Six up and six down. The glass was half empty or half full. The overall reaction by the Chippewa faithful to their favorite team's 2013 performance was disappointment. It was hard to be encouraged by embarrassing blowout losses on national television where the spotlight exposed the Chippewas' weaknesses and inefficiencies.
Head coach Dan Enos was forced to play neophyte Cooper Rush at quarterback after Cody Kater was injured in the opening game at Michigan and Alex Niznak never got going. The result was the painful experience that one would expect when an understudy is forced into a leading role while not quite being prepared for the limelight.
At times, Cooper Rush looked blinded and burned. However, what we have learned about Cooper Rush is that he is mentally tough and can take a punch and bounce back up. Unfortunately for Cooper, he was forced to bounce back from too many punches during his tenure as a starter for the Chippewas this year. In the end, Enos would only say that the starting quarterback position for 2014 is Rush's to lose. This was not exactly the glowing endorsement that Rush should have expected after enduring the blows from the 2013 season.
The loss of Zurlon Tipton on a third and goal play early in the game at Michigan was a cruel blow to the Chippewas' chances at improving on their strong 2012 finish where they unexpectedly ended up as Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl Champions. The Chippewas lost a chance to stick a finger in the eye of the mighty Wolverines on a fourth and goal. They also lost a chance to put away a couple of opponents later in the season including UNLV and nationally ranked Northern Illinois. Who knows what a difference Tipton would have made in the backfield at UNLV in the second half of that game or at Kelly/Shorts Stadium with 6:00 to go and the Chips trailing by 7 points and driving at midfield? Tipton returned finally and put on a memorable performance against Eastern Michigan which included a thrilling 86 yard touchdown run.
Tipton's replacement, Saylor Lavallii exceeded all expectations by leading the Chips to back to back victories against Miami and Ohio. Lavallii's strong suite is running outside the tackles. He put those skills on display by gashing the RedHawks and Bobcats repeatedly for long bursts down the sidelines.
The Chippewas were given a cruel schedule in 2013. After a long layoff following a discouraging loss to the NIU Huskies, they were forced to play a midweek game against Ball State on national television. Television commentator Robert Smith lamented that the CMU defensive scheme was too complicated and the defenders had trouble executing their assignments. Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning shredded the CMU defense en route to an ignominious blow out.
Out of the ashes in Muncie and the depth chart rose freshman defensive back Tony Annese, who saved the day against the hated Broncos. Annese's pick six sealed the deal for "those people from up North" and allowed the Chips to regain the Victory Cannon. Annese followed up his performance at Kalamazoo with another pick six at Kelly/Shorts in a shutout victory against UMass the following week.
No mention of CMU football is complete without a reference to Titus Davis. The star receiver gave Chippewa fans an early Christmas gift by declaring that he will return for 2014. The All MAC first team selection gave Kelly/Shorts fans reason to cheer loudest in 2013 by catching a Cooper Rush pass in the south end zone for a sparkling touchdown reception.
The Chips get a sixth home game in 2014. Cooper Rush gets to go through spring football and preseason practices with the number one label, albeit with an asterisk attached to it. He needs to get better at avoiding the blind side rush and completions to opponents' linebackers.
Tony Annese, Blake Serpa and Joe Ostman are the young blood that give the Chips hope for improvement on defense in 2014. The big question is who will emerge to be the power running replacement for Zurlon Tipton? Head coach Dan Enos and the CMU coaching staff will have to provide an suitable answer to that question if the Chips want to extend their modest three game winning streak in 2014.