Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Losing will grind on a coach. How that loss comes will cause them to lose sleep.
Central Michigan coach John Bonamego was complimentary toward Miami (Ohio) after his Chippewas fell to the RedHawks, 31-14, in their Mid-American Conference opener on Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
But as is the convention with football coaches, Bonamego and his coaching staff will focus internally -- what went wrong, why and how to correct it -- as they prepare for next week’s nonconference game at Boston College.
Topping the list? Getting off to a better start. Miami went on two long first-quarter scoring drives in putting the Chippewas in a 14-0 hole. CMU responded with a touchdown to cut its deficit to 14-7, but Miami answered almost immediately, upping its lead to 21-7 with a TD just over a minute later.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to start faster offensively certainly, you don’t want to go into any game and spot somebody 14 points, it’s just not a good formula for winning football,” Bonamego said.
The Chippewas trailed, 28-14, at halftime, and held Miami to just three points in the second half.
“I’m proud of the fight that our team showed in the second half, especially defensively holding Miami to three points,” Bonamego said. “I’m not happy with the end result, none of us are, but the fact that they fought their tails off to the very end, the defense showed up. … Our defensive responded, but we can’t spot a team 28 points.”
The Chippewas had plenty of chances to draw closer, but they continually shot themselves in the foot.
Miami blocked a CMU field goal attempt in the first quarter, and twice the Chippewas drove to the RedHawks’ 5-yard line but came away empty, the first time on an interception, the second time when they turned it over on downs.
In addition, the Chippewa defense turned in two potentially game-changing plays that were nullified by penalties.
With time running out in the first half, Miami attempted a long field goal that was short. CMU’s Amari Coleman caught the ball in the end zone, then went on a dazzling 100-yard return for an apparent touchdown. The play was called back when CMU defensive lineman Joe Ostman was flagged for leveraging, which is standing on an offensive player in an attempt to block a kick.
Coleman also returned an interception deep into Miami territory, but that play was wiped out by a roughing-the-passer penalty on CMU’s Mitch Stanitzek. Two plays later, Miami scored to extend its lead to 28-7.
“There’s a lot of what-ifs in this game,” Bonamego said. “What if Amari’s return hadn’t gotten called back? What if his interception hadn’t gotten called back?”
Ostman, a senior captain, took full responsibility for the leveraging penalty.
“I took seven points off the board for our team,” he said. “Amari made a great play, probably one of the best plays you’ll see all year, and the penalty was on me. We don’t teach what I did, there’s no excuse; (the blocker) went low and I tried to jump over top of him. I personally hurt our team tremendously and I take full responsibility for that.”
CMU senior wide receiver Eric Cooper led the Chippewa pass catchers with six receptions for 81 yards, both career highs. He caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Shane Morris.
It was Cooper’s second career TD. His first came in a 51-14 victory over Buffalo on Oct. 17, 2015.
Cooper is one of a number of players who have stepped up in a Chippewa receiving corps that has been decimated by injuries early in the season.
CMU was again without three starters in the group – wideouts Corey Willis and Brandon Childress, and tight end Tyler Conklin – and they were furthered hindered by the absence of tight end Logan Hessbrook, who sat out with an undisclosed injury. Hessbrook, a sophomore transfer from Saginaw Valley State, had started CMU’s first three games and logged 132 yards and a TD on 10 catches.
“Boston College isn’t going to feel sorry for us because we don’t have Hessbrook, or Conklin, or Willis, or Childress -- they just won’t,” Bonamego said of next week’s opponent. “The guys that are coming up, they just have to make the most of their opportunities. We have to try to find creative ways to get different combinations of people in the game.”
Quarterback Tony Poljan completed 4-of-5 passes for 24 yards in relief of starter Shane Morris.
Poljan, a redshirt freshman, battled Morris throughout training camp for the starting quarterback job and Bonamego has made it a point of emphasis to get his backup as many game repetitions as possible.
Ostman led the Chippewas with eight tackles including two sacks, while linebacker Malik Fountain made six stops.
The Chippewas did not record an interception for the first time this season. They entered the weekend second in the nation with nine picks.
Ostman has 17 career sacks, tying him with Bubba Hester (1994-96) for sixth on CMU’s career list.
Morris completed 15-of-33 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception. He added 33 yards rushing on seven carries.
“I think overall Shane played a pretty solid game,” Bonamego said. “He had a couple nice decisions where he pulled the ball down and ran it. We probably didn’t have as many drops as we did a week ago, but we still had a few of those and we have to help him out. We have to catch the balls that are catchable.”
Ostman, on keeping the Chippewas focused after their second straight loss: “It definitely hurts, there’s no doubt about it, but adversity comes in the season and we have to know that and how to deal with it. Me and the other seniors have been around long enough to know that tough times are going to come, but what we have to do is stay together as a team, rely on each other, trust each other, and go back to work together and bounce back, that’s all we can do at this point.”