Statistically, Cooper Rush was at his worst in the Quick Lane Bowl. Honestly, the defensive backs for Minnesota had the receivers out-played, which led to Central Michigan's loss. Every time
"They definitely deserved to win, but we felt like we were right there and had opportunities to win the game, just didn't get it done," Bonamego said after the game.
On the first play of the game, Rodney Smith carried the ball all the way to the other side of the field with a 38-yard dash. That gave the Gophers plenty of reason to give it to him three more times before a KJ Maybe reception brought them into the red zone. The Gophers kept going with the ground game on the 9-play drive, but ended up settling for a field goal.
After an exchange of punts, CMU started off on their own 18-yard line. Rush had some shaky throws. A pair of screen passes to Romello Ross and an 11-yard run would get the Chippewas to and through midfield. Errant passes turned into benefits finding Corey Willis at Minnesota's 18-yard line and then a strike to Ben McCord over the middle at the goal line. On third and less than a yard to go, Rush made it in with a quarterback sneak to put the Chippewas ahead 7-3 to start the second quarter.
But the Gophers responded quickly. Shannon Brooks had a couple of big plays, including a 30-yard run, before KJ Maye had his second catch of the day: an 11-yard score. Not a good look for the CMU defense after Brian Eavey kicked his second touchback, replacing Ron Coluzzi.
They made up for it though. The Gophers pinned back in their own territory, they didn't move the ball much, and pressure on quarterback Mitch Leidner forced a bad throw to be picked off by Josh Cox at midfield. Unfortunately for the Chippewas, they weren't able to do anything other than move back 18 yards on the three-and-out. Not a good look for the CMU offense.
Not much else happened in the first half aside from the mutual exchange of punts. Rush was a big reason for the Chippewas to be on the board in the first place, but was a non-factor otherwise, 5-for-14 through the air for only 55 yards.
The Chippewas were lucky that Minnesota settled for another field goal. The Gophers opened up the second half with another drive full of big plays.
The third quarter, overall, was very mundane. No huge plays to change the game's direction, just more punts going back and forth.
The Gophers went for it on 4th & 2 after it looked like Maye's reception had hit the turf (refs decided not to review it).
Rush instantly found Rice deep to his right side as he was brought down by a Minnesota lineman. As good as Ross has been all game, he was at his beat on this drive. Three handoffs in a row, it looked like he'd be stopped seven yards shy of the end zone, but the driving force kept him going as the freshman playing in his hometown of Detroit powered his way into the end zone for the Chippewas to take back the lead 14-13.
Cox, who had the interception earlier in the game, had a big pass breakup as Leidner went to Maye deep for the score on the following drive.
No matter, the Gophers still capitalized.
A solid drive was still strung together, Leidner capped it off with faking everybody out on the handoff and running it in himself, practically untouched.
19-14, they went for the 2-point conversion. Dropping back, Chris Kantzavelos nearly came away with a much-needed sack. Leidner dodged him, set the throw and, like clockwork, found Maye over the middle for the conversion.
Third and seven to go, the Chippewas had already crossed midfield and needed to get past the 35-yard line to move the chains. The play out of the 4-wide set didn't give any viable early options and the pressure came quick. Rush forced a play, moving forward in the collapsed pocket, caught by his ankle and pitched the ball forward, intended for Anthony Rice but intercepted by Briean Boddy-Calhoun.
Rush, in hindsight, said that he should've just taken the sack instead. "I was looking at a 4th and [long], I was just trying to make a play."
Under three minutes to go in a 7-point game, the Chippewas chances kept getting slimmer and slimmer. A Brooks run to move the chains made CMU head coach John Bonamego burn his second timeout of the half.
The last chance CMU had was when they forced a punt with 21 seconds left, which went out of bounds at the 4-yard line. While a pass to to the 30 yard line gave everybody hot flashes of last year's Bahamas Bowl miracle play, they weren't able to emulate any of that as Rush was sacked on the final play of the game.
Rush finished 15-for-29 through the air after a dismal first half, 145 yards in total. His longest was to McCord on the second-to-last play of the game, who caught two passes for 42 yards. Corey Willis was his top target with 51 yards on four catches. Ross also caught four balls on the screen plays for 28 yards, long of 16.
On top of the screen plays, Ross was the best offensive player with 100 rushing yards and the 13-yard score early in the fourth quarter.
The MVP of the game went to the Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner. One passing touchdown through the air (24-for-30) with 223 yards, but kept it nine times for 19 net yards with the 13-yard keeper to retake the lead. HIs top target, KJ Maye, caught eight passes for 67 yards.
The two top rushers for the Gophers, Smith and Brooks, both held the ball 15 times a piece, combined for 139 of the team's 158 rushing yards.
"We'll use this as motivation moving into next year and we'll come back even stronger with a better team," Bonamego said.