Central Michigan opens league play with MAC East juggernaut Miami (OH)

Zach Libby, Staff Writer
Chippewa Country

Photo courtesy Rich Barnes | USA TODAY Sports

The narrative remains the same for Miami (OH).

Going back to Oct. 8 of last year, a 35-13 loss to Akron on the road brought the Redhawks record to 0-6, one loss away from becoming ineligible for the postseason.

But things changed when quarterback Gus Ragland returned from injury.

As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Ragland missed the final game of the year with an ACL tear that kept him out of six games the following season.

In the second half of 2016, Ragland, who finished with 1,537 yards passing and 17 touchdowns, led Miami to its first bowl appearance since 2010, losing to Mississippi State by one point in the St. Petersburg Bowl.

"I think offensively, you can't talk about it without highlighting the quarterback (Ragland)," said Central Michigan head coach John Bonamego in this week's MAC teleconference. "I think he's an exceptional player. He's an accurate thrower, highly intelligent and can beat you with his legs."

The 6-foot-1, 215 pounder was also named the Mid-American Conference East Division Player of the Week after the 37-17 win over Central Michigan on Nov. 4.

Ragland went 13-of-21 passing for 218 yards and four touchdowns, as Miami scored 17 unanswered points to get its fifth straight win.

The two programs are set to begin league play Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium with kickoff beginning at 3:30 p.m on ESPN3.

The meaning behind the said narrative is that the Redhawks have more talent than what their record says, according to Bonamego.

In three non-conference games this season, Miami has gone 1-2, running past Austin Peay, 31-10, but lost at a combined nine points to Marshall and Cincinnati.

"(Miami) has done a really good job in recruiting and building that team up," Bonamego said. "They're a very well coached team that plays very hard and should be a good matchup on Saturday."

The loss to Miami last year was the Chippewas' third straight in conference play, eventually beating Ohio the following week to gain bowl eligibility.

CMU, who scored a season-low 17 points at the Carrier Dome last week against Syracuse, also gave up a season-high 41 points. It was the first of the previous four games between the two teams that Dino Babers was the head coach of SU.

"Any loss is going to be disappointing to your football team," Bonamego said. "Thought we competed well in the early stages of that game and really had some good things going in the first half."

Graduate transfer quarterback Shane Morris got the start for the third straight time, averaging 345 total yards of offense per game and has totaled 1,035 yards.

Morris is also tied for third all-time in CMU history for most passing yards in a single game, after throwing for 467 in the win over Kansas.

On defense, the Chippewas ranks first in the country with nine interceptions. Senior safety Josh Cox has collected three, good for No. 1 among all active defensive backs.

Senior cornerback Amari Coleman and junior linebacker Alex Briones each have two. The latter of the two also has totaled 27 tackles this season, notching a career-high of 11 in the home opener against Rhode Island.

Running backs Jonathan Ward and captain Devon Spalding have combined for 340 yards rushing, solidifying themselves as a formidable tandem, even while the likes of Romello Ross and Kumehnu Gwilly are receiving more touches as the season progresses.

Ward, the sophomore, ranks second in the conference in yards on the ground with 239. He's also fourth in the league in all-purpose yards at 119 per game.

"Jonathan is a dynamic player for us," Bonamego said. "He's really grown up in a year physically and is more comfortable with the speed of the game. You can see him better-and-better each week, and we really want to try and give him the ball as much as possible."

The Chippewas next have Boston College on the schedule to conclude non-conference play. CMU has gone 0-3 against the Eagles, losing 31-10 back in 2009, the most recent matchup.

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