Western Michigan football kicks off from Miami (OH) at 3:30 p.m. for some Saturday afternoon MACtion. The Broncos are coming off another embarrassing home loss. Quarterback Jack Salopek threw five second half interceptions as the Broncos fell 33-14 in its homecoming game.
It has been an up-and-down year for the RedHawks with a week one injury to starting quarterback Brett Gabbert. Running quarterback Aveon Smith has sufficed as his replacement. Where MU lacks through the air, it makes up for it with physical defensive play. Going 2-2 in its last four games, all of them were decided by one score.
WMU offense vs. MU defense
Last week in the Broncos outing against Ohio, the offense had an encouraging start. The Broncos trailed by six points at halftime and Salopek went seven-for-10 with 124 yards. Wide receiver Corey Crooms burst through the middle of the field for a 74-yard touchdown.
Things collapsed in the second half as Salopek went on to throw five interceptions. This type of play to finish a game is far from what is expected of a starting quarterback. It was egregious enough to pose the question for other options.
While a better performance is necessary to win, the supporting cast needs to do a better job of protecting Salopek. Offensive line play must improve. It let up seven sacks against Eastern Michigan and five against Ohio.
The trenches continue to lack for the Broncos, and it is fully deflating the offense. Better blocking in both the pass and run game are essential to beating a tough Miami defense.
Playing a similar brand of football to the Broncos, the RedHawks have three players with three or more sacks, and six total interceptions on the season. MU collected 17 total sacks this season. It could be a long day.
Sean Tyler got the bulk of carries Saturday with 19 of 24 total rushes. He gained 84 yards, 20 coming from his longest run of the day, but did not score. La’Darius Jefferson, who leads the team with five rushing touchdowns, only netted two carries for four yards. He exited early with a shoulder injury.
“We need to establish the run,” head coach Tim Lester said in the mid-week press conference. “We gotta find a way.”
WMU defense vs. MU offense
The WMU defense is coming off one of its better performances of the season against Ohio. Facing one of the nation’s most versatile offenses, the Broncos were resilient. After two touchdowns on Ohio’s opening drives, the defense locked in. It gave just 19 more points, registered seven tackles for loss and weathered the storm of six second half turnovers.
“I thought our defense played their butts off,” Lester said post-game. “I didn't like the way it started but they set their pads in. We put them in bad situations over and over again. They responded again, and again, and again. They did an unbelievable job and I was proud of the way they fought.”
Against a damning turnover margin, the defense let up 383 total yards of offense and 17 first downs. It surrendered no touchdowns through the air and held standout quarterback Kurtis Rourke to 264 passing yards with an interception by the hands of Delano Ware.
Uncertainty looms over the injury status Gabbert. Likely facing a more conservative approach from its opponent, the WMU defense can create more opportunities through a repeat performance of havoc. Creating more turnovers or pressure could give the one-dimensional WMU offense the boost it needs to step forward.
“They play complimentary football,” Lester said of the RedHawks offense. “They run the ball and they’re smart with their quarterback. They do not put him in bad situations. When Gabbert is playing, they’re a little more traditional and explosive.”
If there is one area the defense can improve, it is getting more pressure on the quarterback. The defense registered one sack in the loss to Ohio. After the injury to Gabbert, opportunity arises against Smith.
Appearing in all seven games, he averages 105 passing yards per game and is the second leading rusher on the RedHawks with 44 yards per game. Most rushing attempts will go to Keyon Mozee. Look for the Broncos to contain him if they are to provide more opportunity to the offense.
Explaining the function of 3-3-5 defensive looks used the past two weeks, Lester applauded mike linebacker Corvin Moment Wednesday. “We put (the formation) in for Corvin Moment,” he said. “He is the key. He can do so many things. He has the strength, power and moves to play like a defensive lineman. When we’re in that subpackage, there’s a lot we can do. It’s hard to read.”
Travis: WMU 17, MU 27
Eddie: WMU 17, MU 24