Preview 2017: Western Michigan Broncos
Previewing and looking ahead at the Western Michigan Broncos season – and what you need to know.
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What You Need To Know About The Western Michigan Offense
Kevin Johns spent the last several years handling the Indiana offense, and now he’ll combine with former WMU star tight end Jake Moreland to run the attack.
Job One is cranking up what passing game again without QB Zach Terrell to run the it, and without WR Corey Davis to act all fifth-overall-pick-to-Tennessee Titans good. There’s now a quarterback battle between Tim Flacco and Jon Wassink to try replacing Terrell. At the very least, the new starting quarterback will add more mobility to the attack.
It’s not just losing Davis that stinks, but the Broncos have to move on without the other top two targets, too. There’s young talent waiting in the wings, but there’s no Davis.
Fortunately for WMU, the ground game should be stellar. NFL-caliber tackle Taylor Moton is gone, but C John Keenoy and OT Chukwuma Okorafor are all-star blockers for another great-looking line. They’ll be paving the way for Jarvion Franklin and Jamari Bogan, who combined for close to 2,300 yards and 20 touchdowns, and should control the offense from the start.
Biggest Key To The Western Michigan Offense
Don’t turn the ball over. No, the WMU attack won’t be anything close to as efficient or as amazing as it was last year – you don’t get better after losing Terrell, Davis and Moton – but again, the ground attack will be great, and the passing game should be okay once the new receivers emerge.
The WMU O was amazing at not turning the ball over, giving it up just eight times all year with no giveaways in the first six games and two in just two games. There’s no way to do that again, but if the Broncos can keep the mistakes to a minimum again, it’ll make up for several problems and concerns.
What You Need To Know About The Western Michigan Defense
Defensive coordinator Tim Daoust comes over from Ball State, and he’s inheriting a loaded group.
Eight starters return to a defense that finished 28th in the nation and gave up fewer than 20 points per game.
The back seven will be loaded, with Robert Spillane leaving the team, then coming back to be the star of the linebacking corps again. He led the team with 111 tackles, but he’s not alone with the top five tacklers returning.
Darius Phillips is one of the nation’s most dangerous defensive backs and kick returners, leading a terrific secondary that gets back everyone.
The concern is up front, with the departure of end Nathan Braster leaving DT Andre Turner as the only returning starter. It was a good defense overall without a lot to complain about, but with the losses up front, it might be tougher to …
Biggest Key To The Western Michigan Defense
Get a little stronger against the run. It’s not like the Broncos got ripped apart – even Wisconsin only gained 184 yards and averaged under five yards per carry and Illinois was held to just three yards on the ground.
However, they allowed 200 yards or more five times with Ball State, Kent State and Toledo all coming up with yards in major chunks. Fortunately for WMU, the offense picked up the slack. It would help, also, if …
Western Michigan Will Be Far Better If …
The pass rush is better. It went bye-bye at times – with 18 of the sacks coming in four games – and now it has to be steadier. The D will have to carry the O a little bit this year, and that means to dominate opposing quarterbacks – always. This is what should change under Daoust.
It was the one part of the puzzle that didn’t quite fit last year. The Broncos only came up with 28 sacks, and 11 of them are gone including the 7.5 from top pass rusher, Keion Adams.
Best Western Michigan Offensive Player
OT Chukwuma Okorafor, Sr. – Either one of the star running backs could take over the role of the team’s top offensive player, but it’s Okorafor who’ll help make them look great.
The 6-6, 330-pound First Team All-MAC left tackle spent the first part of his career on the right side before moving over to the other side, where he was even better. WMU allowed just 16 sacks and cranked up more than five yards per carry. This year, with Taylor Moton gone, Okorafor will play an even bigger role as the anchor up front.
2. RB Jarvion Franklin, Sr.
3. RB Jamauri Bogan, Jr.
4. C John Keenoy, Jr.
5. TE Donnie Ernsberger, Sr.
Best Western Michigan Defensive Player
CB Darius Phillips, Sr. – One of the MAC’s best all-around players, the 5-10, 190-pound Phillips earned all-star honors as a defensive back and a special teamer. He came up with four interceptions – taking three for scores – with 40 tackles and four tackles for loss. Just as deadly as a returner, he averaged close to 12 yards per punt return with a score, and 22.5 yards per kickoff return with a touchdown.
2. LB Robert Spillane, Sr.
3. LB Asantay Brown, Sr.
4. LB Caleb Bailey, Sr.
5. S Justin Tranquill, Soph.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Tom Flacco, Jr. – Or Jon Wassink. It’s still an open competition to take over for heart-and-soul leader, Zach Terrell, who threw for 3,533 yards and 33 scores with four picks.
The 6-2, 205-pound Wassink is a good-looking sophomore who spent last season working as a key practice player. A strong passer who can take off, he’s a great athlete with quickness to go along with a solid passing arm. But Flacco has the experience.
The 6-0, 200-pound junior saw a little time over the last two seasons has one thing over his older brother, Baltimore Raven QB Joe Flacco – Tom is a far better runner. Flacco only threw one pass last year, but ran for 74 yards after playing a bigger role as a freshman. He helped save the day in the 2015 win over Toledo with 60 rushing yards.
The Western Michigan Season Will Be A Success If …
It wins the MAC Championship again. Of course the Broncos are going to take a step back. 2016 was an epic season by a historically great team, but even after all of the key losses, there’s still a great shot to take the conference title for a second year in a row.
There’s still a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, and the conference schedule isn’t all that bad with no Ohio or Miami University from the East. WMU should be favored in the first six MAC games, and then comes the trip to NIU, and then …
Key Game To The Western Michigan Season
Nov. 24 at Toledo – It turned out to be the game for the MAC championship when WMU beat Toledo 55-35 to close out an unbeaten regular season, before going on to be Ohio in the real conference title game. This time around, beating Northern Illinois will be a must, and Central Michigan will be more dangerous, but with nine days to prepare, to win the West again, beating Toledo on the road might be a must.
2016 Western Michigan Fun Stats
– 3rd Down Conversions: WMU 101-of-188 (54%) – Opponents 69-of-174 (40%)
– Penalties: Opponents 83 for 683 yards – WMU 69 for 647 yards
– Fumbles: Opponents 18 (lost 11) – WMU 20 (lost 4)