McElwain returns to Florida as Central Michigan visits Miami

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              Central Michigan head coach Jim McElwain watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — The last time Central Michigan’s Jim McElwain coached a game in the state of Florida, it was a disaster.

His return might not be much easier.

Central Michigan (2-1) is a four-touchdown underdog for its matchup Saturday at Miami (1-2), and McElwain knows this will be a daunting test for his team. Saturday will be the first time that he’ll coach in the Sunshine State since Oct. 28, 2017, when he and Florida lost 42-7 to Georgia one day before the Gators fired him midway through his third season.

“I love Florida and the people there and bringing our team into Miami against a team like that, it’s going to be tough,” McElwain said. “But you know what? Our guys are up for it and excited to get back there. We’ve got quite a few kids from the state on the team and I know they’re excited to get back and show their family and friends what they’re doing up here at Central Michigan.”

Both teams are coming off easy wins last week. Miami rolled past Bethune-Cookman 63-0, and Central Michigan — which was winless in Mid-American Conference play last season — opened its league slate with a 45-24 win over Akron.

Miami coach Manny Diaz sees parallels between his team and the Chippewas.

“Central Michigan is, like us, a new staff,” Diaz said. “Game 3, it felt like they played their best game. It’s kind of the same thing, they’re finding their sea legs in all three phases. Obviously, we know with Jim McElwain, they’re going to have a well-designed offense.”

But even McElwain freely acknowledges that this trip won’t be an easy one.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” McElwain said. “Coach Diaz is an unbelievable coach. Known him for a long time.”

Here’s some of what to know about this game, the first meeting between the schools:

GOOD START

Miami quarterback Jarren Williams has thrown six touchdown passes so far, with zero interceptions and a completion rate of 73.9%. The only other quarterbacks in the country to have that many TDs with no interceptions and that good a completion percentage entering the weekend games are Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and his former teammate, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts. All three have been coached by Miami offensive coordinator Dan Enos, the former Alabama coordinator.

WELCOME TO FLORIDA

Central Michigan has played three games in the state of Florida — going 0-3, and getting outscored 168-29 in those contests. It lost 82-6 at Florida in 1997, 31-13 at UCF in 2003 and 55-10 to Tulsa at the Miami Beach Bowl in 2016. Central Michigan is 0-3 against Florida schools, adding in a 24-21 loss to Florida Atlantic in the 2008 Motor City Bowl.

HELLO AGAIN

Enos was Central Michigan’s coach from 2010-14, going 26-36 in those five seasons. Miami offensive line coach Butch Barry — who played at Central Michigan and graduated from there in 2001 — was on Enos’ staff for all five of those years, first as tight ends coach and later offensive line coach. And Hurricanes wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield held that same role at CMU in 2011.

KICKING WOES

The Hurricanes are hoping kicker Bubba Baxa finds his stride. He’s 4 for 8 on field goal tries so far this season, including a miss from 30 yards or less in each of Miami’s first three games. Baxa started the year 2 for 2, and is 2 for 6 since. Miami is one of four teams to enter this weekend having missed at least four field goals so far this season, joining Hawaii (five), Nebraska (four) and Colorado State (four).

SEPTEMBER HEAT

Miami hasn’t lost a home game in August or September since 2011, going 18-0 in those games since — winning by an average score of 45-13. The Hurricanes are off next week, so this will be their final September home game of 2019.