2023 Week 1 Game Preview: Central Michigan Chippewas at Michigan State Spartans – Hustle Belt

The Central Michigan Chippewas (4-8 in 2022) and the Michigan State Spartans (5-7 in 2022) meet each other on Friday night in the midst of respective rebuild seasons coming off campaigns which were meant to be full of promise.

This opening week contest will be nationally televised, which presents an opportunity for both programs to make a statement about the direction they’re heading for the 2023 season— and by extension, their near futures.

Both Jim McElwain and Mel Tucker are in pivotal positions in their current builds, and it’s to be determined if they’re going in the right direction after disappointing ventures in the last campaign.

Therefore, the stakes are fairly intense in this one— even before considering the geographic rivalry shared between the two teams in all sports, as they’re separated by an hour’s drive down US-127.

Let’s dig into the respective previews for both teams:

Game notes

  • Time and date: Friday, September 1st at 7 p.m. ET
  • Network: Fox Sports 1 (A valid cable subscription is required.)
  • Location: Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan
  • Spread and over/under: Michigan State is favored by 14.5 points, with an O/U of 45.5, per DraftKings.
  • All-time series: MSU leads 8-3 in 11 contests, dating back to 1991.
  • Last meeting: MSU won after an unexpected first-half struggle by a margin of 31-20 on Sept. 29, 2018.
  • Current streak: MSU (4, 2011-present)

Getting to know the Spartans

Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Michigan State’s season fell apart at the seams in 2022, finishing 5-7 overall, including 3-6 in the Big Ten after a bizarre, tension-filled season. Their losses weren’t particularly close either, with six of their seven losses all by double-digits. It was a miserable result in a season where the Spartans had high expectations; they had gone 11-2 in 2021 and spirits were high enough where many prognosticators saw them in the mix with Michigan and Ohio State for the East Division.

Instead, the Spartans suffered major regression on both sides of the ball, plummeting into the low 90’s in total offense (353 yards per game) and was firmly in the lower third in the NCAA in total defense (416.5; 100th.)

Payton Thorne especially took a huge step back due in part to a bad pass block scheme, averaging 25 less yards per game in 2022 while also tossing more interceptions (11 to 10) and less touchdowns (19 to 27.) Thorne has since departed for Auburn after losing the starting job in camp to one of Noah Kim or Katin Houser. Both of those QBs will likely take their battle into Friday’s game.

In the backfield, MSU has a variety of options to choose from, but no one back has firmly taken hold. Jalen Berger is the returning starter after running for 683 yards and six touchdowns in 2022, but will have competition in the form of several transfer backs. Former UConn Huskie Nathan Carter (980 yards and three touchdowns in career) seems to be the media favorite to eventually earn the lead job, while former USF Bull Jaren Mangham’s leadership has been highlighted by the staff as a positive.

Keon Coleman is a crushing departure, as the uber-athletic receiver left for the sunny climes of Tallahassee in the offseason, leaving MSU searching for consistent talent on the outside. Fifth-year senior Tre Mosley (35 receptions, 359 yards, four touchdowns) is the leading returnee for the Spartans, with Montoris Foster Jr. (five receptions, 76 yards, one score) expected to return from injury, while tight end Malik Sims (16 rec., 209 yards, two scores) is expected to factor in.

The defense only returns four starters from last season, but that could be a positive considering how they performed last season. Cal Haladay (120 tackles, 11 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks) is back to patrol the heart of the defense alongside Jacoby Windmon (49 tackles, 10.5 tackles-for-loss, 5.5 sacks, one interception) and should make for a good foundation for a unit nursing in a bevy of transfers and underclassmen.

MSU was aggressive in the transfer portal to resolve the defensive line, picking up three down linemen in tackles Jarret Jackson (Florida State) and Dre Butler (Liberty) and edge rusher Tunmise Adeyele (Texas A&M.) Jackson and Butler are limited in stats (a combined 88 tackles over eight combined seasons), but make up for it in size, with Jackson at six-foot-six, 300 lbs. and Butler at six-foot-fie, 300 lbs. Adeyele was considered a top-20 transfer talent this offseason, with FBS size at six-foot-four, 294 lbs., and is expected to start or backup at all the line spots this season.

The secondary turns completely over, and will be a spot of intrigue once again, as Tuckers’ units have historically struggled at this position. The staff has a lot of belief in the true sophomore safety duo of Malik Spencer and Jaden Mangham, who earned the starting spots late in the 2022 season. Mangham in particular performed well, with 20 tackles in 229 snaps on defense.

MSU did not kick the ball well at all in 2022, going 6-of-12 on attempts, further exasperating an already bad situation on offense. They’ll be looking for a steady leg in camps, and that search will likely spill into the regular season as well. Sophomore Stephen Rusnak (5-of-6 on PATs; 0-of-1 on field goals) is the projected starter, with true freshman Yousef Obeid and North Carolina grad transfer Jonathan Kim (no career field goal attempts) expected to push. Punter also turns over after Bryan Baringer’s selection in the NFL Draft, with freshman Ryan Eckley and Ohio State grad transfer Michael O’Shauhnessy possibilities to start. Both players have one punt in their career, both going for 41 yards.

Getting to know the Chippewas

Jay McDowell (CMU Athletics)

CMU has a bit of a chip on their shoulder after the monumental disappointment which was the 2022 campaign.

The team hasn’t been afraid to tackle how they felt about last season’s efforts in interviews, with plenty of talk about handling adversity, not being tough enough and putting in work to show they’re building towards something.

Jim McElwain flatly called 2022 “unacceptable” and put blame squarely on himself for how the season played out, saying the team did not get “the best version of me.”

Suffice to say they’ll be out to prove something when they take the field on Friday night.

It’s still a bit of a mystery exactly how the offense will look going into the season given there’s been battles at every offensive skill position in spring and fall camps. McElwain intimated in his weekly press conference CMU will look to run lots of packages with multiple running backs and tight ends, specifically mentioning 13 and 23 packages could get a lot of use, an indication the team could depend on the run game early. The depth chart suggests this, as there are five (!) tight ends and six (!!!) running backs listed on the two-deeps.

Bert Emanuel Jr. and Jase Bauer will both likely see action at quarterback after splitting duties over the last four games of the 2022 season.

Emanuel introduced himself to the country with a flashy debut as a starter against Buffalo, becoming the first FBS quarterback since 2019 to surpass 200 rushing yards (293 rushing yards and three touchdowns) in a comeback win for the ages. He’s a run-first quarterback with great acceleration who struggles in the passing game (4-of-8 for 54 yards in four appearances.)

Bauer, meanwhile, is a dual-threat quarterback who was more proficient at passing the ball but less explosive of an athlete overall. Bauer finished 2022 with five total touchdowns (four rushing, one passing), but also turned the ball over at a rapid clip (five interceptions in 59 attempts.)

Marion Lukes (51 carries, 323 yards, three touchdowns) and Myles Bailey (32 carries, 176 yards) both return to the backfield after dealing with injuries over most of the previous season. BJ Harris transfers in from Missouri and former CMU receiver Sam Hicks converted over the offseason to give the Chips four backs to choose from. All four will likely have a role to play in the offense, as they all offer something unique.

Wide receiver will be a true mystery for the Chippewas. CMU lost seven of their top eight passcatchers over the offseason, so they’ll be really wanting for talent on the outside. Wisconsin transfer Steven Bracey Jr. won a starting job, and will start alongside two redshirt sophomores in Chris Parker and Tyson Davis, who have a combined seven receptions over their careers.

The defense is a little more settled in terms of how it looks, as it’s the side of the ball which has more established starters. CMU resorted to running a 4-2-5 at the tail end of last season due to necessity, but McElwain said in his weekly presser they made a lot of moves this offseason to try and shake things up.

The depth chart suggests a return to the base 4-3 defense, with Fernando Sanchez IV joining Kyle Moretti and Justin Whiteside in the heart of the defense, while Elijah Rikard has seemingly won a starting safety job over Jayden Davis, who saw lots of run as the “third” safety in 2022. He’ll start alongside leading interceptor Trey Jones, who was also second on the teams in tackles (85.)

Rising sophomore Kade Kostus, a former three-star recruit, was a shock addition to the starting lineup, as it was assumed Memphis transfer Maurice White would win the spot in camp. Standing at six-foot-two, 254 lbs., Kostus projects as an undersized edge rusher in the mold of Troy Hairston III. He did not play in his true freshman season.

Kostus will start alongside one of the most experienced defensive lines in the MAC, with Robi Stuart (25 starts in 50 appearances) and Jacques Bristol (31 starts in 45 appearances) manning the defensive tackle spots. Michael Heldman holds down the opposite end position after earning the spot early in 2022. He finished with 19 tackles, including 7.5 tackles-for-loss and a sack.

Donte Kent will be the name to look out for if you’re a Spartans fan; the cornerback from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was a revelation in 2022, building on a freshman All-American season by earning first-team all-MAC honors with a 51 tackle, 15 pass break-up (second in the MAC; ninth in the NCAA) performance.

CMU, much like MSU, struggled to placekick in 2022, kicking a collective 6-of-14 between two players. McElwain said the Chips will employ two kickers “depending on the situation” to start the season, though he wasn’t forthcoming with how that would look. Josh Rolston returns after going 1-of-3 on attempts in 2022, while Tristan Mattson transfers in from Arkansas State with no career attempts. Jake Walrath (career 40.2 yards per punt) transfers in from Tarleton State to replace the outgoing Luke Elzinga.

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