Western Michigan football dropped a huge game over the weekend on the road to Toledo. Missed opportunities, a slow start and a lack of protection of the quarterback ultimately cost them what would have arguably been head coach Tim Lester’s biggest win of his tenure so far.
Instead, the Broncos will have to regroup after losing by a possession to a quality team and find a way to push on in the second half of the season in order to win the MAC West and return to Ford Field for the first time since 2016.
Lester acknowledged how big the Toledo game was but emphasized that the season isn’t over and that the Broncos need to continue to battle every week.
“We’ve gotta keep playing,” Lester said after Saturday’s game. “I’ve been in this league a long time and we have six more weeks we need to handle and let the chips fall where they may. The thing about our league is that every game can go either way, every week.”
The Toledo game also marked the halfway point in the season for the Broncos. They hold a 3-3 overall record and a 1-1 record in the Mid-American Conference.
So, what can the Broncos build on in the first half of the season and where do they go from here? And is there still a possibility for WMU to get to Ford Field to play in the MAC title game? Let’s dive into those questions.
Hot ‘n cold
The first half of Western Michigan’s season has been defined by inconsistency. They have shown flashes of being a great team when they are clicking on all cylinders, then have moments where they seem to get in their own way or dig deep holes for themselves.
The Toledo game was a perfect example of that inconsistent play. Before anyone could blink, the Broncos found themselves down 14-0 in the first quarter in the biggest game of the season to date.
The offense responded to cut it to 14-7, but Toledo responded with 10 unanswered to go up 24-7 by halftime.
But then, in the second half, the Broncos were an entirely different team. The defense locked down basically every aspect of the Rockets offense, especially in the third quarter.
Under a first-year defensive coordinator, it surely takes some time to get everyone acclimated to the system. Lester mentions how they are all “freshmen” on defense because everyone is learning a new scheme.
But the encouraging part is that WMU’s defense is showing gradual improvement and when everyone is on the same page, they are capable of being a solid unit.
Offensively, the young receivers will need to continue to step up. Bellamy is going to put up his numbers and Wassink knows how to lead the offense.
But if teams are going to take away WMU’s run like Toledo did, their receivers will have to consistently win one-on-one matchups, which they didn’t do enough of over the weekend.
Is there any path to Ford Field?
Look, I really thought the winner of the WMU-Toledo game would ultimately go on to win the West division. I still believe that, because Toledo now has that head-to-head tiebreaker and I think WMU has the tougher division road games.
But I also think Lester makes a good point. In the MAC, you really don’t know what is going to happen on a week-to-week basis and certainly anything can happen.
The Broncos just need to stay in the fight to give themselves a chance late in the season. Looking at the schedule, the rest of their games are winnable.
In fact, even their two late season road contests at Ohio and Northern Illinois look more winnable than they did before the season started.
Ohio still has Nathan Rourke at quarterback, but they have struggled to find consistent offense and haven’t hit their stride yet. And Northern Illinois has really struggled out of the gate, as they stand at 1-4 with a home loss to Ball State on their resume.
As for Toledo, they have road games at Ball State, Buffalo and Central Michigan. The Cardinals are riding high off their win over the Huskies and played Indiana close early in the season in a non-conference game.
Buffalo is always a tough out and Central Michigan looked spectacular against Eastern Michigan over the weekend. The Chippewas will only continue to improve by the time Toledo goes to their place on Nov. 29.
So, while the Broncos are not in the best position, it isn’t over yet. There can still be a path to Ford Field.
But with the Toledo loss, they are no longer in control of their own destiny and the path got a little bit fuzzier.