'I feel like everybody's clicking now': CMU defense leads charge against Bucknell
Despite some key pieces absent from Central Michigan's defense, the unit came through in a big way to secure a shutout against Bucknell.
In the secondary, starting cornerbacks Donte Kent and Rolliann Sturkey were held out of Saturday’s contest. Additionally, safety Trey Jones was inactive from the game after taking some bumps last week against South Alabama.
While Kent and Jones missed action due to injury, head coach Jim McElwain said after the game that Sturkey’s absence wasn’t injury-unrelated.
“Yeah, he chose to leave the football team the other day," McElwain said. "So that's why the other guys got opportunities and they did a fantastic job. I was really happy with that."
With Sturkey gone, the door was opened for other players to get extended looks. Sophomore cornerback Lavario Wiley got the start. In what was his debut performance with CMU, Wiley recorded two passes defended.
Redshirt freshman Caleb Spann, another member of the defensive backfield thrust into action due to injury, also had an impressive debut. He ended the game with four total tackles, a tackle for loss and an interception.
"You know, they did a pretty darn good job," McElwain said. "We had a couple guys down with some injuries and that kind of thing. And yet, it's all about opportunities and next man up and I thought those guys you know, getting themselves on film, they're gonna learn a lot from it. And you know, I was proud of them."
McElwain added that those players “maybe should have been there before” with a chuckle.
At the front end of the unit, the defensive line had its best performance to date as Bucknell produced 174 yards of total offense. The front seven bottled up the run game, with the Bison mustering 21 rushing yards on 30 attempts.
In CMU’s first two games, the defense surrendered over 500 offensive yards to both Oklahoma State and South Alabama.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Michael Heldman enjoyed a breakout performance in his third career start. He was credited with 1.5 sacks, while senior defensive end Thomas Incoom had a sack of his own. Incoom acknowledged what Heldman’s presence meant out there after the game.
“Yeah, I was very happy for him,” Incoom said. “You know, I told him at the beginning of the game, it’s gonna be a lot of (players) sliding to my side, so I need you to step up and help lead this game, and he did it right off the jump, first play. I was very happy about it. I felt like I was making a play when he made a play. I’m still happy about it, and I’m very proud of (Heldman).”
While Incoom was impressed with his fellow defensive lineman, his confidence in his team hasn’t wavered despite a less-than-ideal start to the season.
“You know, we started the season 0-2, so this win got that sour taste out of our mouth,” Incoom said. “And it’s just the same guys doing the right stuff. You know, everybody’s doing their job and it’s very high confidence stepping into the next game… I feel like everybody’s clicking now.”