Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Certainly, John Bonamego would like to have gotten a win or two more out of the first five weeks of the season.
But as the third-year Central Michigan football coach sees it, everything the 2-3 Chippewas want to accomplish is out there for the taking.
The Chippewas re-enter Mid-American Conference play on Saturday at Ohio. The Bobcats are 4-1 and have won three consecutive games, which the Chippewas are looking to snap a three-game losing skid. CMU is 0-1 in the MAC, Ohio is 1-0.
CMU was the only MAC team to have played three games this season against opponents from Power 5 conferences. They finished 1-2 in those games, beating Kansas and losing to both Syracuse and to Boston College. All three of those games were on the road.
"I think our nonconference schedule has been good for us," Bonamego said. "Those were good games for us and we were in all of them. We had our opportunities to win those games. Those experiences should serve to give us confidence, it should harden us, it should solidify our resolve.
"We feel really good about where we're at. we know we're not nearly as good as we can be, but we feel like we've got a good foundation to build off of." Most glaring about the Bobcats is their offense: They are averaging 41.4 points per game, which ranks 14th nationally, and twice they have scored at least 58 points. In terms of total offense, however, the Chippewas and Bobcats are nearly dead even: CMU averages 422.4 yards per game; Ohio 421.4.
Back to Beantown
The difference in CMU's 28-8 loss at Boston College on Saturday was pretty clear: special teams, specifically punt returns by the Eagles.
Three Boston College touchdowns were set up by long punt returns, and Bonamego said punt coverage is among the major points of emphasis this week in practice.
"It's always an emphasis and it's an area through the first four games we were outstanding -- we were in the top 10 in the country," he said.
CMU punter Jack Sheldon average 40.6 yards per punt -- against the Eagles.
"Jack (Sheldon) is a big part of that," Bonamego said. "Just like on offense, where your success runs through your quarterback. The coverage units' success runs through your kicker and punter. In that particular game, I'm not singling Jack out, but he had three bad punts. He didn't do it on purpose. He isn't trying to do it. The ball just didn't go where he was trying to place it. They were low, and they were right to the returner. If you put your coverage in that position, it's tough. We should have been better. Now you have to look at what the key factors are, and how do you avoid them."
Poljan on the field
Chippewa redshirt freshman quarterback Tony Poljan caught three passes for a team-high 61 yards against Boston College. Bonamego has made it clear that he plans to keep Poljan involved in the offense, whether the 6-foot-7, 237-pounder is throwing it or catching it.
"Talented athlete, great competitor," Bonamego said. "He's here to play quarterback. Winning football teams find a way to get their best players on the field. If he can help us in certain situations, then we're going to do that. the more ways that we can get him involved in things that can help us, we're going to continue."
Poljan said that his catches against Boston College were his first since his freshman year on the junior varsity team at Lansing Catholic High School.
"They just said, `lineup there and run,'" said Poljan, who developed into a standout at quarterback and also as a basketball player in high school. "I jumped over a kid and caught it. I played a lot of basketball in high school so yeah, I would say it's equivalent to going up and getting a rebound."
Bonamego was coy about the potential return of several injured Chippewas, including the likes of tight ends Tyler Conklin and Logan Hessbrook and wide receiver Corey Willis.
"We'll see," Bonamego said when asked about their status.
Bonamego said the Ohio game is a fresh start of sorts for the Chippewas. They opened MAC play two weeks ago with a 31-14 loss to Miami (Ohio). The remainder of the games on the schedule are all conference contests. CMU returns home next week to play Toledo. It is the Chippewas' homecoming game.
"We control our own destiny and there are a lot of things, if you look at it, that are self-inflicted and correctable," he said. "If we can just continue to work on it, continue to commit ourselves to the process. there's never any guarantees, but that's the only way you're going to get back on track."
Scouting the Bobcats Ohio leads the MAC in rushing yards per game (216) and in first downs (111). They are in the top three in scoring offense, rushing defense (122 yards per game), total offense, third-down conversions (47 percent) and penalty yards per game (49).
Ohio running back A.J. Oullette ranks 22nd in the nation with 468 rushing yards.
Frank Solich is in his 13th season as Ohio's head coach, and he has turned the Bobcats into a consistent winner, and an annual contender for the MAC East title.
"I have tremendous respect for coach Solich," Bonamego said. "I don't think there's a coach in the country that I respect more. it really is a program that you look at as kind of the standard, what we're building towards.
"They recruit well and they do a good job of developing their players. They have a true program from top to bottom. We've had really close games, good games with them in the past. This will be a great test for us."
CMU is 24-5-2 all-time against Ohio, and has won seven of the last eight meetings, including 27-20 last season at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.