Preview: CMU Football looks to bounce back in 2023 season

Players high five each other after scoring during a game against Buffalo, Wednesday, Nov. 9 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

For the first time in head coach Jim McElwain’s tenure with Central Michigan football, the Chippewas completed the 2022 season with a losing record, going 4-8. 

However, as the 2023 season approaches, the Chippewas are determined to bounce back. 

“We need to do better than we did a year ago, and we’re going to do that,” head coach Jim McElwain said. “I’m really excited about our team. I’m excited about the guys that went through what we went through a year ago and are ready to not let that happen again.”

McElwain said last year, he wasn’t coaching to his full potential, but this year he is determined to lead this team to a better season. 

“Everything that occurred a year ago it’s all on me, it’s nobody else,” McElwain said. “And I just promised these guys, they’re going to get the best Coach Mac that they’ve had in a long, long time, because we don’t want that taste again.”

Team chemistry

This year, players and McElwain are focusing on the team, rather than the individual. 

One of the things McElwain stressed as they head into the season is the importance of relying on teammates. He said the offense, defense and special teams all need to work together to reach their goals. 

“I think they’ve taken accountability with each other,” McElwain said. “I think one of the things that happens to you, no matter what business you’re in, is you got to rely on the person next to you doing their job, so you can do yours. 

“And I think we found at times, maybe guys were trying to do too much. And in doing that, they might have messed up what somebody else was trying to do.” 

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jase Bauer said the relationship the team has formed together during the offseason will help its performance heading into the 2023 season. 

“I feel like there’s just a lot of guys that have stepped up,” Bauer said. “I just feel like it’s more of a family atmosphere. 

“I truly do love these guys. So, I think then (when) you have that feeling towards each other ... when you get on the field, you’re willing to do a little bit more for the guy next to you.” 

Quarterback battle 

Who would be this year’s starting quarterback?

It’s the question that was left unanswered after last season when the Chippewas had three different quarterbacks taking the position as the leading man on the field. 

Two of the three that were part of the rotation and are retuning are Bauer and redshirt freshman Bert Emanuel Jr. The other quarterback, Daniel Richardson entered the transfer portal at the end of last season and is now at Florida Atlantic University.

Bauer played in six games and had one start last season. He rushed for 312 yards and four touchdowns on 53 carries. He also completed 59 percent of his passes for 435 yards and one touchdown. 

In two of his appearances, Bauer rushed for 109 yards to become the first quarterback at CMU since 2018 to rush for over 100 yards in back-to-back games.

“I’m just kind of correcting some of the mistakes from last year ... working on myself and ... you know, trying to make the team better,” Bauer said. “And I think it’s been a great offseason. I really think we fixed a lot of mistakes from last year.”  

Emanuel played in four games last season as he led the Chippewas in rushing yards per carry with 7.4. He had seven rushing touchdowns, ranking him second on the team in rushing yards with 496. He also averaged 124 rushing yards per game, completed 4-8 passes for 54 yards and had three runs of 60 yards or more. 

“Yeah, we’re competing for the job, but at the end of the day, like that’s my brother,” Emanuel said. “They win the job, I’m (going to) support them, if I win the job, I hope they support me, so every day (I) just go out to compete and have fun.” 

Emanuel set a school record for single-game rushing yards for a quarterback, with 293 yards against Buffalo. That ranks as the fourth-highest, single-game total in school history. 

The Chippewas could work in another arm under the snap in redshirt sophomore Tyler Pape, who is in his third season with the Chippewas. 

Pape did not see any action last season and redshirted in 2021 where he played one game against Robert Morris and completed both if his pass attempts. 

Experienced defense

Although last season the defense didn’t have the results in numbers that they wanted, this season the power houses return hoping to flip the script. 

“You always look and go through the things you did well, and the things you need to improve on,” McElwain said. “And for us, you know, getting out to the passer is gonna be huge. 

“And yet, part of that is you got to make sure that you’re holding them, making them hold an extra count, you know, in the secondary. So ... it all kind of comes down to everybody.”

It’s no question that the defensive line is led by its two All-Mid-American Conference picks in senior Jacques Bristol and graduate student Robi Stuart. 

Bristol provides a depth of experience as he has logged 31 starts in 45 career games. Bristol has registered 100 career tackles, 20 tackles for loss and nine sacks since arriving in 2019 as a freshman.

Stuart enters his seventh season with the Chippewas and has accumulated two All-MAC team selections and five Academic All-MAC honors.

The defensive line will also look at more experienced lineman in Michael Heldman, Jason Williams, Jonah Pace and Quindario Lee. 

In the backfield, the Chippewas have a qualified asset in senior linebacker Nick Apsey. Last season, Apsey found action in nine games on defense and special teams; he made 18 total tackles (12 solo) with three tackles for loss, a pass breakup, a forced fumble against Oklahoma State and a blocked kick against Penn State.

Alongside Apsey are junior linebackers Kyle Moretti and Justin Whiteside, a pairing that holds a force in the back field.  

Moretti started all 12 games last season, totaling 94 tackles to lead the team. He also led in solo tackles with 60, and 7.5 resulting in a loss of 39 yards. Moretti’s five tackles per game ranked seventh in the MAC and 27th in the nation.

“A lot of people on our defense are coming back with a lot of experience, so I think that’ll help not only me, but the whole defense,” Moretti said. “And the more experience you have, you know, the more you’re gonna know what’s gonna happen, and how you can prepare for that.” 

Whiteside, who started all 12 games, registered 67 total tackles, ranking him third on the team. He ranked fifith on the team with 34 solo tackles. Seven of his tackles resulted in a loss of 39 yards.  

“Mainly, consistency is something I’ve been seeing that we’ve been working on,” Whiteside said. “Also, we’ve gained a lot of experiences. We were very young last year. And a lot of guys (are) taking it serious, putting in the extra work.”

The defense also has returners in redshirt sophomores Dakota Cochran and Lawai’a Brown, sophomore Jarvaris Sims and juniors Trey Jones and Donte Kent.

Tough competition

The Chippewas will face tough competition right out of the gate, starting off their season in East Lansing against Big 10 opponent Michigan State. CMU will face off against MSU for the first time since 2018. 

The Spartans are coming off a 5-7 season and have lost some key starters as they head into 2023. However, MSU has dominated the series, defeating CMU in their last four meetings. 

“There’s definitely history here where we beat them and definitely some good matchups,” Moretti said. “So, it’s definitely gonna be cool. And it’s just gonna be a great atmosphere. 

“What we gotta do, we gotta just take each day at a time, focus on the details and focus on ourselves.”

After the home opener against New Hampshire during week two, CMU will travel to South Bend, Indiana, to face off against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish come into the season off of a 9-4 campaign in 2022 and are ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press National Football Rankings. 

The Chippewas will finish off non-conference with a familiar opponent, South Alabama. The Jaguars are coming off a 10-3 season. In the team’s last meeting, CMU fell to the Jaguars 38-24 in week two. 

“Those are gonna be some big games,” junior wide receiver Jalen McGaughy said. “And you know we played South Alabama last year, (and) we lost to them, so just coming out with a W is the main goal.” 

McElwain said starting out against the tough competition is a good opportunity for the team to grow and see where they are.

“I think it tests your program, it tests your kids,” McElwain said. “You know, I think again, it’s an opportunity to show our brain and on a national scale at three great places … We should learn a lot about ourselves, but the most important thing to me is, let’s make sure we compete and make sure that everybody knows who we are.” 

Here is CMU football’s full 2023 schedule:

at Michigan State (Friday, Sept. 7 / 7 p.m.)

vs New Hampshire (Saturday, Sept. 9 / 1:30 p.m.)

at Notre Dame (Saturday, Sept. 16 / 2:30 p.m.)

at South Alabama (Saturday, Sept. 23 / TBA) 

vs Eastern Michigan (Saturday, Sept. 30 / TBA)

at Buffalo (Saturday, Oct. 7 / TBA) 

vs Akron (Saturday, Oct. 14 / 3:30 p.m.)

at Ball State (Saturday, Oct. 21 / 3;30 p.m.)

vs Northern Illinois (Tuesday, Oct. 31 / 7 p.m.)

at Western Michigan (Tuesday, Nov. 7 / 7 p.m.)

at Ohio (Wednesday, Nov. 15 / 7 p.m.)

vs Toledo (Friday, Nov. 24 / Noon)