Fans and pundits alike had a lot of questions about the Central Michigan Chippewas coming out of the game against Rhode Island last Thursday and deservedly so after a lackluster performance that nearly saw CMU lose in 3OT to an FCS squad at home.
The new offense appeared to stutter and the defense, which kept CMU in the game, also got burned multiple times to allow the Rams to make the upset bid. It seemed, last week at least, there would be a lot of fixes to be made and a long season ahead for fans of the Maroon and Gold.
Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium disposed a lot of those worries, as the Chippewas offense came alive in a 45-27 drubbing of the hapless Kansas Jayhawks. THe defense also had a great day, adding two more picks to its interception totals.
Now, CMU stands at 2-0 coming into their match against Syracuse (1-1) on the road in the Carrier Dome. So for those who didn’t watch the game, what should you learn from it?
“Sugar” Shane Morris looked a lot better.
Last week, Morris looked what could best be described as “pedestrian,” after an uneven performance which saw him throw for one touchdown and one interception on approximately 50 percent passing.
That certainly wasn’t the case this week in Lawrence, as Morris passed for not one, not two, not three but five touchdowns against the Jayhawks defense. He looked every part the 4/5 star prospect that arrived at Michigan in 2011 on the field, slicing apart the Jayhawks for 499 total yards (including 467 passing yards) and threw zero interceptions.
Morris wasn’t always surgical; a few of his passes, though laser-fast and strong, would find themselves overthrown or underthrown to their intended targets. That said, when Morris was on, he was on. The 47-yard Hessbrook connection was especially an example of that sweet arm Morris was known for coming out of high school.
It’s certainly the hope of the CMU fanbase he can bottle this performance and keep it going over the rest of the season.
The offensive line is still a work-in-progress, but did its job this week.
The Chippewa coaching staff re-evaluated its offensive line set-up over the past week, deciding to move around some pieces to try and get some more consistency out of the unit.
JP Quinn moved from guard to center, while Logan Slaughter took over Quinn’s old guard spot and Austin Doan, the former center, was relegatede to the bench.
There were some initial struggles, including a few botched snaps and some early miscommunication on the right side of the line, where the changes were made. Run protection could use a bit of help, as the Chips rushed for only 99 yards between its two rotation backs (Jonathan Ward and Devon Spalding) and Morri, while giving up 4.5 tackles for loss.
But the line got its act together and ultimately allowed zero sacks and only one quarterback hurry in pass protection. It can be safely assumed the line that played against Kansas will be the lineup moving forward this season.
The defense showed great signs of improvement.
It’s one thing to get six interceptions against an FCS squad, but it’s another to get two interceptions while keeping the quarterback to 32-of-62 passing and no touchdowns. (Yes, it’s against Kansas, but they’re still a Big 12 team.)
Kansas is attempting to employ a new Air Raid offense, similar to the spread and Air Raid formations employed in the MAC, so it’s encouraging to see a great performance. Outside of the start of the second half, where the defense allowed 14 unanswered points, the Chippewas employed a bend-but-not-break philosophy of defense that proved to win out the day.
Sam Bunting especailly had a great day at corner, limiting targets to his side of the field. Josh Cox nabbed his third interception on the year form the safety position, while Zach Oakley also collected a pick late.
Alex Briones once again collected 10 tackles, all of them solo, to lead the Chippewas, including a touchdown-saving tackle in the open field. Da’Quaun Jamison forced a fumble in the redzone and Malik Fountain recovered it as well, stopping a potential scoring drive. Joe Ostman collected a sack and two tackles for loss, proving to be a nuisance for the Jayhawks offensive line.
Coming into the game against Syracuse, which struggled in a loss to Middle Tennessee State last week, this is an encouraging sign.
Special teams could use some work this week.
The kicking and punting units for Central were wonderful in this game, as Jack Sheldon managed to pin the Jayhawks back deep with enthusiasm, including a beautiful 57-yard coffin-corner punt that forced the Jayhawks to start at their own one-yard line.
Sheldon overall finished with a 45 yard punt average on five boots, while Armstrong was good on six PAT’s and his lone field goal attempt.
Where CMU could use some work is in the punt return unit.
Amari Coleman took multiple questionable returns, including fielding a punt at the one-yard line and muffing another punt return after the ball appeared to have touched a blocker, resulting in a fumble recovery by Kansas.
That play in particular was concerning, since the Chips appeared to be attempting to surround the ball to prevent Kansas from touhing it. Normally, in that situation, one would just let it roll, so it’s confuding as to why blockers were so close to the ball enough to be touched in the first place.
Coach Bonamego, an old special teams coach at the professional level, will surely revisit the fundamentals of kick and punt returns this week, just to make sure mistakes like that don’t happen again.
Look out for potential injuries.
The victory against Kansas was great for the Chippewas, but there were several injuries suffered that could have an adverse effect moving forward, especially if they’re serious.
Corey Willis and Brandon Childress, two of three of CMU’s starting receivers, both left with significant injuries during the game, which will certainly test depth at that position.
Below Childress and Willis are a lot of inexperienced receivers, including Cameron Cole (who collected his first career reception Saturday) and Eric Cooper, a senior who has dealt with injuries throughout his career. Jonathan Ward saw some time as a slot receiver after the Childress injury, so coaches will have to review their depth charts at all thre receiver spots.
Damon Terry, Cooper, Cole and Bailey Edwards could see some time at receiver if Willis or Childress are out for an extended time. CMU seemed to perform all right without the two receivers, but that was on a short-term basis. We’re yet to really know if the ofene can absorb such a hit.