Quarterback Cooper Rush could not have started the game against No. 23 Northern Illinois any better on Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
He had eight completions in 11 attempts for 146 yards and two touchdown passes in the first quarter to give his team a 14-7 lead.
Then Rush’s efficiency declined and the offensive production came to a halt. CMU scored three more points and Rush completed eight of 21 passes for 125 yards in the next three quarters.
Head coach Dan Enos, who said Rush did “well,” had a diagnosis of why the passing game went awry, which entailed struggles with running the ball and a schematic change from the Huskies’ defense.
“They kind of changed their philosophy a little bit and went to a two deep zone,” Enos said. “We’re getting three yards (rushing), we’re getting two yards (rushing). We need to get a 15 yards (rushing) in there.”
The longest carries by CMU in the game were 8 yards by running backs Saylor Lavallii and Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore.
Central Michigan rushed for 75 yards for the game, second worst of the season.
Enos said the offense’s time of possession could have been better in the second half with a run game that could be relied on, and it gave NIU’s offense a chance to establish itself, as it amassed 299 rushing yards in the second half.
“It really comes down to, at the end of the day, their ability to run the football and our inability to run the football,” Enos said. “When you put it on your quarterback and say you’ve got to throw every down or you’ve got to convert all of these third and eights it’s going to get really difficult.”
Rush was not beyond criticism. In addition to speaking about easy throws he missed, Enos touched on his costly interception.
“He couldn’t see somebody and you’ve got to understand as a young quarterback if you can’t see him don’t throw it,” Enos said. “He was going by ‘I thought he was going to be in a certain spot’ and he wasn’t there.”
The CMU receivers were there for Rush more than the running backs.
Titus Davis, returning from a shoulder injury, had five catches for 109 yards and accounted for the first touchdown of the game with a catch in the corner of the end zone.
“The coverage dictates who gets the ball,” Enos said. “Early in the game, they were singling him and we probably took advantage of it too quickly. We should have not done so many so they would not change the coverage so fast. But Andrew Flory made a couple big plays too. That was really nice to see him do that.”
Flory, who had five catches for 81 yards, ran down the middle of the field on a route and had a 36-yard touchdown catch to take back CMU’s lead 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.