Western Michigan football head coach Tim Lester held his weekly press conference Wednesday, stressing the difference that a team can make between week one and week two.
Lester opened by discussing the struggles the team faced in a 47-14 loss at Michigan Saturday to open the season.
“It was a rough game Saturday, learned a ton, didn’t play as well as we expected to play,” Lester said. “The thing about losing is it’s a great opportunity to get better... A couple guys played really well, there were definitely some silver linings in that game, but we’ve got to get better.”
The Broncos gained just 191 passing yards on 37 throws by Kaleb Eleby, far cries from the 285 yards per game and 11.2 yards per attempt that he averaged last season. There were several contributing factors to his struggles, including throws “full of adrenaline” in the first drive that missed their target, dropped passes, and a Wolverine defense more athletic than WMU is used to seeing in the MAC.
One of the biggest problems for WMU according to Lester was Aidan Hutchinson. Hutchinson made four tackles including a sack, forced a fumble, and blocked the Broncos’ field goal attempt in the third quarter.
“Hutchinson really had a day,” Lester said. “He didn’t line up where we thought he would. When he did line up (where we expected), we were able to give that offensive lineman a lot of help.”
Western Michigan had two-time All-MAC wide receiver Skyy Moore exit the game with a knee injury after making two catches for 22 yards. Lester said “nobody is ruled out yet” for this week’s game against Illinois State.
“Skyy was out on the practice field (Wednesday) running around,” Lester said. “We really did fear the worst and luckily after an MRI, it’s not going to need surgery. That was a great message from the doctor this week.”
Jacob Gideon, who made his first career start at left guard for WMU, also went down with an injury, and Lester said he also returned to the practice field Wednesday.
One player that Lester said stood out defensively was Ralph Holley. The reigning first team All-MAC defensive tackle made just three tackes, but added a sack, a forced fumble, and two pass deflections.
Speaking on special team struggles, Lester said the team wanted to find out who would do a good job on the kickoff coverage team and that after allowing a 79-yard kickoff return at one point, some new faces will be on that unit against Illinois State. Lester also said the team was working on techniques to help Parker Sampson kick the ball higher to prevent more blocked field goals.
Looking ahead at this week’s matchup against Illinois State, there were a few key players that Lester keyed in on as potential difference-makers for the Redbirds. One full unit that Lester said impressed him in watching film was the ISU offensive line, which helped the team run for 294 yards and score 49 points in a season-opening win against Butler.
Individual players Lester pointed out included safety Clayton Isbell, who made six tackles and grabbed the third interception of his career against Butler, and linebacker Kenton Wilhoit, who made seven tackles in week one after making 22 tackles in four games last season and having an interception return for a touchdown.
Lester also complemented Redbird quarterback Bryce Jefferson, who he said could “make all the throws” while also pointing out Jefferson’s athleticism. Jefferson threw for two touchdowns and added two more on the ground, running seven times for 37 yards to go with 203 passing yards against Butler.
The Broncos look to get win No. 1 on the season hosting Illinois State Saturday for the home opener. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN3.