East Lansing — Central Michigan first-year head coach John Bonamego said he becomes more impressed with his junior quarterback Cooper Rush with each and every game prior to the Chippewas' battle with No. 2 Michigan State Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium.
It was easy to see why Bonamego has high praise for the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Rush after his performance against the Spartans.
Rush — who entered the game ranked ninth in passing yards (983) with 70.3 percent accuracy — completed 26 of 39 passes for 285 yards and a TD without turning the ball over in a 30-10 loss.
Rush and the Chippewas played toe-to-toe with MSU, trailing 17-10 during the early part of the fourth quarter.
"We're sitting there (early) in the fourth quarter and it was like, 'Man, it's right there for us.'" Rush said. "There's not much more you can ask for, down seven in the fourth against the No. 2 team in the country. We were able to move the ball for the most part, but shooting ourselves in the foot with long third downs."
In the first half, Rush completed 16-of-21 passes — spreading the ball to six receivers — for 173 yards and a TD to keep the Chippewas within 10 (17-7).
It could have been much closer. Rush led the Chippewas into MSU territory during their second drive, but Brian Eavey's 45-yard field goal was blocked.
Then, Rush led an impressive drive, hitting on three third down passes to keep the threat alive. He found Mark Chapman on a third and 11 play, but a yard short at the MSU 21.
On fourth-and-1, CMU was set to go for it, but a false start set up yet another field goal and the 43-yard attempt by Eavey was again blocked, this time by Shilique Calhoun.
"You scratch and claw to get it down and then to come up empty-handed is very discouraging," Bonamego said.
MSU's Michael Geiger kicked a 47-yard field goal with 11:20 left in the half and the Spartans scored again when Connor Cook found Josiah Price for a 5-yard TD toss to open up a 17-0 cushion with 5:13 left.
Yes, the Chippewas failed to take advantage of their chances early to gain momentum.
Still, there was no quit in Rush who led a 80-yard, 13-play drive for a TD before halftime, completing 4-of-7 for 58 yards, including third down completions to Jesse Kroll of 16 and 14 yards to set up a 1-yard TD toss to Anthony Rice on third down with eight seconds left in the half.
It was Rush's eighth third down completion of the half.
"Cooper's a great football player, the leader of our offense and we kind of go as he goes and I can't say enough good things about him," said Bonamego of Rush.
CMU wasted another great chance for a TD, settling for a 42-yard field goal by Eavey to pull within 17-10 midway through the third.
First, Devon Spalding broke loose for 42 yards to MSU's 46, then Rush found Kroll for 13 and Rice for 17 more to the Spartans' 16 before a sack by Calhoun and an unsportsmanlike penalty on CMU left tackle Ramadan Ahmeti pushed the Chippewas back to the 39.
Then, Rush had to find Corey Willis on a third-and-33 play for 14 yards to even get Eavey into range.
Rush had one bad toss to end a threat in the third when he threw behind a receiver on fourth-and-2 from the MSU 37 after a 23-yard pass play to Rice on the previous play on third and 25.
That would be CMU's last chance to pull even as on the next series, Rush would complete yet another third down pass to Kroll to the Chips' 38, but a penalty and then another sack by Calhoun would put them back at the 12 and give MSU a short field to work with.
And, the Spartans took advantage, scoring on a 61-yard drive with Gerald Holmes scoring on a 3-yard run with 8:37 left for a 24-10 lead.
Rush still battled, fighting back to find Kroll for a first down in MSU territory, but Kroll was stripped and the Spartans recovered at the 42. They again would capitalize on another Holmes TD run.
"We just made too many mistakes down the stretch," said Bonamego of the Chips, who converted on just 1-of-6 third downs in the second half. "The fourth-quarter penalties on offense and the missed tackles on defense. I felt the turnover on Jesse Kroll's completion and then fumble, I felt that probably was the turning point. It gave them the ball and the momentum.
"Michigan State's an excellent football team and they deserve to be ranked where they're at. I think we have a good young team and we're getting better all the time. We're going to correct some mistakes and I think we're going to be a very tough team when we get into league play starting next week."
Rice finished with eight receptions for 78 yards and Kroll, six for 86.
CMU (1-3) will play host to MAC champion Northern Illinois next Saturday. All three of CMU's losses have come against Power 5 conference teams, including Oklahoma State 24-13 and Syracuse 30-27 (OT).