OXFORD, Ohio — As it turns out, competition is indeed a good thing.
Two weeks after inserting redshirt freshman Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore into the lineup to provide a spark at tailback, Central Michigan coach Dan Enos turned to him again on Saturday.
With CMU trailing 9-7 early in the third quarter and the offense sputtering, the bulk of it coming on the ground from sophomore tailback Saylor Lavallii, it was Shoemaker-Gilmore’s series of carries on the team’s second drive of the quarter that helped open up the offense.
They weren’t huge, his longest carry of the drive was 7 yards, but helped make a difference.
“I was just itching to get in,” Shoemaker-Gilmore said, who rushed four consecutive times on the drive for 10 yards. “I knew once I got in I was going to run hard, and I knew the line was going to do their thing.”
After Shoemaker-Gilomore’s four carries, Rush found junior receiver Titus Davis for passes of 7 and 17 yards, respectively, and freshman Anthony Rice for 16 and 7 yards. Even junior tight end Deon Butler got in on the action, catching a pass for 12 yards on a key third-and-8 from the Miami 26.
That set up a trio of rushes from Lavallii, punching it in from 3 yards out to give CMU a 14-9 lead with 0:45 remaining in the quarter. It was his second touchdown of the game, he also scored CMU’s first touchdown of the game at 10:45 in the second, en route to career highs in rushing yards (151) and carries (25).
“You definitely saw an upgrade in Saylor’s play today,” Shoemaker-Gilmore said. “It’s all fun, it’s all competitive. At the end of the day, that’s my friend. But when we’re out there, I’m pushing him like he’s pushing me.”
Shoemaker-Gilmore broke off a pair of long carries in the fourth quarter, including a 16-yard touchdown run that put CMU up 21-9 with 6:13 left in the fourth. He finished with 50 yards on 10 carries.
“That was the whole gameplan, to come in here and run the ball,” Shoemaker-Gilmore said. “We didn’t start off too great. You saw that last drive what we’re capable of and we’re going to go forward doing that every week.”
Lavallii, who has been defensive in recent weeks about Enos being vocal about the need for competition at running back, seemed to turn a new leaf on Saturday. He stopped short of declaring Shoemaker-Gilmore’s recent success a prime motivator for his uptick in production, saying the two “are like a 1-2 punch out there.”
“We kind of complement each other,” Lavallii said. “ He’s got more of the strength speed and I’m more of a quick, powerful guy. Me and him both complement each other very well, and Shoe had a big day and I’m proud of him.”
Said Enos: “Those guys are a funny group. One guy watches another guy go in there and get a 12-yard run and then think they think they better go in and hit it. It’s good for guys to watch other guys run, and it helps our team.”
Contact Aaron McMann: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.