Central Michigan travels to Athens for MAC road opener

Zach Libby, Staff Writer
Chippewa Country

Photo courtesy Brian Fluharty | USA Today Sports

Central Michigan has the potential to be great, but the consistency proves otherwise.

Committing three turnovers and behind held to under 300 yards of total offense in the 28-8 loss at Boston College has the Chippewas searching for their first win since Sept. 9 against Kansas.

Dropping three straight games, including the MAC opener two weeks ago at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, position placement on special teams and finding the right identity on offense have been the focal point before Saturday's road game at Ohio.

Kickoff is at 2 p.m. at Peden Stadium on ESPN3.

The Bobcats, reeling from their 58-point win over UMass, lead the MAC East with a 4-1 record. Their one loss came at Purdue in week two, 44-21.

"The challenges when facing Ohio is all the way across the board offensively and defensively," said CMU head coach John Bonamego this week's MAC teleconference. "They're exceptionally well coached, there's a coach in the country that I have more respect for than (Frank) Solich and how he runs his program."

Labeled a model for any head coach in the conference, Solich is the third-longest tenured coach in the NCAA behind Kirk Ferentz (Iowa) and Gary Patterson (TCU).

Grabbing his 150th career win following the UMass game, Solich is third all-time in MAC wins with 92.

Being the only program to have the same head coach, offensive and defensive coordinator in the last 12 years, Ohio has routinely become one of the more steady teams in the MAC, gaining bowl eligibility in seven of the previous eight years.

Struggles against Central Michigan historically, however, is something that Solich himself can't even comprehend. CMU has won the last three meetings, losing once dating back to 2001. Two of those games occurred at Ford Field for the conference championship in 2006 and 2009.

In 2016, senior tight end Tyler Conklin's one-handed catch in the end zone, which landed him on ESPN's Top 10 Plays, was the difference in the 27-20 win over Ohio at home.

"They've been a good, physical football team when we've played them," Solich said Monday. "You would think that would be a good matchup, but for some reason we just have not gotten it done."

Ohio is averaging 41.4 points and 422.6 yards of total offense per game, both of which rank second in the conference. The running game, led by redshirt junior A.J. Ouellette, is averaging 217.2 yards on the ground.

Ouellette has totaled just under 100 yards a game with three touchdowns. He has hit the 100-plus yard rushing mark the last three games.

Quarterback Nathan Rourke is second among all MAC quarterbacks with a 150.4 passing and third in yards per completion with 7.8. The sophomore has yet to throw an interception this season.

"It's going to take a solid effort on our part to go down there and try to compete and come out with a win," Bonamego said.

On defense, linebackers Quentin Poling and Chad Moore lead the Bobcats in tackles with 45 and 29, respectively. The group has allowed 28.8 points per game and over 400 yards of total offense.

Poling, a first-team All-MAC recipient last year, was named MAC East Defensive Player of the Week after the Central Michigan game at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

"He's an amazing young man; he's bright, he's athletic, keeps himself on the field," Solich said. "I'm amazed at his whole makeup and how looks at the game, how he plays the game, how tough he is, it's all top of the line."

Central Michigan continues to find solutions to the passing game under graduate transfer Shane Morris, who hasn't found the same uniformity since the 18-point win at Kansas, where he threw the third most passing yards in a single-game by a CMU quarterback.

Morris recorded three interceptions against Boston College and no touchdowns. He's committed eight picks in five starts, which leads the MAC, but ranks second in passing yards with 1,336, 10-yards shy of leader Logan Woodside from Toledo.

The major story coming out of BC was redshirt freshman Tony Poljan, the backup for Morris, making his debut at wide receiver, catching three passes for 61 yards. When under center, Poljan ran for 20 yards on four attempts, as well as one pass for nine yards.

"We said from the very beginning that (Tony) Poljan is going to play," Bonamego said. "First and foremost, he's a quarterback first, but he's also an outstanding athlete. We feel like we can get him on the field and utilize his talents in a variety of ways."

Ohio is ranked 13th in the country in red zone offense, scoring 96 percent of the time, leading the conference.

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