Saturday, January 3, 2009

End of the season... but not the end of Chip Shots

Hello everybody,

This very well may be my last update on this blog. At least for the time being.

With football season over with, I am moving on as Online Editor at Central Michigan Life, so I will focus my work purely on that. From a personal standpoint, I will use this coming semester to build my experience as a Web journalist, since my field is going the way of the Internet.

I just want to take this moment to thank everybody for checking into this blog on a regular basis throughout the fall. This was CM Life's first real foray into the sports blog world, and I think for just starting out, it was a real success. I got a chance to live update, post my thoughts on burning questions, post photos and post many links to all things CMU football. My hope is that we continue to build on this, whether I am the football reporter next fall or not.

This is not the end of Chip Shots Weblog, by any means. It might not be me updating it next fall. But whoever it is, I am sure they will continue the same high tradition of football coverage we have demonstrated in recent years.

Thank you again, and keep in touch!

-Brian Manzullo

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dan Bazuin on Texans' practice squad

Looks like former CMU standout Dan Bazuin has a job - for now. He is on the Houston Texans' practice squad, and right now, he gets to help his team prepare for the Chicago Bears defense - which he briefly played for until Aug. 30, when he was cut.

Post-Motor City Bowl: What next?

On the afternoon of Nov. 19, very few saw this kind of ending for the CMU football team.

On that day, the Chippewas sat at 8-2, the best start the team has had in years. They beat their first Big Ten opponent in 16 seasons just a couple weeks earlier. They had not lost a meaningful MAC game in two seasons, and were back-to-back defending champions.

But that night turned out to be the beginning of the downward spiral. CMU uncharacteristically lost a critical home matchup with Ball State. It then uncharacteristically lost the season finale against Eastern Michigan. Last night was the culmination, a 24-21 loss to Florida Atlantic, a team that was good but beatable.

CMU simply looked too uninspired. It had its moments, for sure, and it is not as if the players were not trying to win. They were, just like they always do. But ever since the MAC West title went out its hands, this Chippewas squad just has not played with the same grind-it-out intensity it thrived on to win games this season. It is as if the team cringed when it saw its own blood following the Ball State loss.

In a lot of ways, the Motor City Bowl summed everything up just perfectly. CMU came close. It had one big play - a 72-yard touchdown run by Antonio Brown - but it was called back because of a facemask penalty by Kito Poblah at around FAU's 25-yard line. The CMU defense had stopped FAU on a three-and-out in the third quarter, but a roughing the passer penalty by Larry Knight kept the drive alive. The very next play was a 52-yard touchdown strike that gave the Owls a 17-10 lead.

Had those two penalties gone uncommitted, this game could have turned out a lot differently. But that is how this season has went - down to the wire. CMU could just as easily have lost to Buffalo and Ohio earlier this season because of mistakes by its opponents.

So what's next? Obviously, winter conditioning, recruiting and spring ball. But assuming Ball State quarterback Nate Davis elects to enter the NFL Draft, CMU should enter next season, again, as the Mid-American Conference favorite, mainly because it does not lose as many key players as other teams do. Along with Davis, the Cardinals also lose tight end Darius Hill, defensive back B.J. Hill, wide receiver Louis Johnson and offensive linemen Dan Gerberry and Robert Brewster to graduation. Western Michigan loses receiver Jamarko Simmons and a handful of defensive starters such as Londen Fryar, Louis Delmas and Boston McCornell to graduation. Buffalo, the MAC Champion, does return a lot of key players but not quarterback Drew Willy.

The only starter CMU loses on defense is nose guard Casey Droscha, who spent half the season injured anyway. It loses tailbacks Ontario Sneed and Justin Hoskins, but the team has a surplus of talented running backs who will fight for a starting spot, including Bryan Schroeder, Paris Cotton and redshirt Jahleel Addae. Other key losses include backup quarterback Brian Brunner, wide receiver Joe Bockheim and offensive tackles Andrew Hartline and Greg Wojt. These guys are going to be tough to replace because of their high character, but hopefully this paves way for guys like quarterback Ryan Radcliff, wide receivers Kito Poblah and Jean Pitts, and offensive tackle Jake Olson.

Furthermore, this Central team is going to be hungry come next August. I have a feeling we have yet to see the best of Dan LeFevour, entering his last season. He has all of his best weapons coming back - Bryan Anderson (senior next year), Antonio Brown (junior) and Kito Poblah (junior). The defense should get better with virtually everybody returning and possible high-profile additions in the secondary such as D.J. Scott and Shamari Benton. Obviously, it is going to take work - the Chippewas play both Western and Ball State on the road next season, but does get an improving Northern Illinois team at home. I would not expect two three-game road trips next season, either.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Motor City Bowl: LIVE BLOG from Detroit

10:44: The Chippewas are trying to mount a comeback. It is not working. Coach Butch Jones elected to go for it on fourth down, with CMU inside the FAU 5-yard line, instead of kicking the field goal and making it an 8-point game. Hmmmm.

10:42: The announced attendance is 41,399. That sounds about right - just about all of them are CMU fans, too.

10:36: FAU scores on a 14-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-13. There is obviously something wrong with CMU right now, and it is not the flu bug that was going around earlier in the week.

10:18: The penalty bug strikes CMU yet again. A reverse play that would have went for a 72-yard touchdown was called back after Kito Poblah was flagged for a facemask penalty while blocking downfield. That offset an FAU offside penalty back at the line of scrimmage, resulting in a replay of the down. That has to hurt.

10:04: LeFevour still looks too hesitant in the pocket - he took off running a little too late on third down. CMU does get a field goal to make it 17-13 Owls.

9:57: Great second effort by Justin Hoskins on third down, taking a pass another five yards after contact to give CMU the first down. The Chippewas are driving through FAU territory now.

9:54: Antonio Brown returns the ball out to CMU's 45-yard line thanks to the unsportsmanlike conduct call following FAU's touchdown. But again, a block in the back penalty puts the ball back toward the 20. That is how penalties can kill a team.

9:47: The Chippewas come up with another big stop on third down... or not. Larry Knight gets flagged for a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty, then Rusty Smith throws a 52-yard touchdown bomb to Chris Bonner. That is how penalties can kill a team.

9:40: Florida Atlantic starts its first second half drive on its 2-yard line. Nice punt by Hartmann, again.

9:38: Maybe it is just me, but LeFevour seems like he is a little off his game, despite completing 15 of 20 passes. He's a little more hesitant in the pocket than he used to be and is not showing his running ability as well as he has in the past. That is part of the reason why the offense is struggling - CMU opens up defenses with that quarterback running ability.

9:08: LeFevour takes a knee and sends the game to halftime. There's plenty of offense, with both teams hovering around 200 total yards, but not many points to be had thus far. Seniors Ontario Sneed and Justin Hoskins have combined for 60 yards on 12 carries, better than usual. And the CMU defense, overall, is playing well despite allowing some yardage. Rusty Smith is 10-for-20 for 158 yards.

9:01: Florida Atlantic drives again, but has to settle on a 36-yard field goal to tie the game. Only 47 seconds left until halftime.

8:52: CMU punter Brett Hartmann's stats get a boost with a 67-yarder, aided by Tavious Polo's muffed return. FAU starts at its 18-yard line instead of around the 30.

8:46: The defense bent, but did not break. A common mantra for this team. A third-down sack forces FAU to punt when it probably could have kicked a field goal had Rusty Smith thrown an incompletion.

8:43: The Owls have another drive going. CMU is playing very soft coverage, allowing receivers to get open and running backs to get moderate gains.

8:35: Andrew Aguila hits a 34-yard field goal to give CMU its first lead. ESPN has to be disappointed at the lack of offensive firepower in this game so far.

8:31: Three-and-out again for Florida Atlantic. The CMU defense stays hot. Meanwhile, Antonio Brown looked like he was going to let the punt go, but then caught it on a bounce and took it 27 yards to FAU's 38-yard line. The guy's a stud on punt returns this year.

8:25: Wow! Sophomore wideout Kito Poblah just made a highlight-reel catch - a one-hander in the corner of the end zone. Tie game.

8:23: Running back Justin Hoskins, also a senior, is getting some chances in his final game. Two consecutive first-down runs to put CMU inside the FAU 10-yard line. It is good to see him play well early.

8:19: End of the first quarter. FAU still ahead 7-0, but CMU's driving. The Chippewas just need to settle down a little bit and not force anything. The Owls have had one good drive, but not much else other than that. Meanwhile, the crowd gives former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr a huge ovation. Wolverines fans have to miss him right now.

8:17: LeFevour again throws into coverage, but hits Joe Bockheim right in stride for 28 yards. Heck of a throw.

8:14: The defense is staying on its toes, though. FAU tries a flea flicker and almost has it intercepted. But a holding call puts it 10 yards back anyway.

8:08: Central almost put a good drive together, getting into FAU territory, but had to punt after an incompletion on third down. Bryan Anderson looks shaken up after a hit near the end zone. Things just do not look in sync right now for the Chippewas' offense.

8:01: FAU's Cortez Gent has three receptions for 42 yards early. That does not bode too well for CMU if he gets going.

7:59: This is what happens when you give teams too many early opportunities. FAU drives 66 yards on six plays, easily scoring on a one-yard touchdown run. Both teams looks a bit rusty early, but the Owls seem to be in gear on offense right now. The CMU crowd is quiet.

7:52: Just to clear something up... several CMU players have had the flu bug over the last week, including a couple offensive linemen. I'm told they are fine now, but who knows at this point whether that will have any repercussions on the football game.

7:50: Things are moving fast early in this game - and not the way ESPN was expecting. Linebacker Nick Bellore picks up a fumble in CMU territory. Then LeFevour throws an errant pass to Antonio Brown and has it picked off. FAU has the ball on its 36-yard line. There certainly is no shortage of defense in the first five minutes of this game.

7:42: ...but that basically was it. On fourth and one, quarterback Dan LeFevour fumbled the shotgun snap, forcing him to fall on it and concede to the Owls near midfield. I'm not sure if it was a concentration gaffe or what, but the ball was snapped just fine. It might have been premature.

7:41: Running back Ontario Sneed is making his last game count. 28 yards on his first run, toward midfield...

7:39: Quick three-and-out drive for Florida Atlantic, mainly because of pressure to quarterback Rusty Smith. Junior defensive end Frank Zombo made a great play on first down, tipping a screen pass while chasing Smith. Great start for the CMU defense.

7:34 p.m.: The game will be underway in a minute or two. There definitely is not as many people here as last year. The CMU crowd is here, as usual, but the FAU crowd is about as easy to find as Waldo in this place. (Like I said before, though, that's not surprising, considering few would travel from Florida to Michigan for Christmas)

Stay posted for live updates from today's Motor City Bowl game.

Setting up at Ford Field

DETROIT - I just got here about 20 minutes ago, and there is a lot of time ahead before kickoff (a little less than two hours, to be exact), so I toyed around a little bit with my camera. Nothing professional, just a look at the scene here in Ford Field prior to the Motor City Bowl.

The last two seasons, the Motor City Bowl set attendance records with CMU holding the majority of the fan base, even last year against Purdue. I would not expect another crowd of 60,000, however - not with a Florida team here. Who would come to Michigan for Christmas, anyway? The Chippewas are going to have major home field advantage, and they will probably need the help against a hot FAU team.

ESPN's hyping this game up as an offensive shootout. I don't blame them. Florida Atlantic's offense is not extraordinary, but it is going up against the 118th-ranked pass defense in the country (out of 119 FBS teams).

More to come from Ford Field.

It's showtime!

Hope everybody had a good holiday yesterday!

I apologize for no updates over the past 10 days; Since school is out, I am out of the Mount Pleasant area and spending time with family back home in Saginaw. That, and I have not had a computer even capable of updating a blog until two days ago. I am trying to follow the team as much as possible from home, however; other than the slew of coaching changes going on in the MAC right now, there's very little to update on at this point.

Hopefully today makes up for it. As you know, the Motor City Bowl kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Ford Field in Detroit. I'll be there, updating the blog before, during and after the game, as usual. This time, I hope to do live blogging on here, as well as updating the score on as it happens. So if by some small chance you're not at the Motor City Bowl nor able to watch the game on ESPN (or, of course, if you would like additional analysis and behind the scenes), then be sure to tune in to this blog and the CM Life Web site.

Thank you for your patience and have fun tonight!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Update: Hoke takes SDSU job, plus CMU Bowl Mania

Ball State coach Brady Hoke has taken the San Diego State job, according to BSU Athletic Director Tom Collins.

It sounds like it's a money thing. Obviously Hoke is going to make more money coaching the Aztecs. Especially in these tough economic times, you have to make business decisions, and that's probably what drove Hoke from his alma mater. I wish him luck in San Diego State, which is going to be tough to rebuild with the likes of powerhouses such as Utah, BYU and TCU in the Mountain West.

As for Central Michigan, I got a chance to watch ESPN's Bowl Mania tonight (I guess it first aired last night?). For those of you unfamiliar with Bowl Mania, it's a fantasy game where you pick the winners of every bowl game, then rank your picks by order of confidence. You get a certain amount of points for each correct pick depending on your confidence in the pick- for example, if you have CMU over FAU at the top of the list, you get 34 points, all the way down to 1 point for your least-confident pick.

ESPN's Jesse Palmer (one of the analysts who I rarely take seriously, unfortunately) has Central Michigan winning, but has the pick ranked third-to-last in confidence. He mentioned the Chippewas' second-to-last pass defense and FAU's Rusty Smith "tearing up" the Sun Belt conference as possible reasons for otherwise, but liked CMU's practical home-field advantage.

I would agree to an extent, but I wouldn't call tearing up the Sun Belt conference as much of an accomplishment, considering only one team finished with seven or more wins. To put it bluntly, it's the weakest conference in the FBS. I still think Florida Atlantic is a good team, but I have more confidence in a CMU win, not just because of home field advantage. The one-month break gives the Chippewas time to heal a lot of key injuries and let the emotion from the last two losses wear off a little bit. But more on all this later.