. "It’s gonna be a huge challenge, but I think the coaches have put together a good game plan for it, so I have 100% trust in them, and we just have to go out and execute it, and we’ll be just fine.” 

On the Aztec defense, Tezino is confident in his teammates' abilities to execute at a consistent level. 

"We just play as a team," he said. "We're gonna go out there and do our best, we're gonna go out there and compete. We just hope the outcome goes in our favor."

Lost amidst the shuffle is the fact that the Chippewas have a respectable run defense that ranks second in the MAC. The Aztecs counter with an offensive unit that ranks 12th in the Mountain West Conference in terms of total yards. 

"You can never go into a game underestimating an offense," said sophomore defensive back Devonni Reed. "We're planning on stopping their basic plays. If we go in there and do our job we'll be able to shut down their offense." 

Senior defensive back Da'Quaun Jamison added that he feels no added pressure from the fact that the opposing defense is one of the best in the nation.

"They’re a pretty straightforward team," Jamison said. "They know what they like to do and they don’t change for nobody." 

Each school has its own respective identities. The New Mexico Bowl will pit the unstoppable force against the immovable object. 

The end result is still anyone's guess.