LAS VEGAS — Having a balanced offense is nice, and something Dan Enos has preached since day one, but Central Michigan could only pull it off for one half on Saturday.
And after CMU’s 31-21 loss that saw the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, score 31 unanswered points, it ended up being the difference maker.
The Chippewas outgained the Rebels 273-115 in the first half, racing out to a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. Redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Rush continued what he started last week, throwing for 181 yards and a touchdown, while the running game became more involved than in the first two weeks with junior Anthony Garland and redshirt freshman Martez Walker also seeing some carries.
Sophomore tailback Saylor Lavallii was effective early, rushing 11 times for 46 yards, and scoring from 3 yards out twice to put the Chippewas up 14-0. They were the first rushing touchdowns of the season for CMU, who relied heavily on Rush’s arm in a 34-31 win against New Hampshire.
Lavallii’s carries late in drives were the result of a mixed attack of passing and running – Rush threw for 181 yards and, even more importantly, had not thrown an interception – that had UNLV scrambling for much of the half.
After the Rebels scored late in the half, cutting CMU’s lead to 21-7, the Chippewas became one-dimensional, head coach Dan Enos said after. They tallied 15 first downs in the first half, converting just six times in the second half.
UNLV instituted more of a blitz package, stacking the box against the run-game, ruling Lavallii and Garland ineffective. The CMU rushing crew rushed for a total of 21 yards in the second half, forcing Enos to throw the ball more.
As a result, more of a need was placed on Rush’s arm. And with more of a need comes pressure for the redshirt freshman, who went 9-for-24 in the second half. Many of those throws were rushed, and he was intercepted twice late in the fourth after CMU gave up its lead – one that it never got back.
Rush nor any players were made available for comment, but Enos said his quarterback’s interceptions were the result of missing a receiver and trying to force too much. The Rebels defense gave up just 84 yards passing in the second half, while CMU only drove in to opponent territory twice – one that resulted in an interception and the other a turnover on downs during the Chippewas final drive of the game.
- Senior linebacker Shamari Benton intercepted a pass by UNLV starting quarterback Nick Sherry during the first drive of the game, the fifth pick for the CMU secondary this season. The Chippewas continue to lead the Mid-American Conference in interceptions.
- Redshirt freshman Connor Collins started at right guard on Saturday, replacing senior Cody Pettit who had emerged at the position during preseason camp.