Evan Petzold covers Central Michigan for CM Life in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. We caught up with him to talk about the Chippewas ahead of Friday's Potato Bowl.
Brandon Foster: What was the fans and team's reaction to receiving a Potato Bowl invite?
Evan Petzold: When you look at it, obviously the Quick Lane Bowl was kind of the site that everybody was hoping for. Northern Illinois is going to play in that against Duke, but I know a lot of the guys, especially fans, players, they wanted to play in the Quick Lane Bowl because it's played in Detroit. So it's right there close to home. But as far as playing against Wyoming in the Idaho Potato Bowl, a lot of guys said, "We've never been out that way before." I know quarterback Shane Morris said that. Coach John Bonamego hasn't been out that way before. Captain Joe Ostman, he hasn't been out that way either. So for a lot of these guys, going out west is a little bit of a first for them. So a lot of guys were pretty darn pumped about the fact that they were able to kind of get the opportunity to do something new that they haven't done.
Everybody that plays for CMU, for the most part, has been to Detroit. They've seen Detroit. They know Michigan. So in one sense, there was kind of a little bit of a frustration because yeah, you don't get that home-crowd field. Your family, if they're going to come, they've got to make a much longer travel. I know for us reporters it was kind of crummy, because Detroit would have been a lot nicer. But I mean for the players, though, they looked at it and they thought of it as, "Hey, this is an opportunity to do something new," and you don't get to do that often. There were definitely mixed feelings about it, but all and all, I know the guys and Coach Bonamego were pumped to go out west and try something new.
BF: Up until Wednesday, it was up in the air whether Josh Allen would be playing. Did you get the sense that the team would have been fine with playing Wyoming without Allen or that they wanted the opportunity to play a high-profile guy like him?
EP: When it was announced that Central would be playing Wyoming in the bowl game, Shane Morris, the quarterback, he came out right away and he said, "I'm excited to play against Josh Allen. He's an NFL Draft prospect, and he's the real deal, and I'm excited to play against him." Even though it was up in the air and nobody really knew, Central Michigan were definitely excited for the challenge. I think that they would've thought of it as more of a disappointment if he didn't play. If you can go in there, you can get a win, you can beat a quarterback like that, if definitely says a lot more about your team than if you go and beat a backup who hasn't gotten as much time.
BF: What has led the defense to force so many turnovers this season?
EP: You get one or two and they just sort of start coming. For me, I don't know what it is. It kind of just happens. It's one of those things where I don't know if it gets in the quarterback's head or the opposing running back's head. I don't know if it's that. But it's definitely a momentum thing, and if Central Michigan can force a couple turnovers against Wyoming early, the Cowboys are definitely going to have some problems.
BF: Running back Jonathan Ward has topped 100 yards in three of his last four games. Does it seem like he's hit his groove at the end of the season?
EP: He has. He did start out a little bit slower than most people would've liked. When you toss a quarterback in there, I know Shane Morris was at Michigan, but he didn't really get much playing time, so it's a new quarterback. It's a new offense, and all those guys were used to playing with Cooper Rush last year, and now you take a new quarterback and you throw him into that, and it kind of jumbles up everything. It's another reason CMU had that little three-game losing stint early in the season. And right when they started to get out of that, that's when Ward started to really take off. The offense, everybody, whether it's the offensive line, the quarterback, the receivers, the running back, everybody just started clicking on all cylinders and right when that happened, Jonathan Ward took off and started to make a name for himself.
BF: Central Michigan has been to some bowls recently but hasn't been able to pull off a win the last three times. Is that motivation going into this one?
EP: Oh yeah. I mean, they know that this is a big one for them. Especially because the seniors on this team, they've been to multiple bowl games but haven't won. There's no player on this football team for Central Michigan that has won a bowl game. So that's been used for motivation really all season long. Their goal was to get to a bowl game, but not only just to get there, but execute and win that. Shane Morris coming in, he even said that, "This is something I want to do." He said, "I didn't even know the seniors here hadn't won one, but I want to get the job done for these guys, because I know it's a really big deal to win a bowl game." All these guys want rings on their fingers, so that's what they're aiming for.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.