What’s old is new again.
The spread offense is making a return to Kelly/Short Stadium after an eight-year absence, a change which fans are largely receiving with welcome arms.
Fans got a chance to see the new-look offense for the first time at Saturday’s Spring Game in Mt. Pleasant and optimism abounds after a game that showed promise on both sides of the ball.
Gold began with possession and had a potential Tommy Lazzaro-led scoring drive squandered by a missed kick from 39 yards out.
Berkley Edwards, the transfer running back from Minnesota, opened up the scoring with a seven-yard scamper to put Maroon up 7-0 in the next possession, set up in part by a Poljan-to-Corey Willis 59-yard pass on the second play of the game for the Maroon side.
Gold was back on the attack after a few exchanged punts, with Lazzaro throwing a touchdown pass to Tyler Conklin, who caught the ball one-handed, to tie the game back up at 7-7.
Poljan threw an interception on the next drive on a passed ball to DaQuan Jamison and Jonathan Ward would convert that into a touchdown on the ensuing drive to take a 14-7 lead into the half for the Gold team.
Coming out of the break, Poljan connected with Hessbrook for a 39-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14 all. The Gold team responded with a 66-yard run by Kumehnnu Gwilly, the longest run of the day, to put Gold up 21-14.
Poljan struggled on the ensuing drive, getting stopped on three straight plays to force a three-and-out prior to the end of the third quarter. Maroon would eventually score on a one-yard Jay Roberson run to bring the score to 21-20. The two-point conversion failed and Gold went to victory formation to seal the game.
It was a defensive bonanza for the Chippewas, who totaled three interceptions on the day from DaQuan Jamison (Maroon), Sean Bunting (Maroon) and Tee’Ondre Harvey (Gold) on the day. Mitch Stanitzek and Trevor Thomas also registered sacks on the day.
Special teams also had some highlight-worthy moments, including a kickoff return touchdown by Amari Coleman that was called down by contact due to special kickoff rules and some stellar coffin-corner punting from Jack Sheldon.
Perhaps the most interesting takeaways from the Spring Game are the potential position battles, and there are plenty of them for the Chippewas.
- At quarterback, Coach John Bonamego has made it clear that it’s Poljan’s job to lose. Poljan wore a red non-contact jersey today, the only player on either team to do so. The other three quarterbacks that saw playing time received no such jersey. Shane Morris did not participate due to his still being enrolled at the University of Michigan, but the battle for QB1 is largely seen as between Morris, a left-hander with a five-star past, and Poljan, a prospect with abundant natural talent and a high ceiling. Lazzaro and Hergott are likely battling for emergency QB status.
- The running back stable is deep and should experience a resurgence in 2017. There was no emergent “winner” in the spring game, as four different backs scored on the day. It’s expected that Jonathan Ward or Devon Spalding will likely be the starter, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be the only options. Gwilly and Edwards showed great potential as rotation backs and Romello Ross is expected to return to action this year after an ACL tear sidelined him last season. The new spread-style offense that’s based on the run should utilize an impressively deep bench.
- It’s hard to figure out who the “other” wide receiver will be. Hessbrook and Conklin were excellent in today’s game from the tight end position and Conklin did get to go out wide in some of the formations, but outside of Corey Willis, there’s a lot of questions in the receiving corps. Brandon Childress went down with injury early. Jamil Sabbagh, Eric Cooper and Damon Terry are all rather inexperienced, having seen limited time last year.
- Tony Annese, a long-time starter at safety, graduated this past season, leaving a big hole in terms of talent and leadership. Otis Kearney and Sean Bunting, along with DaQuan Jamison and Tee’Ondre Harvey also expected to battle for that spot. Both Kearney and Bunting showed great potential in spot play last season.
- Kicking duties were an issue for the Chips last year. Brian Eavey had a less-than-ideal season in 2016, missing just under half of his kicks. Eavey has since graduated, leaving Kaden Keon, who took over kickoff duties from Eavey halfway through 2016, and Cooper Mojsiejenko, who split punting duties with Sheldon in 2016, battling for the placekicking position. Sheldon was the exclusive punter for both squads in the spring game, which all but means he’ll be the guy moving forward.
We’ll know a little more about the Chippewas when fall camps start up, but in terms of implementing a new offense, it looks like CMU is extremely comfortable running the spread offense. On defense, the Chips do not return a lot of experience but they do return great potential in some younger names.
What we do know is that a bunch of kids are about to have a very good dinner tonight.
Gold receives steak dinner for win. Maroon gets hot dogs. Stakes were high. Bonamego said 2-pt try at end cuz not enough steak for everyone.— Nate Schneider (@natejschneider) April 22, 2017
UPDATE: Here’s the highlights from the Spring Game for your viewing pleasure.