Slow start continues for CMU offense

The Chippewas look to solve the problem on the road against Penn State

Sophomore running back Lew Nichols III, left, hugs redshirt freshman Finn Hogan, right, after scoring a touchdown during a home game against Bucknell on Sept. 17 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Through three games, one issue has consistently plagued Central Michigan football—slow offensive starts. 

The Chippewas picked up their first win of the season on Saturday, beating Bucknell 41-0. However, their offense woes reared their head again. 

After 15 minutes, CMU found itself in a scoreless tie with Bucknell. But a dominant performance from its defense helped revive the offense. 

With a trip to Happy Valley on the horizon, head coach Jim McElwain made it clear that he is aware of the issue.

"Offensively, you get a couple of plays, and then maybe something doesn't happen real well and all of a sudden you're behind the sticks," McElwain said. "When we got going, we started to get ahead of the sticks. And that's when we're going to be successful offensively."

As the defense swarmed the Bison, running back Lew Nichols III broke through and finished the day with 166 rushing yards and two touchdowns. After the game, he gave all the credit to his offensive line.

"Our offensive line did an outstanding job," Nichols said. "It started early in the week with practice just from the mentality of understanding what we had to do. And then (on) game day, they just made it happen from the get-go. From beginning to the end, they just knocked guys off the ball, and I felt it really from the beginning." 

Even after reaching a season-high in rushing yards, Nichols wasn't satisfied.

"Definitely, not satisfied," Nichols said. "But we're just working day by day. You know, it's still early in the season, and I got the utmost faith in my teammates up front, receivers blocking on the perimeter, and our coaches too."

While McElwain gives much of the credit to the CMU offensive line, he admitted getting Nichols going was a key focus for him.

"Total credit goes to those guys up front anytime your running backs' doing that," McElwain said. "But we obviously felt like in the first couple of games I don't think we got him going. I think it's something we wanted to do... But, I was determined to make sure that Lew Nichols was gonna get going and he did and it was great to see."

In addition to success on the ground, the Chippewas found openings through the air despite being without wide receivers Dallas Dixon and Carlos Carriere.

"It just opens up everything," Nichols said. "If you're able to knock guys off the ball, you know able to get the running back downhill, it helps the passing game. And games like this just build confidence for our games in the future."

Knowing he would be without two key weapons, McElwain challenged players like Finn Hogan with stepping up in their absences. 

Wide receiver Jalen McGaughy led the Chippewas with four catches for 69 yards, while Hogan finished the day with four catches for 25 yards.

While there were issues, McElwain believes the young wide receivers showed up even after a mistake.

"We had some big drops that obviously took some chunk plays away," McElwain said. "And yet, some of those drops guys came back and made plays and I think that's really good. So you know, we've got some talent in that room, we've got to keep coaching them and get them in the right spots. I thought Finn (Hogan) did a pretty good job for really the first extensive play he's had, as far as some pretty good third down fourth down catches, you know, he did a pretty good job there."

Entering in relief for starting quarterback Daniel Richardson, redshirt freshman Jase Bauer ended the game with 44 passing yards, 47 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. 

Much like McElwain, Bauer is aware that the offense needs to start faster.

"Our biggest goal as an offense is to start fast," Bauer said. "And that's been, one of the biggest focal points that we've been trying to focus on as a unit. So, obviously, we're still trying to work on that, you know, starting fast, but, we've been finishing pretty well. As a whole offense, we're just trying to work (on) starting fast. So we don't put ourselves in too big of a hole in the second half that we gotta get out of." 

CMU heads to Happy Valley on Saturday to face Penn State at noon.