Rawls, Chippewas Rambling On

Thomas Rawls
Oct. 17, 2014

By Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com 

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MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – What’s next for Central Michigan running back Thomas Rawls?

Another 40-carry performance? Perhaps 300 yards?

To Rawls, it doesn’t really matter.

“I can’t forget my first goal, and this team’s first goal, and that’s to win a MAC championship,” Rawls said after a practice this week. “We haven’t won a MAC championship in a long time here and to be a part of that would be great.”

That’s still very much a legitimate possibility, as is Rawls potentially etching his name in the CMU record book.

The Chippewas enter Saturday’s game with Ball State – 3:30 p.m. at Kelly/Shorts Stadium – riding a two-game win streak. CMU is 4-3 overall, 2-1 in the MAC and trails first-place Toledo by one game in the West Division.

Ball State is 1-5, 0-2, and has lost five straight since beating Colgate, 30-10, in its opener. All five losses have come by 11 points or less.

In the past two weeks combined, Rawls has 499 yards on 80 carries and four touchdowns. He’s led dominating victories over Ohio, 28-10; and Northern Illinois, 34-17.

Rawls’ career-best 270-yard effort against Northern Illinois was the third-highest total by a Football Bowl Subdivision back this season, the sixth-best rushing day in CMU history, and it earned him MAC West Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors.

And it came against an NIU defense that entered the game having allowed just 107.6 yards per game on the ground and 354.8 total yards per game, both MAC bests. Ball State enters Saturday’s game 10th in the MAC in rushing yards allowed per game (199.7).

Rawls transferred to CMU this season after spending three years at Michigan. He appeared in 20 games as a Wolverine, rushing for 333 yards and five touchdowns on 73 carries. He played in just one game last season.

“When I was (at Michigan) I was kind of losing a little bit of my fire,” Rawls said. “I learned a lot, good and bad. I just took it in stride and I never gave up. I went through some adversity there and I can honestly tell you that it made me a better person, a better man, a better football player.

“After transferring here, I got my fire back. It’s a different vibe here, but I do not regret going to Michigan. Maybe if I hadn’t (gone there) I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have 40 carries, I wouldn’t be running as hard as I am.”

Rawls has 840 yards and nine touchdowns on 153 carries this season. He is averaging 5.5 yards per rush, leads the MAC in yards per game (168) and all-purpose yards per game (183.4). His 10.8 points per game rank second in the MAC, and his rushing total is third.

It’s no coincidence that the Chippewas have won their last two games going away, a byproduct of a dominant run game led by Rawls, and that their average time of possession (33 minutes, 17 seconds) ranks second in the league.

“He makes yards,” CMU coach Dan Enos said. “And I always talk about the 1- and 2-yard run becomes the 4- and 5-yard run, and that’s critical when you’re in the flow of the game. Our offensive line and tight ends have done a very good job of blocking for him, and he’s a physical back with great vision. He keeps his feet moving and he’s a competitor.”

Rawls’ workload has yet to become an issue, but that’s not to say Enos and his staff aren’t acutely aware of it.

“We just have to be very smart with him throughout the week in how we use him,” Enos said. “Football changes from week to week and we’ve really challenged our other backs this week to step up in practice and show us that we can get a guy in there who will make us feel really good about taking 10 or 15 carries off (Rawls’) plate.”

Enos said that practice time is adjusted based on the number of plays logged in any game. It’s like that now for Rawls, just as it is for any player.

“We really look at the number of plays they play in the game, whether it’s a D lineman or an O lineman or a running back or even a wide receiver,” Enos said. “Then we try to tailor their week’s preparation around that. Everybody’s a little different, a little unique as far as that goes.

“You definitely have to have a formula with how you’re going to deal with them throughout the week.”

Rawls’ overall numbers have certainly been impressive, even more so when they’re broken down by halves. Of his 840-yard total, 580 – or 69 percent – have come after halftime when CMU is playing with the lead, grinding out the clock and keeping the opponent’s offense sidelined.

“With someone like him, throughout the game, you can see how he’s physically wearing down the defense,” CMU senior guard Andy Phillips said. “That’s something that we take pride in because we can see what he’s doing to people.

“He’s very quiet on the field. He kind of lets his play do the talking. We don’t really talk much to him. We just always tell him we’re going to be grinding up here so let’s keep it rolling, keep it rolling. Occasionally he’ll have a big run and he’ll come back to the huddle and he’ll just wink at me and that’s kind of his way of letting me know he’s ready for another one.”

Rawls won over his new teammates from the get-go, long before he ever played a down.

“When these guys embraced him back in June I don’t think they looked at him as a guy who was going to go for 40 carries against Northern for 270 yards,” Enos said. “It was that he was a guy who was coming here and they wanted to help acclimate him and I think he appreciated that. I think when guys get a second chance, sometimes you get the best out of them because I think he realizes how special this group is.”

Said Rawls: “There’s no pressure. It’s just football. I’ve been doing it all my life, and I’ve got these guys with me and it’s a team thing, it’s not just about me even though I’m getting all of these (accolades) and stuff. I’m still with my guys.”
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