Rawls leads Chippewas' rushing attack into Week 2 matchup with Purdue
When the season began, there were three Central Michigan University running backs in the mix for the starting job. By the fourth quarter of last week’s 20-16 win over Chattanooga, the Chippewas had found their workhorse.
All 11 of the Chippewas’ fourth quarter carries went to senior Thomas Rawls, a graduate transfer student from the University of Michigan and clutch asset down the stretch of the season.
After getting 25 touches for 121 yards and a touchdown during week one action, Rawls has a powerful momentum heading into Saturday’s game at Purdue.
“We liked the way (Rawls) ran,” said head coach Dan Enos. “I thought we were very physical. The excitement and determination that he ran with, that’s what I was most excited about. You could just tell he wanted the ball and he wanted to gain yards.”
Junior Saylor Lavallii and sophomore Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore were the other two running backs that saw action last Thursday.
Lavallii totaled 10 carries for 22 yards while MSG fumbled on his only carry. Enos showed little tolerance for Shoemaker-Gilmore’s turnover early in the first half.
“Maurice has had issues in the past.” Enos said. “He fumbled against Western Michigan and Ball State last year in limited carries. He didn’t carry it much the rest of the year. He’s going to get many carries before it’s all over, but he fumbled without anyone really hitting him. We can’t do that.”
Off the field and during the Chippewas’ first game, Rawls has assumed a leadership role.
“After (Shoemaker-Gilmore) came to the sideline, I patted him on the helmet and I said ‘next play.’ I said ‘get it the next play,” Rawls said. “Knowing his mindset, the next time he goes out there, it won’t happen again.”
Whoever has the ball on a consistent basis Saturday has the advantage of facing an extremely weak Purdue rushing defense.
The Boilermakers allowed Western Michigan’s true freshman Jarvion Franklin to run for 163 yards and three touchdowns in the two teams’ season opener.
Running the ball will be crucial if the Chippewas, who might be without senior wide receiver Titus Davis. The standout receiver and kick returner is day-to-day with a left knee sprain he suffered in CMU’s first game.
“For us to establish the run game is very key to our success on Saturday,” Lavallii said. “Any night any of us could have a big game. Thursday night, (Rawls) was hot, he was rolling, so we kept feeding him.”
Rawls played against Purdue twice as a Wolverine.
“It’s a little chip there, just playing a Big 10 school,” Rawls said. “My mentality going into this game would be no different than when I went into the game against Chattanooga.”
Enos said the rest of the Chippewas offense is extremely aware of just how dangerous Rawls can be, right up to the final whistle.
“Sometimes we counted three or four guys bounced off of him,” Enos said. “If you block a guy and let him go watch the play, your guy may the one that ends up making the tackle. That may be the difference between a 10 yard run and a 50 yard run.”