Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Josh Cox called it, because he’s seen it before.
Cox, a senior defensive back on the Central Michigan football team, told quarterback Shane Morris before Saturday’s 45-27 win at Kansas that Morris would throw five touchdown passes.
Morris did indeed toss five TD passes, finishing the game with 467 yards on 28-of-37 passing in just his second start as a Chippewa. Morris earned the Mid-American Conference West Division Offensive Player of the Week Award.
“I don’t know why I told him he was going to throw five, I just knew that once he had confidence they won’t be able to stop him,” Cox said.
Cox, perhaps more than any of Morris’ teammates, knows of what he speaks. The two were teammates at De La Salle High School in suburban-Detroit’s Warren, graduating together in 2013.
They met as freshmen at De La Salle, and bonded quickly as they started alongside each other in the defense backfield, Cox at cornerback, Morris at safety; and on offense, where Morris, the quarterback, threw to Cox, a wideout.
“He’s a really good quarterback, I’ve seen it in high school – once he gains his confidence, the man just goes on a tear.” Cox said. “I just had a feeling he was going to have a really good game.”
Morris’ yardage total against the Jayhawks was the third-highest in program history, and his five TD passes tied for the third-most in a game by a Chippewa.
Morris also ran for 32 yards, giving him 499 yards in total offense, the fourth-best such game in program history. He did not throw an interception and was not sacked.
“The offensive line play was very good, the receiver play was very good, running backs, everything kind of clicking on all levels, it’s a huge confidence booster for the team,” Morris said. “Our defense is playing well, they’ve been playing well all year. It’s just the first and second week, obviously, but everything is coming together. It’s a big confidence booster for our team. And I think that if we carry that into Syracuse (on Saturday) and the next weeks after that, I think we’re going to have a really successful season.”
Morris was a highly touted recruit coming out of De La Salle and signed with Michigan, where he earned three letters while appearing in 15 career games, two of them starts. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sport management from U-M and, because he never had a redshirt year in Ann Arbor, was eligible to play at CMU as a grad student.
So far, all good, as he has led CMU to a 2-0 start. The Chippewas go to Syracuse on Saturday (3:30 p.m.).
“He’s been through a lot,” Cox said of Morris. “He’s worked for everything he’s gotten, and once he hit Michigan, I feel like he had obstacle after obstacle, so it was great seeing him be able to show off his arm and do his thing.
“I love seeing Shane be successful. He looked like he was having fun, just like in high school. It’s been a minute since I’ve seen him like that. If he keeps playing like that, we’re going to have a really good year.”
As one might expect when a team rolls up 590 yards in total offense, the quarterback wasn’t the only player to produce eye-popping numbers.
Senior wide receiver Mark Chapman set career highs in receptions (8) and receiving yards (168) in the victory at Kansas. His 75-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter was the longest reception of his career.
Corey Willis tied his career high with eight receptions against the Jayhawks, and he finished with 140 receiving yards, five shy of his career best.
“The chemistry with the quarterbacks and receivers is always really important,” CMU coach John Bonamego said. “I think the more guys play with one another, the more they practice, it develops over time. You can’t manufacture that. It kind of has to be earned through practice repetitions, and then the game is always a little bit different. No matter how hard you practice, game day is going to have a little bit different speed, different edge to it. The emotions are different, the energy is different, and I think playing in games now definitely helps that.”
Willis, a Second Team All-MAC selection last season, injured his wrist against the Jayhawks and will likely be out for four weeks, Bonamego said.
Bonamego said the silver lining is that it was a “clean break so he should heal with no side effects. It’s just a matter of how long it takes that bone to heal and we’ll go from there. The good thing is, we’ll get him back at some point during the year.”
Willis leads the Chippewas with 16 catches and is second with 183 receiving yards. Chapman leads CMU with 256 yards in receptions.
Another starting wideout, sophomore Brandon Childress, was injured at Kansas. Bonamego said on Tuesday he was unsure of Childress’ status.
Bonamego will turn to the depth chart for the likes of Cameron Cole, Damon Terry, Jamil Sabbagh and Eric Cooper.
“I think it’s just going to be more by committee,” he said. “Everybody has a role, we move on and whoever fills a role we expect them to execute and do the things necessary to help us win.”
Cox and Tyjuan Swain both recorded interceptions at Kansas, bringing the Chippewas’ season total to eight. CMU leads the nation in that category. Colorado State is second with seven.
Cox has three picks on the season, tying him with Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles of Arizona for first in the nation.
The Chippewas made six interceptions – tying the program record -- in the season-opening 30-27 triple-overtime victory over Rhode Island.
Topping the MAC
The Chippewa offense, a spread uptempo installed in the offseason and led by first-year coordinator Chris Ostrowsky, leads the MAC in passing yards per game (360) and total offense (544.5 yards per). The Chippewas rank 13th and 16th, nationally, in those categories.
CMU also leads the MAC in turnover margin (plus 3), which also ranks 16th in the country.