Chippewas pounced on early, battle late in loss to LSU

Central Michigan quarterback Jacob Sirmon runs away from LSU defender Jaquelin Roy during the Chippewas' 49-21 loss to the Tigers Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Baton Rouge, LA -- Central Michigan had just settled in when the tide of the game turned for the worst. 

After allowing an opening drive touchdown to Louisiana State, the Chippewas converted a third-and-short for their inaugural first down of the game. On the next play, however, running back Darius Bracy was upended by top NFL draft prospect Derek Stingley and fumbled. 

LSU defensive end Andre Anthony scooped up the fumble and sprinted 33 yards for a touchdown, making it 14-0 just under five minutes into the matchup. 

The Tigers made big plays like this all night, asserting their dominance early and often over the Chippewas. Overall, this spelled doom for CMU. LSU (2-1) beat the Chippewas (1-2) 49-21 Saturday night in Death Valley. 

"We came in with an expectation to be able to play with these guys," said head coach Jim McElwain. "There were some good things and some positives we can take out of it and yet, it's never easy to lose. It doesn't matter who you lose to, it hurts." 

Key plays

The bad start got worse for the Chippewas when quarterback Jacob Sirmon was picked off by Major Burns on the team's second drive. A 40-yard connection between LSU quarterback Max Johnson and freshman Deion Smith made it 21-0 with 1:52 remaining in the first.

"Our run game wasn't working the way we wanted it to," said tight end Joel Wilson. "It was kind of a slow start for us, so trying to get anything going. It's a good team, credit to them, but I felt like we were prepared. And we had a good week of practice and we should've done better this game."  

Sirmon responded by dialing up wide receiver JaCorey Sullivan, who took advantage of a blown coverage and sprinted 78 yards to put CMU on the board. Johnson and company added to their lead in the second when he connected with Kayshon Boutte, who leads the country in touchdowns, on a two-yard jet pass. 

After a superb punt from Chippewa punter Luke Elzinga backed the Tigers inside their own 10-yard line, CMU defensive end Thomas Incoom narrowly missed a sack in the end zone. Though that play ended with an incomplete pass, Johnson used the next three plays to link with his receivers for large gains. 

The third and final completion was a 40-yard strike to Jack Bech, who reached above redshirt freshman safety Trey Jones and pinned the ball to his helmet with his right hand to make it 35-7 at halftime. 

LSU made it 42-7 on its first possession of the third quarter when Johnson hit Devonta Lee from 21 yards out for his fifth touchdown pass. The Chippewas made a big play on defense later in the quarter when junior safety Devonni Reed intercepted a Johnson pass and raced 20 yards for the first defensive touchdown of the Jim McElwain era. 

"In the short time (I've) been here, I'm not so sure we didn't fold our tents a couple times that first year," McElwain said. "I didn't see that from these guys. And that really says a lot about our team and the guys in that locker room. We're getting there, we're getting a lot better." 

Daniel Richardson entered at quarterback late in the third quarter and led a touchdown drive, hitting Wilson on an 18-yard strike. 

Key stats

Sirmon finished 17-for-24 passing, totaling 156 yards, a touchdown and an interception.  Sullivan was the main benefactor, hauling in three passes for 97 yards and a touchdown. On his two series, Richardson was 8-for-15 for 72 yards and a score. 

Freshman Myles Bailey led the team in rushing, carrying the ball seven times for 29 yards. Fellow freshman De'Javion Stepney added 22 yards rushing on three carries. Sullivan was the main benefactor in the passing game, catching five passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. 

In addition to notching his first collegiate touchdown, Wilson hauled in four passes for 31 yards. 

"It felt great to get my first touchdown," Wilson said. "A surreal feeling, especially being at Death Valley."

Senior safety Gage Kreski led the team in tackles with six, while freshman linebacker Kyle Moretti had four. 

Johnson was superb for LSU, completing 26 of 35 passes for 375 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. Smith led the receivers with 135 yards on five catches, while Corey Kiner paced the run game with 74 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. 

Injury report

The Chippewas had two players suffer injuries in the loss. Bracy suffered an undisclosed MCL injury. Though the severity of the injury is unknown, as is the timetable for his return, McElwain expects him to miss some time.

"I don't have a time frame on him, but obviouslyhe'll be out for a while," McElwain said. "We're gonna have to make some adjustments to our wildcat stuff but that's a room I feel we still have some depth. I think Stepney showed some, Lukes didn't get loose tonight but Myles did a good job when he hit it up there."

Defensive end Troy Hairston appeared to reaggravate an ankle injury that had bothered him in each of CMU's first two games. 

"I think Troy's gonna be okay," McElwain said. "That's something that's gonna kinda hamper him all year."

Up next

The Chippewas will return home for their final non-conference game, hosting Florida International (1-2). The Panthers lost to Texas Tech 54-21 Saturday. The game between CMU and FIU will kick off at noon Sept. 25 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. 

"We've got to a good job of bouncing back and getting ready next week," McElwain said. "Hopefully we can get a great crowd there."