CMU defense shines in homecoming win against Akron

CMU junior wide receiver Jalen McGaughy, left, celebrates with redshirt sophomore Michael Heldman, right, after taking down the ball from Akron at the homecoming game, Saturday, Oct. 14 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. Heldman registered three tackles in the game. (CM-Life | Jenna Spanola)

Coming into the homecoming matchup on Saturday, Central Michigan football’s defense had struggled on stopping opposing offenses’ production, giving up an average 437.2 yards per game and 34 points per game. 

However, this week was different. Against Akron, the Chippewas held the Zips to 10 points and 193 yards, both season lows for the defense. 

The performance led to a 14-10 homecoming victory for CMU, improving the Chippewas to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play. 

“I could maybe argue it was maybe the best defensive overall performance that we've had since I've been here,” head coach Jim McElwain said. “And that's a hell of a deal. So now, what did we do well? Let's keep doing it.”

CMU found success in its pass defense as the Chippewas secured two interceptions during the game. 

The first interception came early in the second quarter as defensive back Trey Jones tracked down the pick following linebacker Kyle Moretti hurrying the quarterback.

“Just having that mentality that we are unstoppable,” Jones said. “When we think we are unstoppable, we can be unstoppable. I mean, when we do everything that we're supposed to, our correct assignments, correct techniques … Everything that we are taught to do, we can do stuff like we did today.” 

With the Chippewa offense struggling, CMU needed a big play in the second half as they were tied at three to begin the third quarter. Marcus Badgett did just that as he came up with the Chippewas second interception of the day on the opening drive of the half. 

Following the turnover, the offense delivered with a touchdown to give the Chippewas the lead. 

One reason the defense created turnovers is because of the defensive line. The defense created a lot of pressure for Akron quarterbacks Jeff Undercuffler and Tahj Bullock, registering two sacks and nine quarterback hits. 

“We knew going in we needed to make (the quarterback) uncomfortable and our front did that,” McElwain said. “A lot of those throws were kind of backfoot, kind of off schedule a little bit and credit a lot of that to the front.”

While it was a dominant performance by the Chippewa defense, CMU lost its leading tackler Kyle Moretti in the matchup with a leg injury. After the injury, Moretti was seen on the sidelines with a brace and crutches on.

“One of the guys (Moretti) that’s a heart and soul of our defense and more so our football team was obviously on crutches,” McElwain said. “We'll get that MRI tomorrow, but the guys stepped up and kind of rallied around that a little bit.”

Moretti leads the team in tackles with 56 and has been the leader of the defense this season. However, when he went down other players stepped up as linebacker Dakota Cochran led the team with 10 tackles. 

“Seeing him (Moretti) go down, it was really sad for us, because we know that he's a leader on this team and this defense,” Jones said. “We know that he's really important to us … But I mean, we have a next man up mentality.” 

The Chippewa defense will look to continue its performance from homecoming as they travel to Muncie, Indiana to take on Ball State Saturday at 3:30 p.m.