Around the MAC: Conference continues to hold its own

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Mid-American Conference football teams continued to flex their muscles in Week 3, showing they could go toe-to-toe with Power Five Conference teams, including the best team the nation has to offer.

MAC champion Northern Illinois traveled to “The Horseshoe” in Columbus to face the defending national champion, actually taking the lead over No. 1 Ohio State in the first half before falling 20-13 Saturday afternoon.

The Huskies didn’t seem intimidated, forcing five turnovers, including three interceptions to give them a short field with which to work.

It’s just that Northern Illinois didn’t take advantage of Ohio State’s miscues.

“That was the thing that gave us a 10-10 tie at halftime and as good as the turnovers were we didn’t capitalize like we could have and that came back to bite us,” Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said. “I certainly was happy with our guys effort and we’ll grow from it.”

Toledo, which defeated No. 18 Arkansas on the road Sept. 12, earned its second straight win in as many weekends against a Power Five Conference team, defeating Iowa State 30-23 in overtime Saturday night with former Cass Tech defensive back DeJuan Rogers coming through with 10 tackles and a pass break-up.

“Those are great wins against great football teams, but it’s early and we have a lot of work to do,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said.

Central Michigan pushed Syracuse to the limit at the Carrier Dome, falling 30-27 in overtime after forcing extra time when Cooper Rush found tight end Ben McCord for a 27-yard touchdown pass with seven seconds left to cap off a 90-yard, 12-play drive.

Bowling Green played host to Memphis to face the Tigers a week after knocking off Maryland 48-27 behind a 491-yard, six-touchdown effort from Matt Johnson.

Well, Johnson threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns without an interception against Memphis, but Bowling Green failed to protect a 41-34 fourth-quarter lead, losing 44-41.

And, Kent State played well defensively at Minnesota, limiting the Gophers to just 10 points in a 10-7 loss.

So, how impressive have MAC teams and players been during the first three weeks?

Johnson leads the nation in passing yards (1,358 yards) and 12 TDs with just one interception after missing the majority of last season due to an injury.

Western Michigan junior receiver Daniel Braverman leads the nation with 40 receptions, 14 for 167 yards and two touchdowns Saturday in a 52-20 rout of Murray State.

Next up for the Broncos, a trip to … The Horseshoe to face those Buckeyes.

CMU ready for Michigan State

Don’t expect Central Michigan to be intimidated by No. 2 Michigan State. It will be the third team from a Power Five Conference it has played, losing to No. 25 Oklahoma State 24-13 in the opener at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Central Michigan has a leader in Rush, a third-year starting quarterback who makes sure the Chippewas will fight to the end.

CMU trailed 24-10 at halftime before Rush rallied the Chips back. He completed 37-of-51 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns with an interception against Syracuse and is coming off a consecutive 300-plus yard efforts for the first time in his career.

Expect Rush to test MSU’s secondary, especially if CMU’s offensive line can give him any type of time to spread the ball around. He found seven different receivers against the Orange, including 10 each to McCord and running back Devon Spalding.

“Cooper continues to impress me the more I’ve been around him,” CMU first-year head coach John Bonamego said of Rush, who is No. 9 nationally in passing yards (983), completing 70.3 percent of his tosses. “He’s spreading the ball around and we don’t have that one dominant guy that we did in the past in Titus Davis.

“We’ll prepare for this game like any other game. We know it will be a huge challenge and we’re excited to play in that venue (at Spartan Stadium). In terms of Michigan State, they have an excellent defense and we’ll have to do a lot of things, mix the run with the pass and play action to move the ball.”

Bonamego is thrilled to be on the sidelines, losing more than 50 pounds while going through cancer treatment (left tonsil).

“I’m doing a little bit better every day,” Bonamego said. “Most of my symptoms have gone by the wayside. I’m getting to the point where I’m able to tolerate some solid stuff and I’m hoping that continues because I’ve lost over 50 pounds which in my case wasn’t necessarily a terrible thing, but it’s not the kind of diet you want to be on.”

Eagles start fast, finish slow again

Eastern Michigan second-year head coach Chris Creighton has his Eagles ready to play with them showing the ability to get off to fast starts.

It’s just the second-half show that’s missing, especially on EMU’s home turf at Rynearson Stadium.

The Eagles jumped on Old Dominion in the season opener, leading by 14 in the first half only to come up short, 38-34.

EMU played a near complete game in a 48-29 win at Wyoming in Week 2.

On Saturday, the Eagles thrilled their home fans, building a 17-0 lead in the second quarter. However, they failed to score again against Ball State, which scored 28 unanswered in a 28-17 win in the MAC opener for the teams.

The Eagles opened up a 17-0 lead when redshirt sophomore Brogan Roback found a receiver from deep in his own territory on third down to set up Darius Jackson’s 63-yard touchdown run.

However, Ball State limited Roback to 9-of-21 passing during the second half (98 yards). He missed an open receiver in the end zone on one drive late in the fourth quarter, and was intercepted when the Eagles had the ball in Cardinals’ territory on their final drive.

Roback will remain the starter when EMU hosts Army on Saturday with Reggie Bell nursing a broken jaw. The Eagles need a win badly with a trip to No. 8 LSU on Oct. 3.

EMU’s defense must play better to come away with a win against Army after giving up 278 yards on the ground to Ball State and failing to slow down quarterback Riley Neal, who completed 13 of 14 passes during the second half.

Broncos earn much-needed win

WMU took care of business against Murray State, earning its first win of the season.

Junior quarterback Zach Terrell completed 25-of-30 for 355 yards and four touchdowns, and will need to be accurate Saturday if the Broncos are to have a chance to stay close to the Buckeyes.

Terrell tossed the ball around to a half-dozen receivers, including Braverman and Corey Davis (six catches, 139 yards, two touchdowns) and Jarvion Franklin got the running game going (27 carries, 161 yards, touchdown) to open up the passing game.

Now, Western Michigan will play the national champion, which will be ready after getting challenged by Northern Illinois.

“When you look at what Ohio State is and how they play and how they’re coached,” Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said. “They’re a phenomenal football team and they have the best head coach (Urban Meyer) in the country, they’re kind of a dream team of everything, We’re looking forward to the challenge. If you want to shoot for the stars you have to play the stars and this is one of them.”

Terrell ranks 10th nationally in passing yards (947), completing 70.7 percent of his passes.

Fleck hopes cornerback and special teams player Darius Phillips can find the end zone like he did with his 100-yard kickoff return against Michigan State and his 10-yard interception return for a score against Murray State.

Phillips has been a strong player in his first year on defense, breaking up three passes in the opener and playing well again Saturday.