Defense remains confident even with injuries to top corners Kyron McKinnie-Harper, Darius Bracy
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Kyron McKinnie-Harper and Darius Bracy only needed two games on the bench to prove they were worthy of the starting cornerback positions.
Against Albany and Wisconsin in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively, Central Michigan elected to go with sophomores Brandon Brown and Norman Anderson.
Wisconsin torched the Chippewas for 599 yards, of which 400 were through the air, and something needed to be fixed.
Turns out, the predicament was with the cornerbacks.
The change was made before the Mid-American Conference opener Sept. 14 against Akron at Kelly/Shorts Stadium when first-year coach Jim McElwain replaced Brown and Anderson with McKinnie-Harper and Bracy.
Despite showing success in the 2019 season, McKinnie-Harper and Bracy will not play for the Chippewas (8-5, 6-2 MAC) at 2 p.m. Saturday in the New Mexico Bowl against San Diego State.
Injuries have gotten the best of them throughout the 14-game season.
"Kyron and Bracy are missed," said sophomore safety Devonni Reed. "We would love to have them, but I feel like we're still as strong as we were all season because everyone has had a chance to play."
McKinnie-Harper, a true freshman, and Bracy, a sophomore, locked down opponents to help recreate the physicality left behind by 2018 starting cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Xavier Crawford – two players that are now in the NFL.
Teams quit throwing McKinnie-Harper's way, and they also weren't fond of tossing the ball toward Bracy.
The cornerback duo started five-straight games until Bracy was replaced Oct. 19 against Bowling Green in favor of redshirt freshman Montrae Braswell.
McKinnie-Harper sat out for the ensuing game, an Oct. 26 matchup against Buffalo, due to a minor injury. Bracy replaced him in the starting lineup.
In the next week against Northern Illinois, McKinnie-Harper started alongside Braswell. Bracy sustained an undisclosed injury against the Huskies that wasn't known as season-ending until weeks later.
Three games later, in a 26-21 loss Dec. 7 to Miami (Ohio) in the MAC championship, McKinnie-Harper sustained an undisclosed injury.
McElwain is now without two of his top three cornerbacks against the Aztecs.
Senior safety Da'Quaun Jamison isn't concerned.
"We're just going to come out, stick to the script and do what we've been doing all year long," Jamison said.
As for Reed, the safety that starts alongside Jamison, he said the multitude of players that have been given experiences at the cornerback spots allow for roles to be filled with ease.
"Throughout the whole course of the season, we've all been changing roles in the secondary," Reed said. "Corners have been changing in and out. Everyone has experience. There's no missing link."
McKinnie-Harper accumulated 27 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, eight pass breakups and one forced fumble in 10 games. Bracy, in nine games, made 24 tackles and three pass breakups.
Along with safeties Jamison and Reed, the secondary will turn to Braswell, Brown and Anderson to stop San Diego State's offense.
The Aztecs (9-3, 5-3 Mountain West Conference) focus first on defense, which is replicated by the No. 119 mark in total offense among 130 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
San Diego State averages 30.4 passing attempts for 194.8 yards per game. Starting quarterback Ryan Agnew is 215 of 339 for 2,165 yards and 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.
But Reed isn't underestimating anything.
"They have some good playmakers," Reed said. "If you let them work, they will work on you."
Reed said the defensive plan is to stop San Diego State's basic offensive plays and pick up on early game tendencies that have been noticed on film.
To prepare for what the Aztecs offer when in possession of the ball, the secondary has turned to defensive coordinator Robb Akey.
"I think our preparation the defensive staff has put together throughout this whole week of bowl preparation is great," Reed said.
"If we go in and do our job, we'll be able to stop their offense."