Preview: CMU football set for South Alabama in home opener

Central Michigan running back, Lew Nichols III, runs with the ball during a game against Kent State on Wed. Nov. 10 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

In what will be a historic day for Central Michigan football, the Chippewas’ home-opener means a little more than just another non-conference matchup.

Saturday’s matchup against South Alabama will be the first game played at Kelly/Shorts Stadium since it was announced the football field would be named after legendary former CMU coaches Roy Kramer and Herb Deromedi. Current head coach Jim McElwain confirmed that both will be in attendance, adding to the fuel that propels this team.

“This ballgame, a couple really cool things are happening here on Saturday,” McElwain said. “It starts with the dedication of the field, man it’s awesome. And to have both coach Kramer and coach Deromedi here, to think about all the lives they’ve touched and things they’ve done for this university. It’s an honor to be playing on that field, and it will be for a long time in the future because of those two guys.”

However, McElwain and the Chippewas know that they cannot get caught up in the festivities. McElwain praised South Alabama head coach Kane Wommack for what he’s been able to do with the program since being hired after the condensed 2020 season.

“You can tell the thumbprint Kane has put on this team,” McElwain said. “He’s a heck of a ball coach, known nationally for what he does defensively. It’s gonna give us a lot of problems. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Meet the opponent

At first glance, this appears to be a game CMU should have handled from the opening kickoff. While they broke even once in 2013 with a 6-6 record, the Jaguars have never had a winning season, only managing five wins last year. Yet, McElwain doesn’t see much of correlation between this team and last year’s squad.

“Just seeing their team from a year ago, and where it has progressed to this year, (it's) night and day,” McElwain said. “They’ve got really good players and they’re playing well together. That was really an impressive win they had a week ago. It wasn’t just a win, it was a dominant win.”

CMU’s defense had issues with Oklahoma State’s quarterback Spencer Sanders a week ago, and the unit faces another tall task in defending South Alabama quarterback Carter Bradley. McElwain is quite familiar with Bradley, as the senior signal-caller transferred to South Alabama in the offseason from MAC opponent Toledo.

“I’ve been a huge fan of Carter Bradley since he was in our camps at Florida,” McElwain said. “I think this guy’s a heck of a player. Really, the way they’re using him is what’s really going to make him effective in what he does.

“What they’re doing there offensively… It’s really, really good, and it fits who they are and they’re taking advantage of it. They have the type of quarterback to run that system, so it’s gonna be tough for our defense.” 

In South Alabama’s win over Nicholls last week, the Jaguars’ offense produced 176 rushing yards to go along with three rushing touchdowns - two of which came from La'Damian Webb.

Big question: Can CMU’s offense strike a balance?

Anyone who paid any attention to CMU last season knows the name, Lew Nichols III. He was the leading rusher in the FBS a season ago and was a driving force of the offense. 

Against Oklahoma State, however, Nichols wasn’t able to get it going like he did all year in 2021. Although he was held to 72 yards on 26 carries, good for just under three yards per attempt, he reached the end zone twice.

As much as he would like to get Nichols back to form, McElwain also doesn’t want to rely on a single player to move the ball.

“Our goal is to be balanced,” McElwain said. “Part of that goal of being balanced is that you gotta be able to throw it effectively so they can’t just load the box. And vice versa, you know, we gotta be able to run it effectively when we can minus a guy in the box. So, we’re a good football team when we’re able to run the ball, no doubt about it.”

Another player who figures to be in the mix at running back is sophomore Myles Bailey. In the week one loss, He churned out 51 rushing yards on nine attempts. 

On the flip side of the offense, the receiving group stood out. Transfers Jalen McGaughy and Carlos Carriere found their footing seemingly immediately, and returning starter Dallas Dixon is looking to provide a steady presence along with tight end Joel Wilson. 

Key to victory: Constant pressure

One element somewhat missing from CMU’s defense in week one was quarterback pressure, as the Cowboys' offensive line handled the big guys up front. In order to throw off the opposing offense and create opportunities for the defensive backfield, the D-line needs to find a way to generate pressure all throughout the game.

Historically, CMU is no stranger to game-changing pass rushers. For the past few seasons, that was Troy Hairston. The Chippewas have also sported names such as Mike Danna, Joe Ostman and Frank Zombo recently. There’s a rich history in this program when it comes to rushing the quarterback, and CMU needs to tap back into that to allow the secondary opportunities to make plays on forced passes while also not making them stay in coverage for too long.

Look for names like Thomas Incoom, Michael Heldman, and Jacques Bristol to create pressure and put Bradley in tough spots.

Central Michigan (0-1) vs South Alabama (1-0)

All-time series: First ever meeting

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

Date: Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022

Stadium: Kelly/Shorts Stadium

Location: Mt. Pleasant, Michigan

Odds: CMU -5.0

Over/Under: 59.0


Radio: 98.5 WUPS (Adam Jaksa, Brock Guiterrez)