You have to be concerned with both sides of the ball, but there will be more attention paid to the Central Michigan offense simply because of quarterback Cooper Rush. The senior from Lansing, Mich., told me that Central Michigan was the only school that offered and his recruiting process wasn't much, but he doesn't lament it now.
"This has been the best time of my life," Rush said. "I have no regrets and I would do it all over again."
Rated as a top 10 NFL prospect in this 2016 quarterback class, Rush gave the Cowboys a scare last season taking advantage of outside lanes left open as an overzealous Cowboys defensive line collapsed inside trying to get the sacks. Last week, Presbyterian, an FCS school, sacked Rush four times and they did it primarily up the middle of the offense using both blitzes and stunts that a new left side of the Chippewas offensive line struggled with.
Central Michigan responded with a running attack that was somewhat anemic last season, but managed 255 yards and 6.7 yards per carry in the opening 49-3 win. It was 14-3 at the half, but CMU found the right formula in the halftime dressing room and used the run game repeatedly in the second half.
Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer says his defense has to respect and be prepared for run and pass.
"Both. It all ties in together," Spencer said. "They've got a nice run attack, have some athletic linemen they can pull, and can create some issues with their gap schemes. Secondary off play action pass, keep an eye disciplined, experienced receivers. The ball will be in the air before they make a play sometimes, and it's just them doing it together a thousand times, so it's a very potent offensive. It's the leading offense in the MAC."
"We'll probably have to keep our eyes more so on the quarterback," added star linebacker Jordan Burton. "He's got really good receivers, and they rotate running backs just like we do. We'll have to do a lot but not too much. We'll try and keep it simple so everyone understands what their tasks are. I mean, it'll be a challenge."
The biggest issue last season were the scrambles and even All-American and now Cleveland Browns defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah got out of control in rushing Rush. Lessons have been learned from studying the tape of the Cowboys 24-13 win in Mt. Pleasant.
"We watched a lot of film from last year, and the film from this past week," defensive tackle and end Vili Leveni explained. "We just have to be disciplined in our pass rush, and at the same time, take from what we did last week and be more aggressive. It's not a team we can sleep on, and we aren't going to take them lightly. We need to get prepared this week. We just have to be disciplined in our pass rush lanes. We have to kind of be mindful of where we're going and stuff like that. So, we're more disciplined, but at the same time we have to attack. You can't just lay back and let them do whatever."
Strong safety Tre Flowers has a pleasant memory from last season's trip up to Michigan, one he can and does replay in his head as he picked off Rush early in the ball game. However, he does show respect for the 6-3, 227-pound senior. A quarterback that has become pretty good at reading defenses.
"He made a lot of great throws against us (last year), right on the money," Flowers said with respect. "I'm going to watch that one and this last one. My thoughts were high of him, of course he was starting at a D1 school. When he made those throws on me – on anybody – he's a good dude. He's great."
On the defensive side Central Michigan is pretty versatile mixing up coverage a lot and using some blitzes and stunts. They are very good at not getting out of position and are willing to give up some yards, but not big yards. There goal is no huge explosive plays given up.
That is exactly what Oklahoma State wants to do in big numbers is create those big plays.
At the end of the day, it is best to get a lead and keep building on it. Put winning out of their heads and out of their sight. It is when you let a MAC team hang around and go down to the wire that wins like Western Michigan's 22-21 victory at Northwestern last week take place. Keep them from thinking that a play or two on their side at the end can put them over the top.
Also, be very aware of special teams as CMU head coach John Bonamego is a former NFL special teams coordinator at several stops, most recently the Detroit Lions, before taking over as head coach at his alma mater.