Central Michigan has high hopes with Rush in charge

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Mount Pleasant — Central Michigan is coming off one of its biggest victories in school history — 30-27 over No. 22 Oklahoma State on a Hail Mary.

But one game isn’t what the Chippewas have their sights set on.

They want a Mid-American Conference title.

“Everything about it was crazy, the whole experience of going down there (Stillwater) and taking down a giant like that, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle that we’re trying to do this season,” said junior receiver Corey Willis, who finished the winning play. “We’re looking past that situation and we’re trying to just focus on UNLV.”

Still, you can’t look ahead without looking back.

Central Michigan was granted an untimed down at its own 49 after Oklahoma State was called for an intentional grounding penalty (after the game, officials said the untimed play never should have been allowed).

Chippewas quarterback Cooper Rush made the most out of the opportunity, throwing a long pass to Jesse Kroll near the 10 on the right sideline. Kroll then flipped the ball to Willis, who sprinted in for the score.

“Every time (Rush) throws the ball, the ball just comes out of his hands so pretty and it’s disrespect to him if we drop it so you’re always trying to make a play for him,” Willis said. “He’s always calm. He has that calming influence about him and that makes you calm and focused.”

There’s that focus word again.

And this time it’s squarely on visiting UNLV on Saturday before Central Michigan heads to Virginia to close nonconference play. It opens MAC play Oct. 1 at home against Western Michigan, the preseason favorite.

“The MAC title is definitely our goal and right now we’re treating every game as a 1-0 mentality,” Rush said. “We came into camp saying we had 12 seasons and we’re headed into our third one right now.”

Central Michigan won its last MAC title in 2009.

While Kroll and Willis are the two big threats in the passing game, 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior tight end Tyler Conklin is making a difference as well.

“He has unbelievable talent,” Rush said. “He can run like a receiver and is big enough to get open against stronger and bigger guys. He has great ball skills and it’s his work ethic that’s amazing. The guy runs every single route hard and constantly is just hungry to get better.”

Conklin made a couple big plays against Oklahoma State — a 24-yard touchdown reception to pull Central Michigan within 14-7 early, and a one-handed catch on a 5-yard touchdown to make it 17-17.

“We feel we have a great team this year, one of the best quarterbacks in the country, so we really set a lot of team goals where we want to win the MAC championship and try to go for an undefeated season,” Conklin said. “We’re going game by game. ... We don’t want to look too far ahead, just live in the moment.”

And living in that moment means preparing for UNLV.

That’s where the defense comes in.

Coach John Bonamego believes his defense will be ready after a strong tackling game against Oklahoma State.

“We’ve got a great group of skilled athletes to work with, and I think our two secondary coaches, Coach (Archie) Collins and Coach (Mike) Dietzel, have done a good job of developing those players from a fundamental technique standpoint,” Bonamego said. “I think on a bigger picture our defense as a whole (is playing well). Coverages is aided by good coordinated pass rush.

“And, I think the offense even complements your defense because when you have drives like we did last week of 95 and 90 yards, your defense is able to re-energize and rest a little bit.”