Getting to know: Central Michigan football
When the Kansas football team takes the field against Central Michigan on Saturday, the Jayhawks will be attempting to win back-to-back games for the first time since the start of the 2011 season.
Central Michigan opened the season with a thrilling 30-27 home victory over Rhode Island in triple overtime. The Chippewas raced out to a 13-0 lead at halftime and recorded six interceptions, but were forced into overtime after a couple of URI touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The Chippewas certainly committed their share of mistakes, which aided Rhode Island’s comeback bid, but KU coach David Beaty was impressed by CMU’s ability to keep focus on the next play.
“The thing that sticks out to me is even when a team is facing some adversity throughout a game and it doesn’t look like things are going their way that team kept playing,” Beaty said.
The Chippewas were picked to finish fifth in the MAC West in the preseason media poll. When the two schools met in 2014, the Jayhawks earned a 24-10 win.
BREAKING DOWN CENTRAL MICHIGAN:
Shane Morris (6-3, 210), a graduate transfer from Michigan, earned the starting nod last week — the third start of his collegiate career. The hard-throwing left-hander was 25 of 49 against Rhode Island last week for 226 yards, a touchdown and one interception. Morris added 32 rushing yards on seven attempts. Redshirt freshman Tony Poljan (6-7, 237) backs up Morris and will likely see time on the field in certain packages. Poljan was 3 of 5 last week for 27 yards, adding one rush for 11 yards.
The Chippewas averaged 4.9 yards per carry against Rhode Island with strong performances from sophomore Jonathan Ward (6-0, 194) and senior Devon Spalding (5-11, 210). Ward had 19 carries for 147 yards and a touchdown in his season debut, setting career highs in attempts and yards. Ward only had 200 yards and two scores during his true freshman season. Spalding, the team’s lead back last year, had 20 carries for 70 yards and a score last week. CMU is 5-0 in games where Spalding, a team captain, reaches 100 rushing yards.
One of Central Michigan’s top offensive weapons is senior receiver Corey Willis (5-10, 172), who has recorded a catch in 18 straight games. In the opener last week, Willis had a team-high eight receptions for 43 yards. Senior receiver Mark Chapman (6-0, 181), sophomore Brandon Childress (6-2, 195) and junior tight end Logan Hessbrook (6-3, 239) all had at least four catches last week including a TD by Childress. Chapman, who has recorded more than 500 yards in each of the last two years, had five catches for 88 yards. Tight end Tyler Conklin (6-4, 240), an NFL prospect, is out indefinitely after breaking a bone in his foot last month.
The Chippewas have plenty of experience on their offensive line through four returning senior starters: LT Joe Austin (6-6, 290), LG J.P. Quinn (6-4, 295), C Austin Doan (6-4, 294) and RT Derek Edwards (6-5, 305). Junior RG Shakir Carr (6-4, 320) started nine games last season on the offensive line. CMU ranked last in the MAC in rushing offense last year (115.9 yards per game) and 26th in the country in passing offense (276.1 yards per game).
Under first-year offensive coordinator Chris Ostrowsky, a former head coach at Northern Michigan, the Chippewas operate in a spread offense out of the shotgun with a goal of “stretching the field horizontally and vertically,” according to his team bio. Against Rhode Island, their offense ran 104 plays, accumulating 24 first downs and 499 total yards.
Senior defensive end Joe Ostman (6-3, 259) highlights CMU’s defensive line with his stellar pass-rushing skills. Ostman, who had eight sacks last year and earned all-MAC honors, had one tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry against Rhode Island. On the other side of Ostman is junior defensive end Mitch Stanitzek (6-4, 246), who missed most of last season because of injury. Senior defensive tackle Chris Kantzavelos (6-3, 285) highlights the interior after registering four tackles (one for loss) last week alongside sophomore defensive tackle D’Andre Dill (6-1, 310).
Malik Fountain (6-2, 240), a junior all-MAC selection, was one of the top linebackers in the conference last season after finishing with 92 tackles. He’s already off to a strong start with 10 tackles in the team’s opener versus Rhode Island. Junior linebacker Alex Briones (6-2, 226) set career highs last week with 11 tackles and his first career interception. Another linebacker, sophomore Carlos Clark (6-0, 225), had two tackles last week.
The Chippewas tied a program record last week, snagging six interceptions. That includes two picks each from senior safety Josh Cox (5-11, 197) and senior cornerback Amari Coleman (5-11, 188). Along with creating turnovers, Cox had eight tackles, three passes defended and one pass breakup last week. Coleman, an all-MAC pick, had four interceptions last year, returning two for scores. Senior safety Darwyn Kelly (6-0, 208) added an interception while sophomore Sean Bunting (6-1, 178) lines up at cornerback opposite of Coleman.
Under defensive coordinator Greg Colby, the Chippewas line up mostly out of their base 4-3 defense. Their cornerbacks aren’t afraid to play press coverage, although that hurt them against Rhode Island, allowing a couple of long pass plays. In 2016, CMU allowed 391.9 yards per game, which ranked fifth in the MAC.
Junior punter Jack Sheldon averaged 41.9 yards on his nine punts in last week’s opener vs. Rhode Island, including a long of 65. He had four punts pinned inside of the 20. Senior kicker Michael Armstrong went 3-of-4, missing on his only attempt longer than 40 yards. Senior Berkley Edwards (5-9, 195) returned the majority of kickoffs last week, while Amari Coleman returns punts.
The Chippewas ranked eighth in the country in 2016 with four defensive touchdowns, all from interceptions.
Kansas by 5.5. The over/under is set at 58.
At first glance, I thought the Jayhawks should’ve been a bigger favorite based on how KU won in a blowout over Rhode Island last year. Of course, the Jayhawks didn’t play perfect in their 38-16 win over SEMO, but I thought the offense showed its potential on some drives and the defense was solid.
Perhaps the biggest matchup to watch will be KU quarterback Peyton Bender against CMU’s secondary, which isn’t afraid to jump routes looking for interceptions.