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Notre Dame Football: Central Michigan Chippewas Q&A with Hustle Belt

Let’s learn a whole heckuva lot from a certified Chippewa expert about Jim McElwain and his squad

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Hey youuuu guyyysssss!!!!!

I felt the need to grab your attention with one of the best lines of dialogue in cinematic history, because somehow it’s already Thursday morning once again, meaning it’s time to once again set our sights on a Notre Dame Fighting Irish football game coming up in just a couple sleeps.

As you all know, the Irish have stormed to 3-0 on the season behind a 143-30 point differential after playing a couple nice warm-up games and then passing their first real test of the season last weekend by exploding in the 4th quarter to win going away.

Now, with the toughest stretch of the schedule nearly upon us, Marcus Freeman’s squad first needs to play host to the Central Michigan Chippewas this weekend in a game they should win easily, but also a game in which it could be easy for a team of 18-24-year-olds to get caught looking ahead to Ohio State, @Duke, @Louisville, and USC in four consecutive weeks.

So, to do our part as fans in making sure we focus this weekend on beating the Chips, I figured we should reach out to someone who truly knows Jim McElwain’s team and program and can teach us some critical details about them as we head into Saturday afternoon’s contest. I of course got in touch with our good friends at Hustle Belt, SB Nation’s one-stop-shop for all things MACtion, and reconnected with James H. Jimenez, Editor and Team Manager at Hustle Belt and a CMU grad himself.

As expected, James provided us with some great insight into a program most of us probably haven’t thought much about since Dan LeFevour was under center.

Central Michigan University vs University of Akron Set Number: X82977 TK1 R4 F7

He took all our questions in stride to provide some excellent responses about Jim McElwain, the CMU offense and who the weapons to know are, and what strengths and weaknesses the Chips’ defense might have — all while also fielding our inquiries about Brian Kelly, the true center of the state of Michigan, chip power rankings, pornographic actress Brandi Love squaring off against Skechers spokesman Joe Montana when it comes to taking photos with fans, and much more!

With that said, let’s get to it — it’s Thursday and we really gotta get going if we’re gonna waste a huge chunk of the day thinking about college football, like we do every Thursday.


NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Washington State at Central Michigan Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

1. Jim McElwain is now in his 5th season as head coach of the Chippewas. How do Central Michigan fans feel about the job he’s done so far, and do you think he has this program on its way to being a consistent MAC contender? What’s the outlook for this current season?

James H. Jimenez (Hustle Belt): The answer to that question is a bit complicated. We have the expectation of being one of, if not the best MAC teams in football every season, so the standard is a division title, at minimum. Jim McElwain has done just that so far; he won the division outright in 2019 and then shared the honor in 2021 with NIU (who ended up going to Detroit on tiebreaker). The problem has been the in-between years. 2020 and 2022 were filled with strange personnel decisions and a lack of confidence in playcalling across the board. This team under McElwain and his staff is basically either firing on all cylinders or broken down on the side of the road, no real in-between.

So in respects to how the CMU fanbase generally feels about Jim McElwain, I’d say they might have hoped for more consistency after he came out swinging in 2019 with a roster which had gone 1-11 the year prior but generally, aren’t in a hurry to show him the door either. Besides, he signed a contract extension prior to the start of last season which wasn’t revealed until this past offseason, so we’ve got him for a bit regardless of his performance.

The jury is still out on the 2023 roster. They had some moments vs. Michigan State where they really flashed, but then you look over at the New Hampshire tape and they looked lost. There’s no denying the upside on this roster is there, it’s going to be a matter of finding it this season.


James H. Jimenez (Hustle Belt): Mount Middling?

This team was a total mystery in the offseason, as a lot of the names turned over on the offensive side and a defensive change necessitated some personnel changes as well. Through the first two games, I think I can reasonably say this is a very young team which doesn’t have a lot of experience with each other yet, and that as the season goes on, they should be a lot more comfortable with how it all works.

Right now, however, they’ve got a bit of a hill to climb.

3. Let’s talk about QB Bert Emanuel Jr. — what does he do well and what does he not do well? How should the Irish try to stop him this weekend?

James H. Jimenez (Hustle Belt): Bert Emanuel Jr. is an athlete, that’s the first thing to know about him. He has an innate sense of how to find gaps and run in space when toting the rock and has an arsenal of moves in the pocket to evade pressure. His big frame combined with his acceleration has posed major issues for defenses trying to cover him, especially at the second level of the defense.

The problems with Emanuel arise when he goes back to toss the ball. Emanuel is still learning how to do that at the FBS level; 2022 saw him throw four completions on eight attempts over four games, and in 2023 so far, he seems to be capping out at around 15-20 throws per game. This manifests itself in a lot of throws behind the receiver or screaming over the receiver’s heads, but when he’s really on, his ability to thread the ball exactly where it needs to go (especially on deep passes) is gorgeous.

If I’m the Irish, I roll the tape on the second half of the Michigan State game and watch what they were up to. Sparty found a way to effectively shut out Emanuel from what he liked to do best by sending pressure and ensuring he couldn’t escape the pocket. If you can ramp up his clock and force him past the first one or two reads, you’ve got him at this point in his development.

4. Who are the key weapons Emanuel will be distributing the ball to, and how has the CMU offensive line looked so far this season? Do you think they’re up to the challenge of giving the Irish defense some issues?

James H. Jimenez (Hustle Belt): Unfortunately for the framing of this question, these two parts are perhaps the weakest links of the CMU offense. In a curious move somewhat related to the concerns about Jim McElwain from earlier, there were no major moves made at receiver, tight end or offensive line despite a number of important departures. That can signal having faith in homegrown talent in the most optimistic lens, but could also signal a lack of care considering their peer institutions have aggressively portaled-in talent in recent years.

But back to the question at hand. Chris Parker has been the most obvious receiving threat, as he’s been the only real option on the outside for Emanuel to throw to. The Saginaw native sits at 142 receiving yards and a score on five receptions, leading the Chips in both games so far. You might see some safety valve passes to tight end Mitchel Collier as well, but otherwise, this team wants to run.

CMU will rotate a four-man crew in the run game, with the two main backs in Myles Bailey and Marion Lukes, while Missouri transfer BJ Harris and receiver convert Sam Hicks will also get looks in certain packages. CMU likes to try and get outside on you with Bailey and hit inside to Lukes and Harris, while Hicks is more of a receiving threat out of the backfield. They’ll run lots of two/three tight-end packages as well, so they want numbers up front to establish the line.

The line play itself could really use a lot of work. This was the area Jim McElwain talked about the most in the offseason, expressing how disappointed he was that they weren’t tough enough to win games. So far, I’ve noticed more of the same issues, especially as it relates to the tackles. Both Brayden Swartout and David Heinzen are still susceptible to basic moves and it shows, as the line has already given up six sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss in just two games. There’s still plenty of time for this to change, of course, but Notre Dame shouldn’t have any worries about getting popped in the mouth in that regard.

Central Michigan v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

5. Defensively, what is Central Michigan good at and what are their major weaknesses that ND offensive coordinator Gerad Parker should try to exploit? If CMU were to really cause some problems for ND defensively on Saturday, who are the guys who likely will lead that effort?

James H. Jimenez (Hustle Belt): This team is certainly a bit more built on the defensive side of the ball as compared to their offensive counterparts. Defensive coordinator Robb Akey will have this unit dialed up to 11 in terms of aggression for the front seven and cover in the back end to ensure guys can get home. CMU is a unit which thrives off of havoc numbers; they’re fine letting some plays slip by as long as they’re in position for a tackle-for-loss/sack or a turnover to get the ball back. They were profoundly unlucky last season in that sense, ranking 128th in the NCAA in turnover margin last year.

CMU’s best unit is its secondary. Donte Kent was a freshman All-American in his first season and grew into a first-team all-MAC corner in the next season coming off a season where he had 15 pass break-ups. Elijah Rikard has emerged as a disruptive force of his own on the opposite in the last few games, highlighting in the New Hampshire game with an interception (while another one in the end zone was called off due to offsides).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 01 Central Michigan at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

CMU also has a trio of safeties they like to employ who have shown pretty good coverage and tackle ability in Trey Jones III, Lavario Wiley and De’Javion Stepney. This team wants to press and jam at the line with their corners, while the safeties are primarily responsible for run support.

The weakness is in the linebackers. Kyle Moretti and Justin Whiteside are great at stuffing the running lanes (which they do fairly effectively!), but are also very easily taken to the cleaners in the passing game. CMU will often substitute an outside linebacker for a safety to try and shore up that coverage. Your buddy Mr. Parker should make note of that and attack it appropriately.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Central Michigan at Ball State Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Once again, if I were Notre Dame, I’d establish the line of scrimmage early to wear down the front seven, then start working the intermediate area of the field to soften up the linebackers and make the secondary worry about play action before breaking the top open with some clever route concepts. MSU figured out some ways at the end of the second quarter to break the outside corners and rack up mega-YAC. I’d recommend looking at that tape and going from there.


James H. Jimenez (Hustle Belt): Brian Kelly is a bit before my time as a student, so I don’t have like, extremely bold opinions about him or anything. His work as a coach to prop up Michigan college football at both Grand Valley State (D-II in Grand Rapids) and Central is commendable, having left both schools in a much better place than he found them. Michigan is a state that knows ball, and Kelly was a genuine football mind who created a new standard at both GVSU and CMU. I can respect the heck out of that.

Also, what he did to restore the golden dome’s shine at Notre Dame was genuinely impressive considering the Willingham and Weis eras before him. I do have to admit, though, that his aura is really strange and off-putting in a way I don’t like very much. Consider me whelmed.

Follow-Up Fan Question:

James H. Jimenez (Hustle Belt): With all due respect, you should be in the Big Ten, you cowards.

For real, though, I think many CMU fans see Notre Dame as on par with teams like U of M, MSU and OSU. There’s no question we’ll consider this a win on par with a win from those institutions. I grew up watching a lot of Notre Dame football because I was raised in a Good Catholic Family(tm) and am very aware of their history as a blue-blood institution. I am of the opinion Notre Dame is a program capable of making Playoff runs if their talent and coaching are aligned, but will always have a harder time of getting to those heights because of the things which uniquely apply to Notre Dame (i.e.: their independence).

I think they’d be better off not having a schedule alliance and barnstorming the best teams in the Group of Five while also scheduling old traditional rivalries for that national media glow and getting Power Five programs to schedule mid-season non-cons, but I understand why that isn’t possible in today’s day and age.


James H. Jimenez (Hustle Belt): Oh buddy, this is a can of worms I am always ready to open up at any time.

I grew up in northern Michigan, but many people also have a differing definition of what exactly that means. I have friends in the Detroit area who think that where *I* think is “central” Michigan is actually “northern” Michigan. Oh, and there’s also the “central” Michigan vs. “mid” Michigan debate as well. If you consider central to be literal, then the center of Michigan is the mid-point of the landmasses of the combined Upper and Lower Peninsulas. However, I don’t consider the U.P. to be part of Michigan in the traditional sense; that is its own animal. I think there is a very important and distinct difference between the two peninsulas, and that greatly complicates the definition of “central.”

Actually, let me draw out a map to illustrate what I mean:

Using this map, I’d define Central Michigan as any part of Michigan which meets these qualifications:

  • Is landlocked
  • Is below the “knuckles” of the Lower Peninsula
  • Is connected to one or more of I-75, I-69, M-10, M-27 or M-131
  • Is not directly parallel to Detroit on the map

TL;DR: Life is not black-and-white, but many shades of grey.


James H. Jimenez (Hustle Belt): I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I am not a big fan of chips as a concept.

Just something about ‘em that I don’t quite get along with. It’s probably mostly a texture thing to be truthful, I am very sensitive to certain foods like that. There’s also the issue of they’re not really that filling and if I’m eating, I want to feel sated. If I’m at a restaurant and the sandwich comes with chips instead of fries, I’m pretty disappointed.

That isn’t to say I don’t eat them at all, I certainly do. Just not something I reach for immediately; I’ve always preferred sweets over savories. For the purposes of this list, I’m not including snack mixes like Munchies or chip-adjacent offerings (like Funyuns or Butter Corn Pops.) All said, here’s five chips I enjoy in no particular order:

  • Sun Chips (Harvest Cheddar, French Onion, Original)
  • Doritos (Nacho only)
  • Great Lakes Kettle Chips (Cracked Black Pepper/Sea Salt/Onion or Michigan Cherry BBQ)
  • Better Made Special Krinkle Kut
  • Munchos Potato Crisps
Fan Controlled Football Season v2.0 - Championship Photo by Casey Sykes/Fan Controlled Football/Getty Images


James H. Jimenez (Hustle Belt): You’re welcome!


*Editor’s Note for Hustle Belt and for any CMU fans: ”the Backer” is a wonderful, gross little dive bar right by campus that I highly recommend if you like sticky floors, great music, and sweating a lot

Dinner With Dani Launch Party Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Dani Daniels

James H. Jimenez (Hustle Belt): Okay, a couple things: 1) is Joe Montana young enough to be going to that sort of place these days? I feel like you get to a certain age and you’re just kinda done hanging out in those sorts of scenes. I think just on principle, ol’ Joe would leave the game and go immediately to his hotel (assuming he traveled) or to his house (assuming he lives in South Bend) and pour himself a nice glass of his favorite beverage.

and 2) ... D—do the kids these days know who Brandi Love is?

Like, if they did know who she was, would they have the gumption to approach her in public and ask for her picture, knowing who she is? And even if you *did* gather up the gumption and get a picture with her, who are you going to show that to without having to explain who she is and where you know her from? It’s quite the conundrum (though, I’m sure she’d be more than happy to take a picture with you if you were polite enough and not a creepazoid).

11. Alright, let’s get down to it — who wins the game, what is the final score, and why do you think that?

James H. Jimenez (Hustle Belt): As much as some of my answers earlier and where I got my degree from denote I am quite the homer, I don’t really think CMU has a chance at pulling off the upset here in their current form. Notre Dame will be the toughest opponent CMU faces all season, and considering the struggling MSU Spartans found a way to break this team open, I have no doubts the Irish will do the same. The talent gap is simply too much.

I really don’t like score predictions; I stopped doing those in our preview sheets some years ago. But I think the kids these days love them some Gambling Considerations, so let’s look at the odds (as of submission). CMU is a 34-point dog, with an over/under of about 54.5, so oddsmakers project CMU to score... 20 points assuming it goes to plan. I am very skeptical they can reach that number unless they get the red carpet treatment or a few lucky balls their way. I know ND has something of a Peacock curse between Toledo and Marshall, but I honestly don’t see a way through for CMU unless something catastrophic and/or hilarious happens. CMU is just in too much of a rebuild right now to be able to compete with the likes of a Notre Dame as a plucky underdog.

I’ll choose them with my heart (and in our Hustle Belt Pin ‘Em Down, as per tradition), but you needn’t worry too much I think.


Alrighty folks, I want to end this with yet another massive shout-out and thank you to James for all his thoughtful and funny answers, complete with a super informative state map to help us understand the true meaning of “central” — he knows his stuff and I think we all feel much more informed entering this weekend, ready to take on this first-time opponent for the Irish.

I encourage you all to head over to the Hustle Belt site to check out the work of James and the rest of the staff over there, as they do a fantastic job covering an entire conference of teams and will have anything you need to know about the MAC heading into the weekend, and also throughout the rest of the season. Additionally, I highly recommend you toss the Hustle Belt Twitter some follows, as they’ll have any late-breaking updates about CMU and any other MAC team you might like to hear about (Eastern Michigan?!?!?! I’m looking at you, Joshua).

That does it for this week, y’all — per usual, GO IRISH, BEAT CHIPPEWAS!!!!!!