Breakdown of Central Michigan ahead of season opener against Mizzou

Mizzou football is finally back in season, and fans will pack Faurot Field this Saturday for the Tigers’ opening game against the Central Michigan Chippewas. This matchup is the first between the two football programs, and it comes with both facing unique circumstances. 

Central Michigan head coach Jim McElwain did not travel with the team after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday, and assistant head coach Tim Skipper will take over in his absence. While the team is anticipating his presence on the field, Skipper worked under McElwain last year in Mount Pleasant and from 2015-17 at Florida, meaning he’s bound to implement the same game plan if health prevents McElwain from coaching.

While the game plan is consistent, who will execute it is not. Multiple guys will be in the mix at quarterback for Central Michigan, including Washington transfer Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Daniel Richardson and freshman Tyler Pape. Richardson went 3-1 in games he threw a pass in last season, throwing four touchdowns and two interceptions along the way. 

“It is a true competition that is on-going,” Skipper said to “I will tell you this, you will see multiple quarterbacks playing. That position we feel like we have a lot of talented guys there. Sometimes you’ve just got to wait ’til Saturday to see what happens.”

The backfield will be without Kobe Lewis, who tore his ACL practicing a couple weeks ago. However, redshirt freshman Lew Nichols III led the team in scrimmage yards last year and averaged 7.0 yards per touch. He’s set to pick up an even larger role without Lewis as his tandem partner. Junior running back Darius Bracy will also earn touches behind Nichols III, and they’ll both be needed to churn out yards for the Chippewas offense. 

Arguably Central Michigan’s biggest playmaker is Kalil Pimpleton, a 5’9”, 175-pound speedster who was seen running, catching and even throwing the ball last season. The Central Michigan offense can spread the field horizontally and vertically with Pimpleton, as he can beat defenders to the boundaries and create space for guys around him. Junior wideout Dallas Dixon, who averaged over 20 yards per catch in 2020, and senior wideout JaCorey Sullivan also return to forge a pass-catching trio that can stretch the field well. Dixon and Sullivan were the second and third-leading receivers behind Pimpleton last year,

Although CMU lost long-time offensive line starter Derek Smith to the transfer portal, Mizzou defensive coordinator Steve Wilks still spoke highly of the Chippewas’ offensive line.

“Those guys are solid,” he said. “They have veteran leadership up there with [Jamezz] Kimbrough, the center, who directs everything from a standpoint of protection and getting everybody in the right position.”

Defensively, 2020 MAC Defensive Player of the Year Troy Hairston will lead an impressive front. The senior made 12.5 tackles for loss with 5.5 sacks last season, and he brings special athleticism off the edge. Junior Amir Siddiq is also looking to make strides after making three sacks last year. At the linebacker position, Central Michigan returns its top two tacklers from 2020 in juniors George Douglas and Troy Brown, giving the defense strong continuity going into the season. Top secondary guys from 2020 also come back to bolster the unit, including the junior cornerback duo of Dishon McNary and Richard Bowens III.

“We’ve got our hands full,” said Drinkwitz. “Obviously, those guys have experience, but we’re going to need to play physical in the trenches and protect the quarterback if we’re going to move the ball effectively.”

Central Michigan is going to need to put up some points to compete with the strong Missouri offense, and the execution of the offense under multiple quarterbacks will determine whether or not the Chippewas can find a rhythm. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them rely on their proven playmakers in Nichols III and Pimpleton, but the Tigers’ defense is going to come in prepared. 

“We’ve got to be disciplined in the things that we’re doing,” said Wilks. “Assignment execution is going to be key for us, and fundamentals and technique, everything that we’ve been preaching.”

Action kicks off Saturday at Faurot Field at 3 p.m. If you’re not able to make it to the game, it will be televised on SEC Network. 

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