Bonamego could play true freshmen against Akron
Winning football games is still the main goal.
That's how Central Michigan head coach John Bonamego views his current situation, holding a 1-7 record this season. But that doesn't mean he isn't going to roll the dice from time-to-time with freshmen on the roster throughout the final four games.
Due to a new redshirt rule from the NCAA, athletes are allowed to play in up to four games and still qualify for a redshirt season, which permits them to maintain four full years of eligibility.
In the past, one game could lose a player a full season of eligibility.
For a Mid-American Conference showdown, the Chippewas (1-7, 0-4 MAC) travel to play Akron (3-3, 1-2 MAC) at noon on Oct. 27.
True Freshmen to Play
Bonamego said true freshman quarterback George Pearson could get time under center.
The only players Bonamego will put into the game are those he believes are ready for Division I action.
"There's a fine line there," Bonamego said. "Playing time has to be earned. We will see how they do."
Two freshmen – defensive lineman La'Quan Johnson and tight end Joel Wilson – will definitely play on their respective side of the ball. Bonamego added freshman offensive lineman Tyden Ferris has a "good possibility" to find the field, as does freshman wide receiver Keontra Nixon.
None of the players listed by Bonamego have received in-game snaps. Due to the new NCAA rule, all players will still receive a redshirt for their freshman season despite playing in the final four games.
"Based on what we've seen in practice, they have earned an opportunity to get in the game," Bonamego said. "We want to see what they can do."
Unlike the current freshmen, now-junior running back Romello Ross did not have the same luxury back in 2015. He was called into action late due to injuries and lost an entire season of eligibility in doing so.
One non-first-year player who will be sprinkled in is quarterback Austin Hergott, who took a grayshirt in 2016 and redshirt in 2017.
Sophomore quarterback Kato Nelson is a threat to CMU's defense, Bonamego noticed from his team's weekly film session.
In CMU's most recent deficit, a 35-10 loss to rival Western Michigan, the Chippewas allowed three rushing scores to quarterback Jon Wassink.
Bonamego claimed Wassink's 10-yard carries will be much further for Nelson, a true dual-threat signal caller, if his defense is unable to step up.
"We can't give him what we gave Wassink last week," Bonamego said.
Through six games, Nelson is 95-of-181 through the air for 1,199 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's added 84 carries for 292 yards and a touchdown.
The Chippewas hope to force Nelson to drop back in the pocket and throw the football to keep him from roaming in the open field.
Akron's offense is driven by its receivers – Andre Williams, Jonah Morris, Kwadarrius Smith and Nate Stewart.
Senior running back Van Edwards Jr. also poses an issue, but Bonamego does not think he is comparable to the dominance of WMU's run game with a one-two punch of Jamauri Bogan and LeVante Bellamy.
Despite starting defensive tackle Nathan Brisson-Fast's season-ending injury, CMU's fourth-year coach likes his defensive line's match against Akron's offensive line. Sophomore Robi Stuart is expected to replace Brisson-Fast.
"(Akron's) offensive line is okay but not great," Bonamego said of the Zips. "I like our matchups with their offensive line and our defensive line. But they are a good team."
Concerning Heath Status
During CMU's loss to its rival, defensive ends Mike Danna and Mitch Stanitzek, center Steve Eipper, running back Jonathan Ward and quarterback Tommy Lazzaro sustained injuries.
Bonamego said all five players are day-to-day.
Brisson-Fast's season-ending leg injury also occurred against the Broncos. He underwent surgery on Oct. 22.
CMU's starting quarterback, Lazzaro, is 68-of-141 for 711 yards, five interceptions and 10 touchdowns. He's also run for three scores on 387 yards since taking over for redshirt sophomore Tony Poljan in Week 3.
Ward, CMU's junior running back, has continued to struggle – 72 carries for 199 yards. He has yet to find the end zone for a rushing score.
"It's always important to get a win, no matter who it's against," said fellow running back Kumehnnu Gwilly. "In the situation we are in, we aren't losing a lot on offense for next year. We have to get the ball rolling."
Leading the Chippewa defense is senior linebacker Malik Fountain. He's registered 98 tackles, four tackles for a loss, one sack, one interception and one pass defended.
Struggling to gain a healthy status, CMU only has four more games remaining – at Akron, at Eastern Michigan, against Bowling Green and at Toledo.
Bowl eligibility is no longer a possibility, and neither is a MAC title.