Alex Niznak must raise level of play following Cody Kater, Zurlon Tipton injuries

Alex Niznak will make his first career start next Saturday against New Hampshire.

Central Michigan quarterback Cody Kater‘s season was abruptly put on pause Saturday, after the junior suffered a broken collarbone against Michigan. If that wasn’t bad enough, senior halfback Zurlon Tipton went down with a broken ankle; an injury that could jeopardize his senior year.

These injuries to Central Michigan’s starting backfield will take significant time to mend, if not the whole season. Without Kater and Tipton, Central Michigan’s fortunes on offense will primarily rest in the hands of quarterback Alex Niznak and his cohort of playmakers. The redshirt sophomore will lean heavily on junior receiver Titus Davis, sophomore halfback Saylor Lavllii, and sophomore receiver Andrew Flory, heading into his first collegiate start against New Hampshire.

Niznak’s first career appearance was a mixed bag, as he completed just 11 of 22 passing attempts for 131 yards and one interception. His two conversions on third-and-20 and third-and-17 via two long passes to Flory were bright spots in an otherwise ugly game.

“I wouldn’t say today was the best of Alex Niznak,” Niznak said. “I made some plays I’d like to have back. I felt like I would start to get rolling and then something would happen.”

A record-setting crowd at Michigan Stadium (112,618), littered in maize and jubilant as ever, was not an ideal setting for a young quarterback playing in his first game, even if Niznak says differently.

Combine the raucous crowd in Ann Arbor with a pass rush unlike anything Central will face for the rest of the season, and it was a losing proposition no matter how you slice it. The good news is the former Ithaca Yellow Jacket’s first start will be at home at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, against a team that while not a pushover by any means, will provide better matchups across the board for Central.

Central should see much healthier running lanes, Niznak will face less pressure and receivers should have ample time to get open against New Hampshire. With that said, Niznak has to release the ball faster, as he often held onto the ball too long against the Wolverines.

Next week and as the season progresses, head coach Dan Enos will tailor the offense more towards Niznak’s strengths. That is something Enos had previously worked on with Niznak, as he competed with Kater for the starting job in the spring. Don’t be surprised if Enos utilizes the quarterback’s athleticism via more rollouts, read-options and designed quarterback runs. Replacing Tipton’s production is impossible, but Niznak can help supplement the running game in Tipton’s absence and provide the type of dual threat versatility that drives defensive coordinators crazy.

Niznak does have to raise his level of play if Central still plans to compete for a MAC Championship and/or a bowl berth without Tipton. But he doesn’t have to do it alone and he doesn’t have to do it all at once.

Photo by Brittni Hengesbach.