When John Bonamego arrived on campus in the spring, he knew he had a stud at the quarterback position. That quarterback was redshirt junior and returning starter, Cooper Rush. Bonamego was well aware of the success that Rush enjoyed in the previous system, and expected nothing less from Cooper in the Chippewas' new hurry-up style system.
Halfway into the season, Cooper Rush has lived up to the bill, and then some. Contrary to what the 2-4 record says, Central Michigan has played unexpectedly well this season, and a main reason for that has been the outstanding play of their starting quarterback. With an unexpectedly weak running game, Coach Bonamego has been able to rely on Rush for consistent production in the passing game.
Rush, who broke many school and state records at Lansing Catholic HS, was not highly-recruited coming out of high school; his lone offer was from Central Michigan. One can see that the hard work and development Rush has undergone in the last three years as a testament to how to show those schools that overlooked him that he can indeed play up to the competition of FBS football.
The Chippewas faced a couple of top-tier opponents early this season, and the team would not have stood a chance if they did not have the experience, poise, and play-making abilities that Rush brings to the table when he's behind center. Oklahoma State, Syracuse, and Michigan State were all heavily favored in their match-ups against Central Michigan, and not one of them was able to cover the spread. All three of the games were highly competitive, and were great examples of how Cooper Rush elevates the play of his team.
In those three games, Rush threw for 940 yards, averaging 313 yards per contest. He threw three touchdowns, and completed 69% of his passes, which is a higher percentage than his total season completion percentage thus far. Rush even ran for a lead-changing touchdown against OK State, showing a propensity for rising to the occasion.
His superior performance doesn't stop there, however. In every single game, Rush has finished with a QB rating of at least 109, which is outstanding. He has thrown for 1,771 total yards through six games, good for the second-highest number in the MAC, behind only Bowling Green's Matt Johnson, who 1) plays in a pass-happy system, and 2) has faced a schedule hasn't been as tough as that of Central Michigan. Rush's passing yardage places him at thirteenth in the country.
Something that is frequently overlooked about Rush is that he is playing at such a high level without a true star receiving threat. In years past, he had Titus Davis available at his arsenal, who accounted for 38% of Cooper Rush's passing yards since 2013. This season, Central Michigan doesn't have an unquestioned number one receiver, as the ball has been spread around pretty evenly among all the receivers. This new opportunity to distribute the wealth has paid off in spades, with Rush on track to throw for a career high in yards by the end of the season.
The receivers at Rush's disposal are relatively young, aside from senior receiver Jesse Kroll and senior tight end Ben McCord. Rush has been able to bring the best out of each receiver, and the statistics back it up, as six different receivers have receiving touchdowns this season.
His interception count has also improved thus far. In the past two seasons, Cooper Rush averaged 14 interceptions per season. With only five interceptions through the most difficult part of the Chippewa schedule, he is in great shape to stay at or less than 10 picks on the year.
Dual-threat quarterbacks have taken over the college football landscape, forever changing how defenses game-plan against certain offensive attacks. Opposing defenses are forced to spend extra time preparing for Cooper Rush's athletic ability, as well. Although he is not a true "dual-threat" quarterback, Rush is the most athletic Central Michigan quarterback since the Saviour, Dan LeFevour. His rushing numbers don't do him justice, because of the sacks he has taken, but he has shown on numerous occasions that if there is a hole in the defense, he can take advantage of it with his legs. This past weekend against Western Michigan, Cooper scampered a for a total of 39 yards on 5 carries, one of them being a huge 26-yard gain that brought the Chippewas inside the red zone.
This athletic ability not only allows for big plays on the ground, but also for the escape from different forms of pressure a defense might throw at him. Repeatedly, Rush has avoided would-be tacklers, and then found an open receiver down the field, a key attribute to have with CMU's offensive line woes. Plays like these are only possible thanks to Rush's proficiency in scrambling.
Other top MAC quarterbacks have been impressive thus far, but Cooper Rush deserves to be in the discussion among the best quarterbacks in the conference. He is invaluable to the Chippewas, and his presence makes the offense work. Rush (and his fire-colored hair) has lit the collective spark of the team and has rallied them from after-thoughts to a legitimate threat in the MAC West.