Looking at the stat sheet after Central Michigan’s 38-17 loss to Northern Illinois on Saturday, Dan Enos was able to diagnose what went wrong.
Sure, stopping Jordan Lynch from rushing for a Football Bowl Subdivision-record 316 yards might have helped, but CMU couldn’t get a ground game established itself, making it particularly difficult to score in the second half.
“Our longest run of the day, I see, is 8 yards,” Enos said. “We couldn’t get it like we had been the last few weeks.”
As expected, CMU came out throwing the ball, an effort to attack a NIU secondary that ranks last in the Mid-American Conference in passing yards allowed. By the end of the first quarter the Chippewas had a 14-7 lead, relying on big passing plays to move the offense. They ran the football just four times.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Rush found junior receiver Titus Davis for 38 yards on CMU’s second drive of the game, returning to Davis three plays later on a 9-yard touchdown pass to put the Chippewas up 7-0. Rush connected with sophomore Andrew Flory for a 36-yard touchdown catch on CMU’s next possession, and thinks appeared to be rolling.
Enos said NIU began to change to change their defensive schemes, especially in the second half, forcing the Chippewas to run the ball. And they couldn’t.
“They started forcing us to run the football,” Enos said. “We had gotten some big plays in the pass-game, they kind of changed their philosophy and went to a lot of 2-deep zones. And we didn’t get any explosive runs.”
The Huskies tied the game at 14 midway through the second quarter, and Enos opted to try to push the run-game. Sophomore Saylor Lavallii couldn’t break a tackle or find a hole, unable to pick up a carry of more than 4 yards.
After setting career-highs in back-to-back weeks, Lavallii rushed 16 times for 53 yards. Redshirt freshman Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore didn’t fare much better, rushing 12 times for 37 yards.
Enos said he tried inserting Shoemaker-Gilmore in the second half to “change things up,” but CMU couldn’t muster a carry for longer than 7 yards. They rushed for 75 yards total in the game, the third time CMU has been held under 100 yards rushing this season.
“When you can’t run the ball it’s hard to get the offense moving, and we take pride in running the ball,” said senior left guard Andy Phillips. “We’ve done it well the past few weeks, we just didn’t get it going. It’s hard to win when you can’t the ball.”
Things became difficult for Rush, too. After going 11-for-19 for 206 yards, and throwing an interception, he became a non-factor, going 5-for-13 for 65 yards. Part of the problem was not having the football — NIU dominated the time of possession, holding on to the football more than six minutes longer through the first three quarters.
You can chalk that one up to Lynch and NIU’s offensive line, who had their way with the CMU defensive line.
“When you’re just going to put it on your quarterback and throw every down, and convert all these third-and-8′s, it’s going to get very difficult,” Enos said
NIU: Better than last year?
After the game, Enos was asked if this year’s Northern Illinois team, out to a 7-0 start and ranked in the Top 25, was better than 2012.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Enos responded. “I don’t want to say that right now, because I’m not sure. They’re very good, and I thought last year’s team was outstanding too. We’ll see.”
Last year, CMU trailed NIU 24-21 early in the third quarter in DeKalb, Ill., before the Huskies went on to outscore the Chips 31-3. Lynch, who would go on to post more than 3,100 yards passing and 1,800 yards rushing on the season, accounted for more than 350 yards of total offense and two touchdowns.
“What I’m impressed about them is that they’re good in all the areas,” Enos said. “When you look at them you don’t see any glaring weakness, you don’t say you’re going to attack this or attack that. You see places where you think you can attack.”
Contact Aaron McMann: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.