The Central Michigan football team was penalized nine times for 70 yards Saturday in its 30-10 loss at No. 2-ranked Michigan State.
While penalties always hurt, several were particularly stinging for the Chippewas early in the game when they had the opportunity to put points on the board and seize some momentum.
CMU drove into the red zone on its first two possessions of the game, only to come away empty both times. And on both occasions, the Chippewas took false-start penalties on fourth down that added five yards to Brian Eavey field goal attempts. Both attempts – the first from 45 yards, the second from 43 – were blocked.
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Twice in the second half, with the Chippewas trailing 17-10, CMU drives that appeared to have potential stalled because of penalties.
The Chippewas were at the MSU 45-yard line when first a holding call, then a false start two plays later, pushed them back to their own 40. Later, after the Chippewas gained a first down at their own 38, another flag for holding brought CMU back another 10 yards.
“We were moving the ball for the most part, but kept shooting ourselves in the foot with long third downs,” CMU quarterback Cooper Rush said.
The Chippewas converted on six of nine third downs in the first half, but were just one-for-eight in that department in the final two quarters.
CMU committed the game’s only turnover, a Jesse Kroll fumble in the fourth quarter, after which MSU took possession and scored to make it 30-10 and put the game out of reach.
“We need to stop hurting ourselves with penalties, first of all,” CMU coach John Bonamego said. “I thought we’ve done a better job of taking care of the football. We haven’t really turned it over at an alarming rate or anything like that.
“I think moving forward, we have to continue to take care of the football. I’m probably more upset about the penalties. The holding penalties and the procedure penalties.”
While the Chippewas surrendered 30 points, they turned in a solid effort against the No. 2 team in the country.
MSU quarterback Connor Cook was 11-for-19 passing for a season-low 143 yards.
Outside linebacker Malik Fountain and safety Kavon Frazier led the Chippewas with 10 tackles each, while safety Tony Annese and middle linebacker Tim Hamilton finished with nine apiece. The 10 tackles was a career-high for Fountain, a redshirt freshman.
Chippewa cornerback Amari Coleman, a sophomore, forced a fumble and had one pass breakup while finishing with six tackles.
“I think we’ve got a tough defense,” Bonamego said. “I think we’ve got tough kids and they’re well-coached. Coach (Greg) Colby and the defensive staff do a great job with those guys putting them in the right position with the right calls.
“I do think there were stretches where our defense played very, very well. Those are things that we can build on and draw confidence from, and we will.”
Saturday’s attendance was 75,218. It was the ninth largest crowd ever to witness a Central Michigan football game.
While the crowd was overwhelmingly green and white, the Chippewas enjoyed solid support for a road game and there was plenty of maroon and gold dotting the Spartan Stadium stands.
Rush completed 26 of his 39 pass attempts for 285 yards and a touchdown, a 1-yard toss to Anthony Rice seconds before halftime that brought the Chippewas to within 17-7 at the break.
Rush found Mark Chapman for a 42-yard gain on the third play of the game, a third-down-and-5 situation, which helped set up the Chippewas’ first field goal attempt.
“Throwing for completions on third down was key,” Bonamego said. “Cooper is a great football player. He’s the leader of our offense. He’s done a tremendous job and you can’t say enough good things about him. We’re very happy to have him.”
On the season, Rush has completed 116 of his 167 pass attempts (71.2 percent) for 1,268 yards and six touchdowns against three interceptions.
Junior Anthony Rice led the CMU receivers with eight catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. Both the receptions and yards were career highs, and the TD was the second of his CMU career.
Rice entered the game with 11 catches for 130 yards on the season, and he said one of the factors in his success is precise route-running.
“It's definitely something that (Rush) talks to us about every day,” Rice said. “Really pushing past people and getting into our routes and not letting other people dictate what we do. I think the receivers have really taken it upon ourselves to get the job done.”
Kroll added six catches for a team-high 86 yards, while Corey Willis had five receptions for 57. The five grabs matched Willis’ career best.
Chapman’s 42-yard reception on the third play of the game was a career long.
The Chippewa run game produced a net total of 55 yards, a total which includes yardage subtracted for the four sacks tallied by the MSU defense.
Sophomore running back Devon Spalding finished with 77 yards on 15 carries. Included in that total was a 42-yard fourth-quarter run.
The run game has been a particular concern for the Chippewas all season. They entered Saturday’s game averaging just 84 yards per game on the ground.
“It was hit and miss,” Bonamego said. “It wasn’t like we were ripping off 5-yard runs every carry, but I wouldn’t say that we couldn’t run the ball. They have an excellent front. … They have been consistently one of the top run-stopping teams in the country. I thought we had spots here and there.”
Junior Brian Eavey kicked a 42-yard field goal in the third quarter that drew the Chippewas to 17-10.
Eavey’s career-long is 43 yards, which came last season against Western Michigan. MSU blocked both of Eavey’s first-quarter field goal attempts.
CMU punter Ron Coluzzi punted twice for an average of 52 yards, and he kicked off three times for an average of 65 yards. All three of his kickoffs went for touchbacks.
The Chippewas are 1-3 heading into Mid-American Conference play. They open at home next week (3 p.m.) against Northern Illinois (2-2).
The game against Michigan State of the Big Ten was CMU’s third against a team from a Power-5 conference. The Chippewas lost their opener to Oklahoma State, 24-13, of the Big 12; and they fell last week in overtime at Syracuse, 30-27, of the ACC.
Outside of Mount Pleasant, coming close against such teams may have gained the Chippewas a measure of respect. Among the players and the coaching staff, however, coming close, no matter the opponent, is of little consolation.
“We're sick of it, so we're excited about this upcoming challenge we have this week against NIU, starting MAC play,” Rush said. “We want to get rid of this taste of losing and get back on a winning track.”
(Courtesy of CMU Athletics)