It’s the first conference game of the year for “Five Things We Learned,” so let’s try and set up the background here:
The Miami RedHawks (2-2, 1-0 MAC) came into Mt. Pleasant looking to rebound from a woeful fouth quarter against rival Cincinnatti in an emotion-ridden trophy game. It’s been an odd start to the season for the RedHawks, who many considered a dark horse in the MAC East coming into the season, as they’ve gone 1-2 in one-possession games thus far in the season.
Meanwhile, the Central Michigan Chippewas (2-2, 0-1 MAC) came in limping after two striaght Power Five road games, losing three of their top five receiving targets in the process, including playmakers Corey Willis and Brandon Childress. They hoped to show their home fans there’s still a competitor in the MAC West.
Let’s break down what we learned:
Gus Ragland is the man.
If Gus Ragland isn’t the early favorite for MAC East Offensive Player of the Year, I have no idea who is.
Ragland put on a spectacular show in Mt. Pleasant in front of a fairly decent crowd in nearly impossible conditions and did it with few mistakes. Ragland led the RedHawks to 346 first-half yards on offense and finished strong, completing 11-of-19 passes for 217 yards for two passing touchdowns and a 14-yard rushing touchdown of his own.
When Ragland is on fire, so is the rest of the team. Miami’s balanced look on offense overwhelmed the Chippewas and really ended the game before it could get properly started.
Amari Coleman is also for real.
There’s simply no other way to describe Amari Coleman other than “amazing.”
He’s a must-watch player when the Chippewas take the field and he proved his worth multiple times against Miami, bringing the crowd to its feet multiple times. Coleman returned a missed Samuel Sloman field goal 110 yards for a touchdown after catching it one handed with his left hand while spinning, evading multiple tacklers and swerving his way through coverage before it was ultimately called back for a roughing the holder penalty.
It was the second such play for Coleman on the day; earlier, he had a similar one-handed interception of Gus Ragland that was ultimately called back due to a block in the back. Coleman also finsihed with five tackles from the corner position and a quarterback hurry, showing his versatility on the field for the Chippewas.
The RedHawk defense dominated the Chippewas from the start.
The RedHawk defense, as talented as it has been over the past season, had a knack for giving up the lead late and finding ways to fall asleep with the game in hand. That knack showed itself last week and against Marshall as well two week prior.
That didn’t happen Saturday. The RedHawks only allowed 187 yards of offense for the Chippewas in the first half, and pitched a shutout in the second half. They rarely, if ever, really gave CMU’s offense a chance to breathe, with receivers often covered and the line forcing Shane Morris to make decisions faster than he would like to.
The work was well rewarded, as they intercepted CMU twice in the game and held the Chippewas to just 345 yards for the entire game. Add a blocked field goal and that makes for a great day on the defensive side.
Injuries have severely affected CMU’s pace of play on offense.
The Chippewas never looked quite set on offense, as coaches shuffled players in and out to try and find a compbination that worked, especially in the receiving corps.
Logan Hessbrook was announced out before the start of the game, leaving third-stringer Zach Crouch to start at the position. Berkley Edwards, primarily a punt returner and backup running back, was placed in the slot on multiple occasions in the game to provide a warm body.
But no matter what the Chippewas did, it didn’t seem to work. Morris finished 15-of-33 for 195 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, including one in the redzone which would have brought the Chips back to within seven points of the RedHawks in the second half. Tony Poljan saw limited reps, largely in a blowout capacity, going 4-of-5 for 24 yards.
The woes in the passing game extended out to the rushing game, as Jonathan Ward was limited to 56 yards as CMU’s leading rusher and starter Devon Spalding had one carry for no yards. Morris (33 yards and a touchdown) and Poljan (19 yards) were the number two and three rushers, repsectively.
The Chippewas hope at least one of Corey Willis, Tyler Conklin or Hessbrook can come back sooner rather than later to help anchor the passing game. (It’s also worth keeping an eye on Shane Morris’ non-throwing shoulder, which he injured in the loss.)
It’s too soon to tell what this means in the league standings.
At the end of the day, Miami and Ohio will be tied for first in the MAC East, while CMU and EMU will be tied for last in the MAC West. But that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.
CMU had to face Miami down essentially half their offense, so perhaps this performance isn’t indicative of what they can be going down the line. There’s opportunities for wins down the schedule for the Chips if they can 1) get healthy before they become irrelevant and 2) if they can take advantage of ebign full-strength when they do return to health.
A win early means a lot for Miami, as it looks more and more likely that The Battle of the Bricks will determine who comes out of the MAC East for the championship game. That said, they played a cross-divisional opponent and those games will ultimately mean more to them. It’s nice to have a win here, but they’re onto bigger challenges.