Western Michigan football is looking to avoid losing back-to-back games as it hosts Kent State Saturday for Homecoming.
“Everyone wants to come back,” head coach Tim Lester said about homecoming. “Everyone has their flags up in their basement, or in front of their house and they are proud to be Broncos. But they’re busy, they have a life going on. Homecoming seems to be the time, everyone circles that one.”
The Broncos are coming off of a crushing 45-20 loss at home against Ball State in which WMU committed four turnovers, including three in the second half as the game got away. Lester believes the turnover issues are easily addressable, especially as the team had committed just two turnovers this season before Saturday’s loss.
“Kaleb (Eleby) put the ball on the ground four times, all in scrambles, all when he’s trying to make a play instead of throwing it away, running, things that you learn the more you play the position,” Lester said. “I don’t know if he even threw (an interception) where he threw it and they took it away from him.”
Ball State averaged over 20 yards per completion against WMU, which now has to face a Kent State offense known for its explosivity. Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum is the reigning first team All-MAC QB and has thrown for just over 1300 yards and six touchdowns this season, adding 283 rushing yards and four scores on the ground.
Lester believes that managing the chunk plays that can really hurt a defense comes down to communication and execution.
“We just have to execute better or those wouldn’t have been there,” Lester said. “The biggest thing is limit the big plays, the one big chunk play and make them make contested catches… Make them do that 15, 20 times and we’ll win the game. You just have to get rid of the wide open ones.”
The WMU offense moved the ball reasonably well in Saturday’s loss to the Cardinals, gaining 376 yards and picking up 23 first downs. Having to settle for two field goals in the red zone and committing four turnovers took the life out of the unit that averaged over 40 points per game last season but has only topped 30 once so far this year.
Part of what has led to the lower scoring totals has been a lack of explosive plays. The Broncos have dominated time of possession this year but have not found 20+ yard plays like the offense did last year.
“You have to put the guys in the right situations, we have to do a better job of creating (explosive plays),” Lester said. “We have to take out shots, I thought Jaylen Hall got in there and made some plays which was huge, we tried to throw some down the field late. We did have a couple opportunities, we have to pull the trigger.”
Lester mentioned that part of the difference in big plays this year as opposed to last season is not having D’Wayne Eskridge, who he said was “pretty special after the catch.”
Lester also provided an injury update on Bricen Garner at his press conference Wednesday, saying that Garner is “day-to-day.” He said the team had initially hoped to have him back for the start of conference play, but that the medical staff has still been testing his strength and is not sure if he is fully ready to go.
Kent State likes to run its offense fast, running a spread attack and not always huddling between plays to try to tire out an opposing defense and get opponents stuck with one defensive group on the field. Lester talked about a few different ideas the team has to combat that attack from the Golden Flashes.
About the speed, Lester said that the defense worked against two offensive groups in practice so that once one play ended there was an offense with a play ready to line up and run. Not wanting to do that all the time and tire out the defenders, Lester said the group also ran drills where the defense had its back to the offense lining up, got a signal from a coach on the goal line, and had five seconds to adjust before the offense snapped the ball. Lester said the key to those drills was communication between defenders.
About substitutions, Lester said the team will make sure to be making changes whenever Kent State’s offense makes a switch, and that the Broncos will also try to use first downs to get a defensive switch. Lester talked about the issues an up-tempo offense can provide an officiating crew as well and hopes that his team doesn’t get caught switching players when Kent State does without the officials seeing it.
The Broncos and Golden Flashes will start their contest Saturday at 3:30 p.m. for WMU’s homecoming game. The game will be televised on ESPNU.