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How you doing...Central Michigan edition

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A weekly primer for Wisconsin’s upcoming opponent Central Michigan with the help of Evan Petzold of CMLife.

Central Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Coming off a blow out victory over South Florida in Week 1, the Wisconsin football team returns to the field for its home opener against the Central Michigan Chippewas. I had the opportunity to ask some questions of Evan Petzold, the sports editor of CMLife, to find out more about the team coming to Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.

Fresh off a 1-11 season a year ago, Central Michigan has already reached that win total after winning their opening game against FCS program Albany 38-21. With a new coaching staff lead by former Florida head coach Jim McElwain, the team is undergoing a transition year, but there is definite optimism with a new head man in place. Evan broke down the rest of the coaching staff below:

When McElwain arrived, the entire coaching staff changed – besides tight ends coach Tavita Thompson. Newcomers are defensive coordinator Robb Akey, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Charlie Frye, assistant head coach/wide receivers coach Kevin Barbay, special teams coordinator/safeties coach Ryan Beard, offensive line coach Mike Cummings, linebackers coach Mark DeBastiani, defensive line coach Justin Hinds, running backs coach Cornell Jackson and cornerbacks coach David Rowe. Even the director of strength and conditioning, Joel Welsh, is a fresh face this season.

While I did not personally watch the Chippewas opening game, Evan did and provided a nice breakdown, particularly of how the offense looked.

In Central Michigan’s 38-21 win over Albany (FCS) in the season opener, the Chippewas were never out of control or felt the lead was in jeopardy. There was a sense of comfort, even though the offense didn’t put up 60-plus points. Graduate transfer Quinten Dormady (from Houston/Tennessee) threw three touchdowns without an interception in his CMU debut, while senior running back Jonathan Ward went for over 200 yards from scrimmage. The downfall in both of those situations, though, is that Dormady and Ward both fumbled twice. Of the four lost balls, just one was recovered by the offense. Albany managed to score on two of the turnovers, but its first score came on back-to-back 36-yard passes, the latter going for a score.

One specific area that Wisconsin will likely try to use to their advantage is turnovers. The Badgers currently rank 13th in the FBS with a +2.0 margin after forcing three turnovers against USF, while CMU is 96th at -2.0. This is has been an area of focus for Jim Leonhard’s defense, and it could go a long way in helping UW pull away on Saturday.

Evan talks a little bit about the primary players to watch on Central Michigan’s offense, including the turnover issues that arose in the opening game against Albany.

Dormady and Ward, the quarterback and running back duo, are important pieces. Back in 2017, Dormady started six games for Tennessee before getting benched and undergoing season-ending surgery. That same year, Ward was putting together a career season for the Chippewas with nearly 1,500 yards from scrimmage. In 2018, Dormady didn’t play while at Houston, and Ward only had 253 yards.

Both players are aiming to get back to the way they played in 2017. Helping in that process is slot receiver Kalil Pimpleton, a transfer from Virginia Tech. He caught his first career touchdown in the season opener and uses his 5-foot-9, 175-pound frame to break away from opponents with his speed. JaCorey Sullivan is another name to watch in the wide receivers room, along with rising redshirt freshman Tyrone Scott.

Maybe the most important player to Central’s success this season is junior Tony Poljan, who is a quarterback turned tight end. He’s 6-foot-7, 255 pounds and was recruited out of high school to play tight end in the Big Ten Conference. He decided to try quarterback at CMU (the only place that’d let him), and it didn’t work out. Now, he’s a tight end – McElwain thinks he might be the best in the conference.

Along the offensive line the Chippewa’s are fairly weak however, which could allow Wisconsin’s front seven to cause some havoc in the backfield for Dormady and Ward. Wisconsin enters the game ranking 13th in the nation with four sacks, an area of growth for a defense that had routinely been one of the best in the FBS prior to last season.

Outside linebacker Zack Baun noted in his media availability that Central Michigan’s offense is fairly similar to that of Wisconsin in terms of this year’s scheme. He thinks that this could help the defense feel a sense of familiarity.

On the opposite side of the ball for Central Michigan, they have a very good middle linebacker in senior Michael Oliver. He was a player specifically mentioned by running back Nakia Watson when I spoke with him on Monday as a guy he is looking to compete against. He is the veteran of the group, and was able to force a fumble and get a tackle for loss in the opening game.

Evan gave a quick synopsis of what to expect on the defensive side of the ball from CMU:

The defensive side of the ball is filled with plenty of new faces. One of the players to watch is true freshman defensive tackle Jacques Bristol. After getting tons of snaps in the opener, he’s begun to close the gap between himself and starter D’Andre Dill. Fellow defensive tackle LaQuan Johnson, who starts on the other side, has been praised by the coaching staff for his ability to play the interior spot or out on the edge.

The linebackers room is behind most positions in terms of returners, but it has a sure leader in senior Michael Oliver. The safeties are easily the top defensive position group, returning three players that had starters snaps last season in senior Da’Quaun Jamison, sophomore Devinni Reed and junior Alonzo McCoy.

The cornerbacks, however, are the weakest of the group. They played a step behind Albany’s receivers, and the depth chart shows the level of uncertainty, as five different players have been listed as starters at one point or another.

I think that Evan’s lack of confidence in the cornerback group could really benefit Jack Coan and his receivers. Allowing FCS receivers from Albany an extra step is not a great look entering a showdown with deep threats like Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis aiming to break over the top of the defense. I feel as though Paul Chryst will aim to test that secondary vertically in the hopes to strengthen the trust between Coan and his receivers on deep routes after missing on a couple of opportunities against South Florida.

Overall, Wisconsin owns a 32-2 record against current MAC programs, a statistic they hope to grow to 33 wins on Saturday. While Central Michigan is a program hoping to improve upon a bad year in 2018, I think there is a fairly large talent discrepancy in the trenches, an area of strength for Wisconsin in 2019.

Special thanks to Evan for giving us the inside scoop on all things Central Michigan in anticipation of this weekend’s game, and we will see how it plays out on Saturday, at 2:30 p.m. central time.