Strolling off the Kelly/Shorts Stadium field during halftime on Saturday, head football coach Dan Enos made it clear he was less than happy about his team’s first-half offensive performance.
“I thought our defense was good,” Enos told Central Michigan Sports Network sideline reporter Jim Costa. “Offensively, we got nothing going.”
When he returned to the locker room, he turned it up.
“This is the season right now,” Enos recalls telling the team. “Who are we going to be? We’ve got to start figuring out who we are.”
For much of the first half on Saturday, CMU’s offense was stagnant. The Chippewas’ first three drives ended in three-and-outs, while sophomore quarterback Alex Niznak threw an interception on a third-and-14 play during their fourth drive.
By midway through the second quarter, CMU had not recorded a first down and Enos promptly benched Niznak – named the starter after showing good command of the offense last week at No. 11 Michigan – for redshirt freshman Cooper Rush.
“That’s not us. We’re not playing the we way we can play. We’re playing tentative, we’re not playing fast. We’re not playing aggressive,” Enos said of his speech to the team. “We weren’t playing like we practiced.”
The players knew it, too. New Hampshire came out fast, looking to move the ball quickly – and it did. The Wildcats put together a game-opening 12-play, 51-yard drive that resulted in a missed field goal but followed that up with a touchdown on their next possession.
Starting quarterback Andy Vailas showcased his dual-threat ability, keeping CMU’s defense scurrying. Vailas would keep the ball for a short 3, 4-yard carry and follow it up with a nice dump-pass up the middle for a first-down gain. He was able to do it with ease for much of the first half, jumping out to a 13-0 lead.
“They came out with stuff we hadn’t seen on film,” said senior safety Avery Cunningham, “So we had to make adjustments to that. As we got settled in, we played better.
“But coach Enos gave us an ultimatum pretty much at halftime. To fight or just go home. So, we kind of had to pick up our intensity level.”
After the speech, CMU’s play noticeably picked up. Rush, who was 19-for-32 for 326 yards, led CMU on touchdown drives of 61, 65 and 97 yards, respectively, to tie the game at 21. Then he marched the offense 66 yards late in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning 27-yard field goal by redshirt freshman Ron Coluzzi.
On the defensive side, New Hampshire about matched its yardage total but the Chippewas were able to control the time of possession and forced two key turnovers, an interception by sophomore safety Kavon Frazier that resulted in the game-tying touchdown and forced fumble – recovered by Frazier – that led to the game-winning drive.
“He definitely challenged us, and I think we responded well,” Rush said.
Said Enos: “I’ll give them credit too because we took the ball down and got stopped on a fourth-and-1, and the wind could have gone out of the sails at that point. I don’t think it did, I think our guys just kept playing and kept believing. We’ve got to get better, but it was good to see us win.”
Contact Aaron McMann: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.