Three takeaways from CMU's loss to Miami (Ohio)
The Mid-American Conference opener didn't go the way Central Michigan thought it would.
The Chippewas started slow, falling into a 14-0 first quarter hole, before rallying and taking a fourth quarter lead. Miami (Ohio) wasn't to be denied, however, scoring the game's final 14 points.
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
Secondary struggles continue
Without cornerback Dishon McNary, the Chippewas were forced to turn to a trio of reserves to hold down the passing game. It was junior Rollian Sturkey who got the start, with fellow junior Richard Bowens III playing around every other series. The third option, Daedae Hill, did not play.
Miami head coach Chuck Martin knew exactly where Sturkey and Bowens were in coverage throughout the game, dialing up play calls targeting them early and often. Sturkey finished by allowing five completions for 49 yards on six attempts, according to Pro Football Focus. Bowens was targeted 10 times and allowed seven catches for 143 yards and a touchdown.
In total, the RedHawks threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns between Brett Gabbert and AJ Mayer. The Chippewas were able to create the game's only turnover, when senior safety Gage Kreski picked off Mayer on the goal line.
Kreski was the highest rated member of the Chippewas' secondary by PFF and finished the game with 12 tackles. He made a pair of touchdown saving tackles before halftime in addition to creating the only turnover.
Speaking after game, Kreski stressed the importance of getting everyone on the same page heading into future games.
"We've got to get everybody on board and eliminate some of that aerial attack," Kreski said.
Run game struggles
Coming into Saturday, CMU held the fourth best running game statistically while Miami's run defense ranked 10th. On paper, it was a match made in heaven for Lew Nichols III and company. The Chippewas have been at their best when they can establish the run game early.
That was not the case against the RedHawks. Martin's game plan dialed up the pressure and stifled running lanes for Nichols and company. The Chippewas were led by freshman Myles Bailey in rushing, who had eight carries for 29 yards.
Quarterback Daniel Richardson made up for some of the struggles with his arm, throwing for 326 yards and two touchdowns. However, the offense was stuck in neutral early without contributions from its best asset, the run game.
The sluggish start hurt, as Miami sprinted to a 14-0 lead. The Chippewas never abandoned the run, but it was tough to get it going as the game progressed.
"We had some guys that didn't come and play with the sense of urgency throughout the ball game that it takes to win a game against a good football team," said CMU head coach Jim McElwain. "These guys are pretty darn good."
McElwain still has confidence in struggling Meeder
After going eight-for-eight last season, freshman kicker Marshall Meeder has struggled this season. He missed two more field goals against Miami, including a pivotal miss with the Chippewas down 11 late in the fourth quarter.
Meeder's first miss came from 49 yards, when he hit the left upright. The second miss was hooked wide left. On the season, he is now four-for-nine on field goal attempts and has missed four of his last six attempts.
Despite the struggles, McElwain maintains confidence in his kicker that was first team All-MAC just last year.
"I've got confidence in him, and we need him," McElwain said.
The second miss came after McElwain chose to kick a field goal on fourth-and-one from Miami's 23-yard line, facing an 11-point deficit with 3:39 remaining. Rather than try to go for it, McElwain elected to try to cut the lead to eight and put the faith in his defense.
Meeder's kick hooked wide left, effectively ending the Chippewas' hopes for victory. Despite this, McElwain said he'd make the same decision if he had to do it over.
"In that particular case, you play the analytics," McElwain said. "You expect to make that and then get the ball back, we had our three timeouts, and go down and go for two and push it into overtime. That's football 101 right there. But I wouldn't do anything different and if it came up again next week I'd do the same thing."