If you weren’t near a streaming screen or Twitter last night, you may have missed out on the first overtime game of the season.
Central Michigan allowed 14 fourth-quarter points by the Rhode Island Rams, forcing overtime. It took three of those extra periods for the game to shake out in the Chippewas’ favor, as they won 30-27, but they certainly didn’t look terribly ready through the course of the game.
Whether you followed along, listened on the radio or saw it for yourself, there’s a lot to learn from the game tape and box score for the Chippewas.
Shane Morris is the starter, for better or worse.
Shane Morris took the first snaps of the game and dominated the QB1 position from that point forward, as Tony Poljan went 3-for-5 for 27 yards passing and had 11 yards on the ground before fumbling in his only series of the game.
Poljan didn’t seem ready for his moment at QB1 and it showed, as Coach John Bonamego elected to keep Morris in the game in the closing moments despite his struggles.
Morris finished the night 25-for-49 for 226 yards, one touchdown and one interception, which aren’t bad numbers considering he hasn’t started a college football game in nearly three years.
Take out that context, and the numbers don’t really shine. Morris struggled with passes that went anywhere past 10 yards and often resorted to scrambling, rather than reading the field.
But CMU definitely seemed to respond to Morris being the man at the helm and he took responsibility for the near-loss after the game. It’s certainly not Morris’ fault that the Chips gave up 14 points in the fourth quarter, but moving forward, he’ll have to be a lot more accurate in the passing game if he hopes to lead the offense to its best potential.
Jonathan Ward was the player of the game for CMU
Devon Spalding will get the praise for scoring the winning touchdown in the third overtime, but it was thanks to Ward’s efforts that Spalding was in position to score begin with.
Ward led all rushers with 147 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, averaging an impresive 7.7 yards per carry in Thursday’s game, showing a burst and shiftiness that has been largely missing from the CMU rush in recent years.
Ward also reeled in two receptions for 17 yards, proving himself to be a veratile RB2 as Spalding struggled to get going (20 carries for 70 yards and one touchdown.) Ward’s play largely proved to be the big difference for the Chippewa offense, as his late touchdown put the lead at 21-7 in the fourth quarter.
Ward was the dominant ball carrier in the fourth quarter and overtime periods as the coaches decided to go with the hot hand. It’ll be intersting to see if Ward gets more playing time or even supplants Spalding as RB1 in the weeks ahead.
Alex Briones will be a name to watch for CMU this season
Briones hasn’t really seen the field much as a Chip thus far in his career, but he certainly made the best of his first start at the outside linebacker spot on Thursday.
Briones collected 11 tackles (tying the game high,) two tackles-for-loss and a sack against the Rams, proving himself capable as a starting linebacker. He even collected an interception in coverage. Coaches were hyping Briones during fall camps and at least for one night, they were proven right.
He, along with Malik Fountain (10 tackles,) will certainly make a duo which pads the stat sheets and fly around the field, especially with the defensive front struggling to produce any pressure.
The defensive line must improve its level of play
Part of the reason Rhode Island was able to stay in the game was because of a lack of pressure from the defensive line.
Chris Kantavelos seems to have secured his place as a defensive tackle after collecting three tackles and a tackle-for-loss, but the rest of the line didn’t really produce all that well, combining for six tackles on the night. Mike Danna and Joe Ostman had a decent night from the defensive end spots, managing three quarterback hurries on the night. But the issue still stands: there was only one sack on the night and that was courtesy of a linebacker.
If this is the level of play the defensive line continues to play at as the schedule gets tougher, it’s going to be a long season for the Chippewas defense and especially the secondary, which runs young and shallow despite some top talent at the skill positions.
The secondary will be the most exciting position group to watch
It’s not every day you notch six interceptions in one game, no matter the level of competition, but that’s exactly what the Chippewas did on Thursday night, tying a record that was first made 27 years ago.
Amari Coleman and Josh Cox collected two interceptions apiece, while Illinois transfer Darwyn Kelly got his first interception as a Chippewa with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter to set the mark.
The propensity for the ball is certainly a boon for the Chippewas and the move for Cox from cornerback to safety has proven to be a good personnel decision so far, as he collected eight tackles Thursday.
That said, the Chippewas are still allowing a lot of big plays unanswered. The secondary allowed 14 points in the fourth quarter and two touchdowns of over 50 yards in the game as a whole, including an 80-yard scamper by Marven Beauveis.
The 14-yard Tyler Harris-to-Aaron Parker score which tied the game was the result of lackadasical coverage by the safety and a corner who bit on a different route. It was a defensive breakdown that will hopefully be ironed out before the tilt against Kansas.
Regardless, the secondary will be perhaps the best position group CMU will have to offer this fall and watching its development, especially fo some of its younger names, will be fun to watch for fans.