Central Michigan got its first victory last weekend by knocking off Maine, one of the top teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The next step for the rebuilding Chippewas will be seeing if they can knock off one of the teams in the Big Ten when they travel to Michigan State for a noon kickoff on Saturday.
“Any time you have a chance to play a Big Ten team or any of the Power Five or the autonomous conferences, it's always a challenge for all of us here in the (Mid-American Conference),” Central Michigan coach John Bonamego said, “and it's something that we gear up for.”
The Chippewas (1-3) have geared up for it in the past with three victories at Spartan Stadium, the last coming in 2009. But it might be tough to get that next win this time around as the Chippewas are young and are winless this season against FBS competition.
Central Michigan lost the opener at Kentucky before losing at home to Kansas, a team that ended a 46-game road losing streak by knocking off the Chippewas. A loss the next week to MAC foe Northern Illinois preceded the win over Maine.
Now, things get ramped up even more as No. 21 Michigan State (2-1, 1-0 Big Ten) is coming off a victory at Indiana.
“They're a very good football team," Bonamego said. “They certainly have our attention. We've got one win and a young football team and we're going to just try to just execute the things that we're capable of doing.”
What they’ve been capable of to this point might give them a favorable matchup against the Spartans. Central Michigan is allowing almost 200 yards a game on the ground, an area the Spartans have struggled this season.
Where Michigan State has excelled is through the air as quarterback Brian Lewerke is taking advantage of veteran receivers Felton Davis, Darrell Stewart Jr. and Cody White while freshman Jalen Nailor is starting to emerge as well. The good news for Central Michigan is the fact it is allowing only 140 yards a game through the air, fifth-best in the country.
“They’re a very talented group all the way across the board,” Bonamego said. “They do a very nice job of mixing run and pass. I'm impressed watching their offense, not just who they're doing it with but the things that they're doing. They make you defend a lot of different things and they do a lot of things to feature the people that they have.
“They've got the ability to be a very explosive offense, and we're going to have to do a great job of communicating, getting lined up and getting to the football and tackling in space and staying close enough with some of these guys to tackle them. We've got our work cut out for us.”
The biggest challenge for Central Michigan will be getting its offense moving. The Chippewas are 128th out of 129 teams in the nation in total offense, averaging 258.5 yards a game. They’re 111th in the nation in rushing offense (120 yards) — a poor matchup considering MSU is No. 1 in the country in stopping the run by allowing a meager 32.7 yards per game — while they’re 121st in passing offense (138.5 yards).
And Central Michigan made a quarterback change after junior Tommy Lazzaro got his first start last week in place of sophomore Tony Poljan.
Bonamego said he likes the way Lazzaro can move in the pocket and keep plays alive, something he hope helps against a Michigan State defense that has had its issues against the pass, giving up 323.7 yards a game through the air.
But Bonamego isn’t putting much stock in the early numbers. He knows the Chippewas offense will need to play better than it has this season.
“They're outstanding," Bonamego said of Michigan State’s defense. “They've played some really good passing teams, some teams that have got both good triggermen and explosive receiving talent.”
Central Michigan at Michigan State
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Records: Central Michigan 1-3, Michigan State 2-1
Line: MSU by 27