About this time last year, the Western Michigan Broncos were coming off what would be their only win of the 2013 season. It was a razor-thin 31-30 triumph UMass, a team that managed just one win itself.
What a difference a year makes. Western Michigan (5-3, 3-1) heads to Oxford this week for a matchup against Miami (2-7, 2-3 MAC). While the RedHawks are improved, as well, they will be facing one of the hottest teams in the MAC. Head coach P. J. Fleck’s squad, which works under Fleck’s “Row the Boat” mantra, has been rowing quite well- especially as of late.
The Broncos have won three straight after a 20-19 overtime loss to Toledo in a game that was ultimately decided by a missed PAT. Were it not for that miss, which bounced off the upright, WMU might be rolling into Oxford with the MAC’s best conference mark.
To Miami head coach Chuck Martin, it’s not only that the Broncos are winning, it’s how they are winning. Both sides of the ball have been turning in impressive performances against good competition.
“(Ohio) had no chance to move the ball on them. They were suffocated on they run; they were suffocated throwing the ball. Nobody can get open on them, so they’re loading the box and stopping the run and playing man.”
That scenario appears to be a key for WMU
“They play press man at corners (and) nobody can get open,” Martin said. “Their corners have been lock down guys, so you’ve got to win some one-on-one matchups, which no one has been able to do.”
He continued, “I don’t feel like the quarterbacks have played bad against them. I feel like the quarterbacks have had no options. They’re getting brushed heavily (at the line) and there is nobody open. I thought the kid from OU played his tail off last week … but there was no one open and he kind of scrambled and made some plays.”
Meanwhile, things are going just as well – if not even better – over on offense.
Jarvion Franklin, a 6-1, 220-pound running back, has reached at least 149 yards in rushing in in six of eight games. His 140.5 ypg average ranks second in the MAC and his 19 rushing TDs is tops in the nation for FBS teams.
That kind of running capability spells trouble for Miami’s rushing defense is ranked sixth in the MAC. However, it has at times struggled. Buffalo’s Anthone Taylor, for example, totaled 22 rushing yards against MU. Akron had 151 yards rushing and Northern Illinois got 185 rushing yards out of quarterback Drew Hare on the way to a team total of 225 yards.
“I am sure they are licking their chops. They’ve watched Buffalo. They’ve watched Northern Illinois and they are thinking, ‘We run the ball better than Buffalo, and we’ve run the ball as good as Northern Illinois. (Miami) can’t defend the run at all. ‘”
Defending the run is made more difficult by the Bronco’s capabilities through the air.
Overall, WMU is fifth in pass offense and first in pass efficiency (152.2).
Sophomore quarterback Zach Terrell tops the conference in pass efficiency. Sophomore wideout Corey Davis is first in receiving yards (108.4 ypg). Yet another sophomore receiver, Daniel Braverman, leads the MAC in receptions (8.0 rpg).
“They’re talented,” Martin said. “Their tailback is really, really good. Their receiver – the Davis kid – is really, really, really good. Their quarterback can run and throw. His numbers are really good.”
Looking at the Broncos as a whole, Martin characterized MU’s task for Saturday as “daunting.”
At the same time, he indicated he was looking forward to the encounter as a means of improvement.
“We need this challenge. We need to keep playing good teams and see what it looks like.”
Miami’s defense seemed to take a step forward last Saturday after getting blitzed for 51 against Northern Illinois two weeks ago. Miami surrendered just 285 total yards and 79 rushing while denying Kent State any touchdowns in MU’s 10-3 victory.
Miami’s offense, however, managed just one TD of its own. That came on a rush by quarterback Andrew Hendrix, who had an off-day passing the football. He completed just 11 of 28 for 12p yards a week after completing 23 of 42 for 346 yards a week earlier against NIU.
Although he anticipates Western loading the box, Martin would also like to get more out of the ground game – if the ‘Hawks can get healthy. By the end of last week’s game, MU was down to Hendrix as the best option.
A better passing day by Hendrix, who is one of the conference passing leaders. would help. However, that will have a lot to do with what the receivers can do. “Their corners have been lock down guys, so you’ve got to win some one-on-one matchups,” Martin said, adding that avoiding turnovers would also be important.