For a while on Saturday, the Central Michigan offense looked eerily similar to the week before.
Stalled drives, a rushing attack with little teeth and quarterback Cooper Rush making freshman mistakes. Again.
Rush started off the game with an interception on CMU’s third play from scrimmage, misreading a route and throwing it directly to Miami defensive end Chris Wade. He followed it up with a fumble on the next drive that CMU was able to recover.
Then came overthrows to open receivers Titus Davis and Courtney Williams. And the play on third-and-6 near midfield in which Rush threw behind a streaking Andrew Flory up the middle, followed up by a frustrated slap of the hands and stomp toward the bench.
He needed a wake-up call. It came from quarterbacks coach Morris Watts, who coach Dan Enos said “tore (Cooper) a new one.”
“We expect you to make those plays, and you expect to make those plays,” Watts said. “You’re not going to accept it, and we’re not going to accept it. What I really was trying to do was get the frustration out of him. Because you could tell in his eyes at half that he was a little frustrated.”
Rush and the offense came out anew in the second half, behind the rushing attack of sophomore tailback Saylor Lavallii and redshirt freshman Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore. Lavallii rushed for a season-high 151 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns. Gilmore tacked on another 50 yards, a season-high for him, and a touchdown.
A balanced offense allowed Rush to be more effective. He was hitting Davis, junior tight end Deon Butler and freshman Anthony Rice on key plays to extend drives. He finished the game 11-for-21 for 110 yards.
Not his usual gaudy numbers, but effective and turnover free.
“Again, that is what we need him to do,” Enos said. “We need him to be more efficient. He can’t turn the ball over and he’s got to make plays on third down.”
Diagnosing Rush’s problems early on have been complicated. In his quiet and shy persona, he says he’s “just got to pick it up.” Enos and Watts have been hesitant to blame confidence issues on some of his throws, pointing out that he’s only a freshman and still learning, but realize that it is time for the excuses to end.
“He’s missing throws that he probably hasn’t missed in his whole life,” Watts said. “Sometimes he’s letting the ball go and it’s sailing on him. He can do it all, we’ve just to keep playing and working hard.”
“I wish I could tell you,” he said. “Because I’d write a book and then I’d retire because every coach in America would read it.”
Contact Aaron McMann: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.