Ready for MSU? Lazzaro delivers first win; CMU must improve before Michigan State

Sophomore defensive back Alonzo McCoy jumps in the air after a defensive stop against Maine on Sept. 22 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

A 17-5 victory over the University of Maine, an FCS opponent, is going to be quickly forgotten by the Central Michigan football team.

That’s because Michigan State is officially on the clock. 

While the Chippewas (1-3) finally got in the win column on Sept. 22 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, head coach John Bonamego was the first to admit improvements must be made in order to compete with the Spartans, ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25 poll. 

“We are going to have to play a lot better,” Bonamego said. “We’re going to have to play a very good, clean game.”

Junior quarterback Tommy Lazzaro, in his first career start for CMU, wasn't abnormally impressive, but he got the job done. Running back Jonathan Ward only picked up 17 yards on 15 carries and still is without a touchdown on the season. Backup redshirt freshman wide receiver Julian Hicks outplayed the veterans, including Brandon Childress, for the second-straight week. 

Lazzaro completed 7-of-16 passes for 82 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He added a team-high 44 yards on the ground with a score. Redshirt sophomore running back Kumehnnu Gwilly posted 10 carries for 37 yards.

“The preparation needs to be there all week,” Lazzaro said of CMU’s upcoming game. “On offense, we have a lot of things we need to clean up – especially for a team like Michigan State. They bring a lot of things to the table and have a great defense. 

The struggles of Ward, who logged over 1,400 total yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017, continue to be the main concern, despite their first win. The 6-foot, 202-pound running back is averaging 39 yards per game and 3.0 yards per carry. He turned the ball over on a fumble against the Black Bears. 

Michigan State, CMU's next opponent, has a defense that is ranked No. 52 in Division I FBS. Head coach Mark Dantonio’s run defense is listed at No. 1 in the nation, allowing an average 32.7 rushing yards and 1.1 yards per carry. 

“They bring a lot of things to the table and have a great defense,” Lazzaro said of the Spartans (2-1), who’s only loss is to Arizona State.

Junior linebacker Joe Bachie carries the Michigan State defense, as he’s made 30 tackles, one sack and one interception in three games played. 

“We just have to go out and play our ball,” said CMU senior captain Malik Fountain. “We have a lot of faith in our quarterback and offense but have to put it together as a team.”

Seventeen points against Maine is the Chippewas highest scoring offensive performance this season under new quarterback Lazzaro. CMU scored 20 points against Kentucky, but one of the scores was a defensive touchdown. 

Defensive Success Must Remain for CMU

While CMU’s offense needs to make serious improvements, the defense is a bit of a different story. 

Against Maine, the Chippewas got a career performance from junior defensive end Mike Danna. He took five stitches on his forehead after the game following four total sacks of quarterbacks Chris Ferguson and Isaiah Robinson. 

Danna said the Chippewas are not going to spotlight their 12-point victory over the Black Bears, but the team is happy to finally get the ball rolling after losing to Kentucky (35-20), Kansas (31-7) and Northern Illinois (24-16) to open the 2018 season.  

“We are going to play with our heart and give it 100 percent every time no matter who the opponent is,” Danna added. “We are going to give it our all regardless. Let’s go.”

Fountain picked up his first career interception to seal the victorious effort against Maine. He hopes for more to come in the near future – especially against Michigan State redshirt junior quarterback Brian Lewerke. 

Lewerke’s five interceptions is a statistic that Fountain, and CMU’s defense, hopes to capitalize on. Fountain has 35 tackles, one tackle for a loss, one sack and one interception this season. 

The Chippewas average 1.8 turnovers per game on defense. Fountain, sophomore cornerback Gage Kreski, junior cornerback Xavier Crawford, redshirt freshman linebacker Troy Brown, redshirt freshman safety Devonni Reed and senior defensive end Sean Adesanya all have takeaways this season. 

“We know what they are going to do,” Fountain said. “They are a traditional team. We have to stay positive and focused on the task.”

Scott, MSU’s star running back, only has 103 yards on 30 carries. Like Ward, he has yet to find the end zone in the run or pass game. 

The last time Central Michigan and Michigan State played was Sept. 26, 2015, at Spartan Stadium. Dantonio’s team won, 30-10. CMU most recently took down Michigan State in 2009 under quarterback Dan LeFevour, wide receiver Antonio Brown and head coach Butch Jones. 

As the underdog, Bonamego said the Chippewas are ready to work hard and make their best effort against Michigan State in East Lansing. 

“I know we will be excited to compete and play them,” Bonamego said. “I know that much for sure.” 

Note: A previous edition of this article said CMU football's record was 1-4, instead of 1-3. It has since been corrected.