The Mid-American Conference has entered the “Midweek MACtion” portion of the schedule.
The College Football community is only thinking about a single game for the majority of the season, and that is the CFP ranking.
With the rest of the conference play beginning, we’re excited to see who will make it to Ford Field.
For Central Michigan, football is an afterthought as they’ve lost seven games in a row.
The Chippewas are currently in last place in the MAC West division, tied with Wednesday’s opponent Northern Illinois. The teams are three games behind the leader of the division.
To maintain bowl eligibility and avoid a losing record, CMU would have to win all of their remaining games. Fans and media members viewed this as a guaranteed win, meaning CMU had the opportunity without having to worry about the result margin.
Head coach Jim McElwain knows that his team has underperformed relative to expectations this season.
He also sees the opportunity for growth in spite of the results that have been so far.
“We’ve already ruined the fact we haven’t won at home,” McElwain said. “That’s the number one goal going into every season. So you know, that’s the most important thing you gotta do is protect your home field.”
We’re not doing that right now. But every week, even if you don’t accomplish your goals or readjust them, you always have to come back. You can’t give up and just stop trying. I have a responsibility to get the players back on track and make sure they stay there.
Northern Illinois and Central Michigan enjoyed strong seasons in the fall of 2021, giving them high preseason rankings. Both teams finished off their season by winning conference titles. Northern Illinois beat Kent State in the MAC Championship, and Central Michigan beat Washington State in the Sun Bowl.
Neither team’s quarterback last season has been a significant contributor this season, considering the reasons for their varying degrees of success.
Last season’s starting quarterback and Michigan State transfer Rocky Lombardi, has undergone surgery to repair an ACL in his leg. Luckily, the Huskies have stepped up with three different quarterbacks due to injuries. Jacob Sirmon, a Graduate Transfer from the University of Washington, took over the reigns and started the first game against Oregon State. However, Sirmon too has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury and is likely unavailable for this Saturday’s matchup against North Carolina.
Ethan Hampton was able to take the point position for a little while, but he got injured against Toledo and then turned it over to NIU’s newest recruitee Sean Reilly.
Sophomore Justin Lynch has started in the last two NIU games, including when they beat Eastern Michigan. He was only able to complete 1 of his passing attempts during the Eastern Michigan game, but in the Ohio game he completed 9 out of 18 and had 118 yards.
NIU had two quarterbacks, Western Michigan saw some efficiency against Eastern Michigan (11 completions for 115 yards), but was held out of the game against Ohio. It is not clear if NIU will split reps between its quarterbacks on Wednesday night, nor who the starter will be.
NIU’s rushing attack is helping drive the offense as uncertainty shrouds the Huskies’ quarterback position. Led by sophomore running backs Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown, NIU currently ranks second in the MAC in rushing yards per game, boasting 202.3 yards per game on the ground.
C.J. Brown, a sophomore safety on the Huskies’ defense, was named to the First-Team All-MAC in 2021 and also won Defensive Player of the Game in last year’s MAC Championship game.
Sophomore linebacker Daveren Rayner leads the team with 8.9 tackles per game, while senior defensive lineman Michael Kennedy leads NIU in sacks (4.5) and TFLs (5.5).
Why is CMU so good at the quarterback position?
Though not hugely successful on offense, the inconsistent play at quarterback has forced coach McElwain to rethink the position.
McElwain has not yet decided on who will lead the group in the future.
“We’ve got packages for all of them.” McElwain said. “You know, what you really want to see is how the team moves and most importantly, not turning the ball over, getting first downs. So we’ll give them opportunities to go in and play and move the team.”
Due to injuries, sophomore Daniel Richardson has had to start every game this season. But he hasn’t been able to match his level of play from last season when he won the starting job over Jacob Sirmon, a Washington transfer.
After losing his top playmakers from last season, Richardson has had a tough time this year. However, he looked great in week one against Oklahoma State. Since then, his performance (and the rest of the offense) has gone down.
Freshmen Jase Bauer and Matthew Richardson split snaps at quarterback in last week’s game against Bowling Green, with Bauer starting in the first half and then being benched for Richardson once Bauer went down with an injury.
“Yeah, you know,” McElwain said during the postgame interview. “We felt that you know, we were going to put him in series anyway. (We) just felt he was giving us a little bit of a spark. He did some OK eight things when he was in there, missed a (pass) down there, going in that probably would have been a touchdown.” But you know, that’s all part of playing the position and seeing it on film and getting better.
Bauer has received praise from his teammates for leading their huddle when he only had a limited amount of opportunities to do so.
“One thing I thought he did a really good job on last game,” said senior tight end Joel Wilson. “You know, not betting on anything, he came in, and he didn’t blink. He wasn’t worried or scared to go out there. And he did a good job stepping up for us. So going forward, we think he’s gonna continue to do a good job.”
Defensive line has been key to victory in this game.
In terms of positional groups, very few have seen elevated play when compared to last year. However, an argument can be made that the defensive line has been just as good in this regard, despite losing a few key pieces.
One member of that unit who has been vital thus far is junior defensive lineman Jacques Bristol. Bristol stressed the importance of continuing to elevate their game up front in order to stay competitive.
Jacob is a defensive lineman on our football team. When he was interviewed, he talked about how crucial it has been to go out every day and give everything to the game. “Teammates are so important,” he said. “Playing together can be challenging, but it’s fulfilling.”
The Chippewas will need to be at their best defensively to limit NIU’s offense-scoring opportunities. If they can get to the quarterback in passing situations and stop big plays on the ground, they’ll force NIU into uncomfortable positions. If they are unable to control the tempo up front, it’ll go downhill from there for CMU as well.