Senior receiver Corey Willis returned to the CMU lineup last week against Ohio.
Oct. 12, 2017
| CENTRAL MICHIGAN vs. TOLEDO
|3-3, 1-1 MAC
||4-1, 1-0 MAC
Saturday, Oct. 14 | 3:30 p.m.
Kelly/Shorts Stadium | Mount Pleasant, Mich.
Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Big game? They're all big, in John Bonamego's view.
Bonamego's Central Michigan football team will entertain Toledo in the Chippewas' homecoming game on Saturday in what could be a pivotal contest for CMU.
"They are all big from here on out," Bonamego said. "Each one of these games holds the same importance. They all count as one. This one is the most important because it is the next one."
Saturday's opponent, Toledo, was an overwhelming favorite to win the Mid-American Conference West Division and the MAC Championship Game in the preseason poll of media who cover the league. The Rockets are 4-1, 1-0 MAC. CMU is 3-3, 1-1.
Last week, the Chippewas went on the road and took an impressive 26-23 victory at Ohio, which was picked to win the East. That win snapped a three-game losing streak and in it, the Chippewas put on display what many have believed they are capable of.
It is no coincidence that the Chippewas came to life with the return of senior tight end Tyler Conklin, who made a splash in his first game of the season after being sidelined with a foot injury.
He caught 10 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, giving CMU a much-needed spark that seemed to ignite the entire team. He earned the John Mackey Tight End of the Week Award for his performance.
"You get a guy back, especially a guy like Tyler, he is an unbelievable player," said quarterback Shane Morris, who completed 25 of his 35 pass attempts for 249 yards against the Bobcats. "He's very motivated and energetic. He's everything you ask for in a senior captain."
Morris echoed the sentiments of his teammates and the Chippewa coaches in commenting on Conklin's impact. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder was on the Preseason Mackey Watch List. The end-of-the-season award goes to the top tight end in college football.
Morris, perhaps more than anybody associated with the Chippewas, can speak with authority on the subject. He spent the last four years at Michigan, where he was teammates with Jake Butt, last year's Mackey Award winner. Butt, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos, is working his way back from a knee injury.
"Jake's an excellent tight end and I think Tyler has the potential to be just as good as that," Morris said. "I haven't seen a better tight end in the country (than Conklin). He's going to have an excellent career here and he's going to play a lot on Sundays, I think."
Back in the fray
Conklin wasn't the only Chippewa pass-catcher to make his return against Ohio.
Senior wide receiver Corey Willis played against the Bobcats after sitting out three games with an injury. He was targeted just twice by Morris in the game, and instead served in more of a decoy role.
Clearly, his presence on the field made a difference, and will continue to make a difference as the Chippewas seek to regain a full arsenal of receiving weapons in their spread, up-tempo offense.
A healthy Willis and a healthy Conklin should, without question, open things up for CMU's other top pass-catching threat, Mark Chapman, as well as the run game.
"I think the guys that have filled in have performed admirably, but (Conklin and Willis) have a synergistic effect on the whole team," Bonamego said.
Help from the stands
Bonamego, as he has since he took over the program three years ago, stressed the importance that the home crowd can play at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. He said he has high hopes for a good turnout for Saturday's game.
"I think homecoming is going to be a great atmosphere in the stadium on Saturday," he said. "We feed off of our crowd. I think we have one of the best crowds, if not the best crowd in our conference."
Scouting the Rockets
Toledo has done nothing to dispel the predictions for a good season. The Rockets' lone loss came at Miami (Fla.), 52-30, two weeks ago. Toledo led that game at halftime, 16-10. The Hurricanes are now 4-0 and ranked 11th.
Toledo ranks first in the MAC and 15th nationally in total offense, averaging 501.2 yards per game. The Rockets lead the MAC and are 11th in the nation with 327.4 passing yards per game.
Quarterback Logan Woodside is first in the MAC in total offense (326.6 yards per game) and passing efficiency (163.4). CMU's Morris is second in total offense at 278.2 yards per game.
The Rockets lost senior wide receiver Cody Thompson to a season-ending injury last week in a 20-15 win over Eastern Michigan. Thompson leads the MAC with 107.4 yards in receptions per game. Last season, he caught four TD passes in the Rockets' 31-17 victory over the Chippewas.
Leading from the sidelines
CMU senior cornerback Amari Coleman is questionable for Saturday's game. Coleman sat out Saturday's game at Ohio after making 30 consecutive regular-season starts and establishing himself as one of the best corners in the MAC.
He did very little sitting, however, at Ohio's Peden Stadium. He was on the sideline throughout, stood in the team huddles during timeouts, and was right in the thick of it every time the defense came off the field.
"My role was to get everybody hype on the sidelines and try to prepare everybody for the game," said Coleman, who used his experience to relay information to the Chippewa defensive backs. "I see how the receivers are running their routes and the depth that they are running them, their tendencies. I just try to let (my teammates) know what to look for and whatever they can do to help guard the receiver."
Sophomore Da'Quaun Jamison drew his second career start in place of Coleman and finished with four tackles and a team-high two pass breakups.
Junior Zach Oakley filled in at punter for the injured Jack Sheldon at Ohio, and averaged 38 yards on three punts with a long of 50 yards. One of his punts was downed inside the Bobcat 20-yard line.
It marked the first time that Oakley has punted for the Chippewas since the 2015 Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit. He has adopted Sheldon's rugby-style punt, in which he takes a few steps to his right before striking the ball.
Oakley was recruited by CMU as a quarterback out of Penn High School in Osceola, Ind. and switched to safety before the 2016 season. He said he has been staying after practice to work on his technique and has received coaching from Sheldon.
"Just as long as the coaches have trust in me to do it, it puts confidence in me," he said. "It pays dividends to be prepared, and I am just trying to be prepared as best I can."
The Chippewas go to Ball State on Saturday, Oct. 21. The Cardinals (2-4, 0-2) are idle this week and have lost three consecutive games. They have been outscored, 86-6, in back-to-back road losses to Western Michigan and Akron.