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CMU vs. Tulsa preview: Slow powerful Hurricane

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Corey Willis

David Goricki of The Detroit News breaks down Monday’s Miami Beach Bowl (2:30 p.m., ESPN) between Central Michigan (6-6) and Tulsa (9-3).

CMU PLAYERS TO WATCH

Cooper Rush, QB, senior: It is rare these days to see a four-year starting quarterback in the FBS, but that’s exactly what Rush is, a reason he is the nation’s active leader in passing yards (12,653). He has thrown for 3,299 yards and 23 TDs this season. Rush has been at his best in big games, throwing for 361 yards and four TDs in the dramatic 30-27 victory over Oklahoma State in Stillwater back on Sept. 10. And don’t forget the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl game his sophomore year when he threw for 493 yards and seven TDs in a 49-48 loss to Western Kentucky. In that game, the Chips failed to convert a two-point PAT after scoring a TD on the final play.

Corey Willis, WR, junior: Willis has nearly doubled his production from a year ago and he needed to following the loss of Jesse Kroll due to a Week No. 4 injury in a defeat against Virginia. It was Kroll and Willis who helped combine for the dramatic play to give the Chips a 51-yard TD on the final play of the win over Oklahoma State. Cooper Rush unloaded a bomb from his own end of the field and Kroll hauled it in, then while falling down flipped the ball to Willis at the 9 and he raced into the end zone. Willis has 68 receptions for 1,024 yards and nine TDs.

Joe Ostman, DE, junior: Ostman is a disruptive force, getting in on 64 tackles, including 13.5 for loss yardage, and nine sacks. Ostman was never better than in a 27-20 victory over MAC East champion Ohio in the home finale Nov. 15 when he had two sacks and forced a fumble to help make the Chips bowl-eligible.

TULSA PLAYERS TO WATCH

James Flanders, RB, senior: Flanders is the main weapon in Tulsa’s high-powered offense that ranks No. 6 nationally in total offense (522.5 yards) and 11th in scoring (41.4 points). Flanders led the American Athletic Conference (AAC) in rushing with 1,529 yards and 17 TDs. He has been a workhorse in a number of games, displayed no better than his 33 carries for 249 yards and five TDs in a 59-30 rout of Memphis, and 39 carries for 197 yards and two TDs in a 40-37 overtime win over Cincinnati in the regular-season finale.

Keevan Lucas, WR, senior: Lucas is the main receiver in Tulsa’s aerial attack with 74 receptions for 1,108 yards and 12 TDs, earning first-team All-AAC honors. Lucas, 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, had a breakout season his sophomore year (101 receptions, 1,219 yards, 11 TDs), then suffered a season-ending knee injury during the fourth game of his junior year. He has been a consistent threat this year, grabbing at least one TD in each of the last six games.

Dane Evans, QB, senior: Evans is a three-year starter who even got on the field at times as a freshman, throwing for 11,376 career yards and 79 TDs. He has enjoyed some of his better outings against quality opponents, throwing for 369 yards and four TDs in the 42-40 loss to Navy, 365 yards and a TD in a 38-31 loss to Houston, and 305 yards and three TDs in the OT win over Cincinnati.

FACTS AND FIGURES

* CMU junior cornerback Amari Coleman had a season to be proud of, earning first-team All-MAC honors after leading the conference in interceptions (four), passes broken up (15) and passes defended (19).

* The Chippewas need Coleman in the lineup, but he will be a game-time decision after getting his knee scoped. He has made 25 consecutive starts.

* It would be easy to say Tulsa has the most balanced offense in all of football. That’s what happens when you average 260.8 yards through the air and 261.8 on the ground.

* CMU allows an average of 376.2 yards, 161.3 on the ground, to rank fifth in the MAC.

* Tulsa played in a bowl game last year, but lost to Virginia Tech in a shootout – 55-52 in the Independence Bowl – to finish 6-7 for their third straight losing season.

* Tulsa has nine wins and nearly had 11, falling just short against Houston (38-31) and Navy (42-40), teams that were ranked this year.

* Tulsa is the smallest school in FBS with an enrollment of 4,100. Still, the Golden Hurricane have played big, earning their 10th bowl appearance in the last 14 years.

PREDICTIONS

David Goricki: Cooper Rush plays Santa and gives CMU fans an early Christmas present, throwing for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns to give himself a gift as well in becoming the MAC all-time career passing yards leader. CMU, 34-31

Tony Paul: Central Michigan scuffled down the stretch, losing four of its last five to barely hold on to their bowl eligibility. Still, the Chippewas battled in every game after that Western Michigan debacle. They’ll do the same here, but come up short again. Tulsa, 43-37