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Recap: Central Michigan respectably loses to Michigan State, 31-20

CMU led after the first quarter and made a mini second half comeback in a solid showing in East Lansing.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The odds were stacked against Central Michigan (1-4) in a difficult road matchup versus Michigan State (3-1), but the Chippewas were able to keep the score respectable in a 31-20 loss.

Central Michigan opened the game with one of its strongest offensive starts of the year. On the first play of the contest, quarterback Tommy Lazzaro connected with Brandon Childress for a 35-yard gain, making its way to Michigan State’s 30. Several short gains later, Bonamego elected to take the points instead of attempting a play on 4th-and-2. Michigan transfer kicker Ryan Tice split the uprights with a 40-yarder to boost the Chippewas to a 3-0 advantage.

It seemed unlikely the lead would hold for any longer than one Michigan State possession, but Central Michigan’s defense created play after play to stifle Brian Lewerke and the Spartans. After forcing a punt, the defense recorded its second stop of the afternoon as cornerback Sean Bunting intercepted Lewerke in the back of the end zone.

Unfortunately for the Chippewas, their offense was unable to build on the momentum, frequenting the three-and-out for the rest of the half. Central Michigan’s lead was sustained at the end of the first quarter, but Michigan State finally responded in the second.

Lazzaro threw a costly interception on a promising, 30-yard drive. Michigan State free safety David Dowell saw plenty of daylight after the turnover, earning 30 yards on his interception return to set the Spartans up in perfect field position.

Brian Lewerke ran a zone read near the end zone, sprinting untouched to the right sideline for a 3-yard score. Michigan State then won the field position battle on a series of punts, setting up an offensive drive in Central Michigan territory with a 7-3 lead. That drive would end in Lewerke’s second touchdown run of the day, occurring from five yards out.

A Lazzaro interception then set up the Spartans for an easy field goal before the half. Central Michigan’s defense was finally unable to hold the Spartans as the offense was doing no favors. Central Michigan entered the locker room down 17-3 in East Lansing after facing a shutout in the second frame.

Michigan State came out rolling to start the third with a 58-yard drive. A great chunk of yardage was obtained on a catch by star wideout Felton Davis III. This possession ended with a Connor Heyward touchdown run, and Michigan State seemingly locked up the game at 24-3. This lead eventually increased to 31-3, but Central Michigan showed maturity and poise at the finish.

The Chippewas, instead of folding, posted 17 unanswered points on the Spartans’ defense.

Lazzaro recorded the first touchdown of the day for the team with a 10-yard pass, and then, the Chippewas managed to snatch the ensuing onside kick. This possession resulted in Tice’s second 40-yarder of the game, cutting Michigan State’s lead to 31-13.

Central Michigan finished with some style points at the tail end of the fourth quarter. Bonamego unleashed some trickery, as Lazzaro tossed a backward lateral to running back Jonathan Ward. Ward then found a wide-open Tony Poljan — the team’s former starting quarterback — for a 29-yard score in the end zone.

Despite the mini comeback, Central Michigan still fell 31-20 in East Lansing. Considering the Spartans’ status of No. 21 in the AP Poll and factoring in Central Michigan’s 31-7 loss to Kansas, this should be labeled as a strong performance for the Chippewas. The defense did its job for most of the first half, but there are still questions to be answered on offense.

Running back Jonathan Ward was unable to produce anything in the backfield with 26 yards on eight attempts. Central Michigan’s rushing game particularly suffered, and accuracy through the air hasn’t been the Chippewas’ forté in 2018.

Central Michigan has reached the 6-win mark every season since 2012, earning bowl bids each season in the John Bonamego era. But things are not trending in the Chippewas’ direction after a 1-4 start. The team has already matched its regular season loss total from a year ago, as only MAC teams remain on the schedule.

Looking ahead, Central Michigan faces Buffalo in Mount Pleasant. The Bulls were the last remaining undefeated team in the conference before falling to Army 42-13, in a game concurrent with Michigan State vs. Central Michigan.