Central Michigan tight end Tyler Conklin made it known he was back as the Chippewas ended their three-game slide Saturday in a 26-23 road victory over defending Mid-American Conference East champion Ohio.
Conklin suffered a foot injury during the first week of camp and missed the first five games. Compounding the problem, CMU lost star receiver Corey Willis and Brandon Childress, making life miserable for quarterback Shane Morris.
Morris completed less than 50 percent of his passes during the three-game skid with more interceptions thrown (7) than TDs (3).
With Conklin back in the lineup, Morris completed 25-of-35 for 249 yards and 2 TDs with just one interception, hooking up with Conklin 10 times for 136 yards, including a 16-yard TD in the opening quarter and a 10-yard TD early in the fourth to open up a 26-14 cushion.
Conklin had 42 receptions for 560 yards and six touchdowns last season, showing his big-play ability with two TD catches in the upset win over national power Oklahoma State.
“He’s a force out there, a big strong man that can run, that can catch the ball, so he’s a complete tight end. He can block and runs routes well and is the captain of our football team,” said third-year coach John Bonamego of the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Conklin.
Now, Central (3-3, 1-1) is back to .500, playing with confidence with Conklin back in the lineup heading into Saturday’s home showdown with MAC preseason favorite Toledo (4-1, 1-0), a 20-15 winner over Eastern Michigan in its MAC opener.
Toledo must play without its top receiver in first-team All-MAC performer Cody Thompson, who suffered a season-ending injury (broken bone in foot) in the Rockets’ first series against EMU.
Still, Central has to deal with All-MAC first-team quarterback Logan Woodside.
“It’s one big challenge when you’re talking about Logan Woodside and the arsenal weapons that they have over there whether they’re running the ball with (Terry) Swanson or one of the young kids they have backing him up and their receiving corp is very deep and they are very strong up front,” pointed out Bonamego said.
Toledo defeated Central last year, 31-17.
Eastern hopes to end slide
Eastern Michigan will take the trip to West Point Saturday to take on an Army team coming off a rare bowl win a year ago.
The Eagles (2-3, 0-2) will be trying to end a three-game losing streak in the non-conference game.
It’s not like Eastern has played bad.
The Eagles have been extremely competitive, coming up with a double-overtime loss to Ohio (27-20), a 24-20 loss at Kentucky, and then the 20-15 setback at Toledo.
Eastern had just two turnovers, but both came on Brogan Roback interceptions when the Eagles were going into a strong wind during the fourth quarter, the final one ending their final drive at Toledo’s 31.
It was Toledo’s 11th straight win over Eastern.
“There was much to be proud and excited about,” said Eastern coach Chris Creighton. “We played incredibly hard and just didn’t have enough in the end to make the plays that we needed to down the stretch and lost to a good football team, but I’m encouraged by our football team. I believe in our football team and we’re going to keep doing everything that we believe in to continue to get better and we’re excited about another challenge this week.”
“... Our defense is playing great. We lost the turnover/takeaway ratio and that’s one area we work really hard on, but our defense played incredibly well.”
Eastern’’s goal — earning a second consecutive bowl appearance, then winning the bowl game — is still reachable, but the Eagles need to end the slide against an Army team which is 4-2 and coming off a 49-12 rout of Rice where it forced six turnovers.
“You have incredible respect for those guys,” said Creighton of Army. “They are as well-coached as any team in America and they’re never going to give up and they have schemes that are very, very, very challenging.
Western win streak grows
Western Michigan first-year head coach Tim Lester loves how his Broncos have handled adversity, coming back from a fourth-quarter deficit to earn their first win of the season against Idaho and then pulling out a 71-68, seven-OT win at Buffalo on Saturday.
After all, the Broncos dominated games on their way to winning the Mid-American Conference championship last season.
Western (4-2, 2-0) and Buffalo combined for a FBS record 139 points and tied the record for longest game.
Now, the Broncos have won four straight and will carry their 12-game winning streak against MAC opponents into Saturday’s Homecoming game against Akron (3-3, 2-0).
“I’m really proud of them with the way they continue to fight,” Lester said. “I felt like we’re a team that likes to run the ball and try to wear teams out. And, as they gave us extra time I felt like we ran the ball better and better and better. We didn’t play well in all three phases. And there’s nothing better than not playing well and having a W next to your name, which allows us to go back, figure out our issues and get better. But we found a way.”
Lester has to feel good about redshirt sophomore quarterback Jon Wassink — who had the unenviable task of having to replace Zach Terrell — heading into the second-half of the season.
Wassink completed 23-of-29 passes for 256 yards and 5 TDs in the win over Buffalo, and has connected on 69-of-92 for 973 yards and 12 TDs (3 interceptions) during the four-game winning streak.
“He’s doing a great job of managing (the offense), he’s more confident, he’s making the throws down the field, he’s involved in our run game and he had his second receiving touchdown of the year,” noted Lester of Wassink.
“He’s just such a level-headed kid who never gets too high, never gets too low, and the great thing is that were running the ball and putting him in good situations, but he’s quietly playing great and that’s what I want him to continue to do.”
The Broncos’ rushing offense ranks 21st nationally (236.8), averaging 302 yards during the last three games, 376 on 68 attempts Saturday.
Western senior running back Jarvion Franklin earned MAC West Offensive Player of the Week honors for rushing for 176 yards on 37 carries, 102 on 22 carries and 3 TDs during the OTs.
Franklin became the third running back in WMU history to rush for 4,000 career yards, and his four TDs Saturday gave him 51 overall TDs, tying him for No. 1 in school history with receiver Corey Davis who was the first-round pick of the Titans in this April’s NFL Draft.
Next up is an Akron team the Broncos defeated, 41-0, last season. Akron is coming off an impressive 31-3 win over Ball State. The Broncos defeated Ball State, 55-3, Sept. 30.
Eastern Michigan at Army
When: Saturday, noon
Where: Michie Stadium, West Point, N.Y.
TV / radio: CBSSN / 89.1 FM
Records: Eastern Michigan 2-3, Army 4-2
Toledo at Central Michigan
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Mt. Pleasant
TV / radio: No TV / 1270 AM
Records: Central Michigan 3-3, Toledo 4-1
Akron at Western Michigan
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo
TV / radio: CBSSN / 1130 AM
Records: Western Michigan 4-2, Akron 3-3