The Wisconsin Badgers (1-0) are getting ready for their home opener against the Central Michigan Chippewas (1-0) of the MAC on Saturday afternoon. The Badgers have never played the Chips, but are 32-2 all-time against current members of the MAC.
Wisconsin will be looking to win its 24th straight season opener when the game kicks off and Central Michigan will be looking for a season-defining upset. While the Chips come into the game undefeated, their first game of the season was against FCS Albany and the Badgers are favored by over 30 points on Saturday.
James H. Jimenez of our SB Nation MAC cousins Hustle Belt is here to give us the lowdown on what to expect when the Chips come to Madison.
1) Who are the CMU players to look out for on the offensive side of the ball?
On offense, the players to keep track of will be Jonathan Ward and Kalil Pimpleton. Ward compiled over 200 total yards and two touchdowns against Albany last week, nearly matching his season totals from 2018 in doing so. Ward came out of the gate on fire and has been extremely aggressive in trying to prove that he’s finally healthy, as his 2017 performance (1,351 total yards and 11 touchdowns) feels like it happened a decade ago. Ward has excellent dual-threat ability, with an uncommon ball carrier vision and great open field speed that can break through defenses. He’s also a favorite target in the receiving game, often lining up in the slot for looks.
Pimpleton, who is listed at five-foot-nine and 175 lbs., is a Virginia Tech transfer who had to sit out the 2018 season and watch CMU go through its worst year in program history. He’s extremely eager to prove himself in this CMU offense, and has thus far, proven he can be a reliable option in the passing game. He led the team in receptions last week (8) and scored a touchdown on a lovely read option play where he motioned left-to-right on a jet sweep option and rounded the corner for a four-yard score. His acceleration was something Albany struggled with and I think it’s something Wisconsin may have a tough time with as well if he can get going. He’ll likely be Quinten Dormady’s security blanket, as Ja’Corey Sullivan will be working his way back from a suspension and the other receiving spot is still up for grabs between Tyrone Scott and Keonta Nixon, who proved themselves to be excellent rotation options last Thursday.
2) Same question, but on the defensive side of the ball?
This is an extremely young defense with a lot of new faces, but the strength of this defense lays in its safeties, Da’Quaun Jamison and Devonni Reed. Jamison will move around on the field from safety to a sub-package linebacker to a nickel back when necessary and is excellent in pass coverage. Reed is more of a true strong safety, with great hit power and a nose for the ball carrier. Reed, in particular, is important to making the defense go, as he was the second-leading tackler on the team last year as a redshirt freshman (97), while Jamison is more of a vocal and emotional leader.
Linebacker Michael Oliver is the name on many Chippewa fans’ tongues after his electric performance last week. The stat box says he forced one fumble, but replay overturned another one, and he was a disruptive force throughout in a variety of ways, effectively shutting out the Albany tight ends and limiting Karl Mofor to 45 yards rushing. Look for Jacques Bristol at nose tackle as well; he has Power Five size for a true freshman, and is absolutely pushing for playing time. Fellow freshman Kyron McKinnie-Harper, a promising recruit out of Cass Tech HS (Mich.), will also get time at corner.
3) What sort of schemes will the offense and defense be running?
Officially, the Chippewas run a conventional collegiate “read-option” offense, but it’s more of a multiple look, with lots of pro-style, true spread and a little pistol in the rotation. They want to go fast: CMU ran 84 plays last week, even with their long, game-ending 7:57 drive, and hope to take advantage of defensive match-ups by going up-tempo. That said, they’re not afraid to go tight and jumbo when necessary, as the Chips often deploy three-tight end sets and run in the weak-or-strong I formation.
The Chippewas went for about 528 yards total offense last week, which is great in a vacuum, but they also coughed up four fumbles, losing three, and put their defense in an awkward spot multiple times.
Defensively, the Chippewas run a conventional base 4-3, using its front seven to disrupt the running game with aggressive, run-stopping linebackers and relentless pressure from pass rushers on the ends, while allowing its secondary to maintain man-to-man match-ups on the outsides in the passing game. The secondary largely contained Albany’s (admittedly good) vertical attack on Thursday, with only Juwan Green really getting any run (97 yards and two offensive touchdowns.)
For one of Green’s touchdowns last week, Jamison, coming in from the safety spot, was burned fairly badly in “quarters” formation, so that could be something to look out for in-game. Something else to look out for was the lack of penetrating pressure; CMU finished with no sacks and six tackles-for-loss against a rebuilding FCS squad.
4) Who are you worried about on the Badgers (both sides of the ball)?
Names No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 that I have circled is Jonathan Taylor, and why wouldn’t it be? Taylor is a Heisman candidate who completely shredded a USF defense that was fairly decent last season, and CMU is certainly not USF. The Chips also have traditionally struggled against great running backs or running quarterbacks, due to their aggressive nature on defense, often giving up absurd stat lines for said backs.
I’m also generally concerned for CMU’s offensive line in their matchup against the defensive line, as they did not look great against Albany, giving up five tackles-for-loss and two sacks. Going from a 3-8 FCS squad to a 17th-ranked Big Ten perennial power is going to be a leap that I’m not sure they’re prepared to make. DE Isaiahh Loudermilk, in particular, is a player who, at six-foot-seven, 293 lbs., that I’m not sure either of CMU’s starting tackles can handle, as Clay Walderzak (six-foot-four, 279 lbs.) and Luke Goedeke (six-foot-five, 285 lbs.) give up a couple inches and nearly 15-20 lbs in the matchup.
5) How are Chips fans feeling after CMU’s 38 - 21 win over Albany?
Chips fans were extremely optimistic last week, weathering a 108-minute rain delay prior to kickoff to watch the debut of the new look CMU team, and that team delivered on the promises which were made over the duration of the offseason, so it’s safe to say they’re feeling real good.
Jim McElwain noted in his press conference that having the fans out there was very helpful for the Chips down the stretch and “smiles were long overdue” for a fanbase that has a proud tradition. They know that next week’s game is a likely loss (and a drumming one to boot) but the season is young, and at least for now, interest in the football program seems to be renewed.
6) What are your predictions for the game? Who will stand out and what will the final score be?
Well, considering Caesar’s has the game at a opening line of Wisconsin -35, I’m inclined to agree. CMU is a rebuilding program, and to treat it as anything but is setting yourself up for disappointment. Cooper Rush and Antonio Brown are not walking through that door any time soon.
For CMU players to stand out, you have to hope that you can get the tight ends going if the outside game is limited, as the best chance at a CMU upset is if they can get down and dirty and run the ball to open up the passing game. That makes tight ends Tony Poljan and Bernhard Raimann, who are both six-foot-seven vertical threats, suddenly very important X-factors on offense.
Defensively, Oliver has been a player Wisconsin players are concerned with, and with good reason. He’s a veteran backer with lots of game experience and will be someone who will look to attack what makes the Wiscy offense work at its most efficient.
I’m usually loathe for final score predictions, but for CMU to get to, say, 21 points, or get the score within two possessions, would be a moral victory here.