Potato Bowl Notebook: Chippewas Embrace The Challenge

CMU coach John Bonamego along with players (from left) Tyler Conklin, Amari Coleman and Joe Ostman address the media on Wednesday at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho.
Dec. 20, 2017

Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com

BOISE, Idaho – In less than 48 hours, the Central Michigan football team will square off with Wyoming in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Albertson’s Stadium on the Boise State campus.

On Wednesday, representatives of both teams met the media at the game’s official press conference.

The No. 1 question: Will Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen play? For the record, Allen said, the answer is yes. The junior, projected by some as a top-five pick in the NFL Draft, missed the Cowboys’ final two regular-season games, both of them losses, with an injury.

CMU coach John Bonamego said the Chippewas are preparing for whatever Wyoming (7-5) throws at them.

“You're always going to prepare for their best,” he said. “Really our attitude all season long has been to put the main focus on the things that we're in control of. The onus has been all season long more about us, what we can control, what we do versus who we're playing.”

CMU seniors Tyler Conklin, Amari Coleman and Joe Ostman also attended the press conference. Coleman, a cornerback, and Ostman, a defensive end, are leaders of a CMU defense that ranks 23rd nationally against the pass.

Coleman, who has three of CMU’s 19 interceptions this season – the Chippewas are tied for second in the nation in that category – said of facing an Allen-led Cowboy offense: “I look forward to it. It's a great opportunity for us to make plays, show that our play is validated. I feel like it's something we always want to do, make good plays on a good player.”

Ostman, who leads the nation with 1.2 sacks per game and ranks second with 12 sacks, agreed with Coleman, that the Chippewa defense embraces the challenge.

“Yeah, it's good to hear” that Allen is healthy enough to play, he said. “You never want to see anyone get injured. We also want to see their best. We're looking forward to the opportunity to play him; make life tough for him Friday night.”

CMU signal-caller
While Allen’s health and his reputation have garnered much of the pre-game attention, the Chippewas have a pretty fair signal-caller themselves in Shane Morris.

Morris, a graduate transfer from Michigan, has rather quietly put together a very efficient season in a year in which CMU (8-4) installed a new spread offense under first-year offensive coordinator Chris Ostrowsky.

Morris has thrown for 2,908 yards and 26 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. He has completed 55.5 percent of his passes. The Chippewas, who are riding a five-game win streak, have scored 41.2 points per game over that span, during which Morris has thrown 14 TD passes and just two interceptions.

“It's great to see him succeed after having a tough start to his career at Michigan,” said Conklin, a tight end who has 28 catches for 406 yards and five touchdowns despite missing the Chippewas’ first five games with an injury. “To come here, have one last chance, have the season he's had, help us reach the point we've reached as a team this year has been great.

“He's an exceptional quarterback with exceptional arm strength. Makes our offense better. I'm excited about it, happy for him. I'm excited to go out there as a team and get a win on Friday.”

Part of CMU’s late-season surge is due at least in part to Morris’ growing comfort in the offense. That, and the relative overall health of his receiving corps, has been key.

Bonamego pointed out the fact that both Conklin and Corey Willis, the Chippewas’ second-leading receiver, were injured early in the season (Willis missed three games) and CMU lost another starting wideout, sophomore Brandon Childress, to a season-ending injury just two games into the season.

“It was a changing cast the first five, six weeks of the season,” Bonamego said. “As things settled down for him, he's really taken his game to another level. A big part of that was confidence. But his ability to get us out of a bad play, get us into a good play, is something that he's done quite a bit. He's a competitive guy. You never feel like you're out of it with him.”

Because Morris is a graduate transfer, he did not have the benefit of spring practice and he joined the team in August. It was an adjustment for all involved.

“When you look at what he's done, what he's accomplished this year, especially at that position, I think it's really remarkable,” Bonamego said. “He came in, had to learn a new offense, learn his teammates, blend into a culture, make himself accessible and adopt our culture, really become accepted by the team.

“I think what he's been able to accomplish in a very short amount of time says a lot about his passion for the game, his intelligence and his talent.”

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