Preview: CMU kicks off MAC schedule against Toledo

Miami sophomore Daniel Richardson drops back to pass against Bucknell, Saturday, Sept. 17, at Kelly/Shorts stadium.

After an up-and-down start to the season, Central Michigan football plans to right the ship as it opens Mid-American Conference play against Toledo on Saturday.

With homecoming festivities underway in the Glass Bowl, head coach Jim McElwain feels the Chippewas need to find their footing on offense early.

"A couple of things that we've been good at in the past like getting off to fast starts, we're getting our ass kicked right now," McElwain said. "As far as starting games on both sides of the ball, that's uncharacteristic of what we've done in the past and yet each team is its own. 

“So that's something that we've got to get remedied and get remedied in a hurry. And, you know, our guys are aware of it.”

Meet the opponent

After a 2-0 start to the season, Toledo has struggled to get going its offense going against high-level competition. During their two-game losing streak, the Rockets have dropped contests to Ohio State and San Diego State.

While Toledo nearly secured a road win against the Aztecs as sophomore quarterback Dequan Finn mounted a fourth-quarter comeback. Similarly to CMU, the Rockets have been hit-or-miss on offense.

However, McElwain isn’t overlooking Finn’s talents.

"Guy's an unbelievable player," McElwain said. "Not only throws it well, I think he's thrown it more accurately. You can tell he's really worked on it. And you can see he throws great on the move. And obviously speaking of on the move, you know, trying to tackle the guy when he's in the open, (you could) argue he is the best athlete in this league.”

Big question: Can CMU survive without Richardson?

Through four games, Toledo’s defense ranks first in the MAC in total defense and passing yards allowed. However, sophomore quarterback Daniel Richardson has shown he can sling it around the yard against some of the best in college football.

With most teams focusing on loading the box to slow down sophomore running back Lew Nichols III, Richardson has thrown nine touchdowns and 1114 passing yards through four games. 

However, after enduring a hit against Penn State in the fourth quarter, Richardson’s status for the MAC opener is in question.

"D Rich is sore," McElwain said. "You know, we've got to have a plan for (Bauer) in this game. And, obviously, both (Emanuel) and Pape have to be prepared, as well. So we'll see what happens there." 

Key to victory: Containing Finn’s ability on the ground

Although Finn has struggled of late, his dual-threat abilities have given teams fits during his reign as Toledo’s signal-caller.

Through four-games Finn has thrown for 781 yards and six TDs, but he has established himself the Rockets’ leading rusher with 252 yards and five touchdowns.

Against San Diego State, Finn propelled Toledo to 14 points in the fourth quarter, one through the air and one on the ground. However, he threw an interception with 41 seconds remaining in the game as the rally fell short.

But with it being homecoming, expect Finn to bring it in front of his home fans.

"You know, going in there a pretty big underdog... being their homecoming game,” McElwain said. “I guess I kind of know what they think of the Chippewas." 

Central Michigan (1-3) vs Toledo (2-2)

All-time series: Toledo leads 27-20-3

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Date: Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022

Stadium: The Glass Bowl

Location: Toledo, Ohio

Odds: Toledo -7.5

Over/Under: 55.5

TV: NFL Network (Jason Ross Jr. and Tyoka Jackson)

Radio: 98.5 WUPS (Adam Jaksa, Brock Guiterrez)