Preview: Chippewas enter daunting road matchup with LSU
Jim McElwain is familiar with the environment his team is walking into this weekend -- not so much with the players.
Central Michigan football is traveling to Louisiana State University, where the Chippewas will square off with the Tigers at Tiger Stadium Saturday night. LSU boasts one of the most raucous environments in college football, one McElwain learned about when he was coaching at Alabama and Florida.
"The atmosphere there is like no other," McElwain said. "It's a great place to play and the fans are great. This will be a great experience for our football team and our program."
The Chippewas are riding high heading into the matchup, coming off a 45-0 shutout victory in their home opener. The Chippewas were dominant on both side of the ball, and sophomore quarterback Jacob Sirmon completed 12 of 16 passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns.
CMU went running back by committee in the win, with true freshman De'Javion Stepney leading the way with 81 rushing yards on nine carries. Redshirt freshman Lew Nichols III carried the ball 17 times for 79 yards. Dallas Dixon led the receiving unit with two touchdown catches.
Saturday's matchup with the Tigers will mark the first meeting between the two teams in history.
Meet the opponent
After losing its season opener to UCLA, LSU rebounded in week two with a 34-7 win over McNeese State. The Tigers got a solid performance from starting quarterback Max Johnson, who went 18-for-27 through the air for 161 yards and three touchdowns.
On the season, Johnson is 44-for-73 for 492 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. He's starting in place of incumbent starter Myles Brennan, who's out for the year with a broken arm. Garrett Nussmeier, a highly touted recruit, saw the first action of his career at quarterback against McNeese and went 3-for-10.
At running back, the Tigers feature multiple options. Tyrion Davis-Price is the lead back, having carried the ball 21 times for 68 yards to this point. Corey Kiner has the team's lone rushing touchdown and has toted the rock 11 times for 56 yards.
The Tigers feature a stacked cast of characters at the wide receiver position. Leading the pack is sophomore Kayshon Boutte, who has 14 catches for 180 yards and five touchdowns in the first two games.
Defensively, LSU is led by highly regarded NFL Draft prospect Derek Stingley Jr. In his career, Stingley has intercepted six passes and was named a consensus All-American in each of his first two seasons with the program.
Linebacker Damone Clark leads the team in tackles with 21, while Eli Ricks has the team's only interception. The Tigers have 14 quarterback sacks through two games, led by Andre Anthony with 3.5.
Big question: How will CMU handle the rowdy crowd?
Seating 102,321 people, Tiger Stadium presents a unique challenge for the road team. The Chippewas will step into this environment Saturday in prime time.
"It starts with the fans," McElwain said. "The fans are great. They are rabid about their home team and they make it something special. They don't cut you any slack when you go in there."
This Chippewa team is fairly young, with just seven active players listed as seniors on the roster. There's plenty of experience to go around, starting with Sirmon, who is in his fourth season of college football.
Sirmon, a Washington transfer, is one of the few players who has been exposed to rowdy environments like this on a regular basis.
"Those environments, all the circumstances elevate a little bit," Sirmon said. "The fans will be there, the crowd noise will be loud but at the end of the day it comes down to our personal execution. How we play the game, how we attack every day of practice in preparation. Take those steps before Saturday's game, and all the rest will take care of itself."
McElwain went 1-1 at LSU while coaching Florida. In his first season, 2015, McElwain and his team suffered their only regular season conference loss to the Tigers, 35-28. He would get revenge the following year, beating the Tigers 16-10.
Heading into the matchup, the Chippewas' head coach hopes his players will take a composed approach to the daunting task ahead of them.
"Hopefully we don't walk in there with big eyes," McElwain said. "A been there, done that kind of thing is what I would hope would happen. And yet, when you get into places like this, it's natural. You don't see places like this in the Mid-American Conference."
Key to victory: Establish the run
The constant between CMU's first two games comes in the run game. Averaging 230 yards per game, the Chippewas have been able to rely on their ground attack. This pairs nicely with the struggles the Tigers have had against the run defensively, allowing 130 yards per game.
CMU has a solid offensive line, led by left tackle Bernhard Raimann. LSU boasts plenty of highly rated prospects on its defensive interior, making for an interesting matchup.
CMU will likely be without starting left guard Danny Motowski, who is doubtful. Motowski missed the Chippewas home opener, and McElwain is hoping he can get back to full health heading into conference play.
LSU will be missing two starters on the defensive side, as defensive end Ali Gaye and safety Jay Ward are out with undisclosed injuries according to Orgeron. On offense, starting left tackle Cam Wire is out and offensive guard Chasen Hines is probable.
Central Michigan (1-1) at Louisiana State (1-1)
All-Time Series: First meeting
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Stadium: Tiger Stadium
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Odds: LSU -19
TV: SEC Network (Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, Cole Cubelic)
Radio: 98.5 WUPS (Adam Jaksa, Brock Gutierrez)