WMU Last Year: 1-11 overall
1-7 MAC West (5th)
Head Coach: P.J. Fleck
2014 MAC Media Preseason Pick – 5th in MAC West
Western Michigan’s Broncos stumbled coming out of the gate last year and posted just one win over 12 outings. Even that victory was far from easy as WMU squeaked out a 31-30 win over UMass. Western will still be ultra young this season, but the youngsters thrown into battle last year showed late-season signs of improvement. Can they, along with help from a very talented class of recruits, put more wins in the book this time around?
Bolstered by an acclaimed recruiting haul, the Broncos may be able to turn some of their close losses into wins this year.
Younger and less experienced players, of course, can be prone to mistakes, and Fleck identified one particular area where the Broncos must improve. Western was next-to-last among MAC teams in turnover margin in 2013. Both WMU and Central Michigan were at minus-8 on the campaign. Only Eastern Michigan trailed (minus-9). The Broncos coughed up two fumbles and threw two interceptions in a 33-0 stinker at home against Buffalo.
“You look at every statistic in football -- in the NFL and college -- it’s all based on turnover margin. That’s what our players can buy into. No matter who is on the field, they can buy into, ‘If I take care of the football, we’re going to win games.’ Last year, we didn’t take care of the football, and we lost a lot of games. It’s very simple.”
The Bronocs have work to do on the offensive side, finishing 11th in both total offense (327.2 ypg) and scoring (17.2 ppg). Lopsided losses at home against Buffalo (33-0) and away at Iowa (59-3) didn’t help, but WMU averaged 23.2 ppg after the Buffalo debacle.
Following an injury to Tyler Van Tubbergen, freshman QB Zach Terrell was thrown into the fire in game one last year. His first pass went for a touchdown against Michigan State, and he went 12 for 28 with two TDs against the Spartans. As previously mentioned, it didn’t go as well in his first start when WMU faced a surging Buffalo squad. However, he had four passing TDs in the 31-30 win over UMass. On the year, Terrell completed 53 percent of his passes with eight TDs and eight picks.
The experience will help, but Terrell may still find himself in a battle with newcomer Chance Stewart, a former (four star) Wisconsin commit, for the starting gig.
Whoever lines up behind center, he should have some nice targets. Corey Davis (6-2, 205) was tabbed MAC Freshman of the year and earned Freshman All-America honors. Overall, he established WMU freshman records for receiving yards (941), receptions (67) and 100-yard games (5).
Kendrick Roberts and Timmy Keith will be joined by redshirt freshman Darius Phillips and incoming frosh Lonnie Johnson to give WMU a solid stable of receivers.
Diminutive senior running back Dareyon Chance (5-5, 169) averaged 4.6 ypc and recorded 1,271 all purpose yards last year. Several incoming freshmen will work their way into RB mix, as well.
Junior center Jimmy Kristof and sophomore Taylor Morton anchor things up front, where there is a variety of experience, depending on who gets the call on a particular outing. Fleck and his staff will be looking for a combination that can move the Broncos better than last year when WMU finished 12th in rushing (116.2 ypg).
Western Michigan topped the MAC (4th nationally) in pass defense last season. That is particularly impressive for a team that plays in the MAC West. The defensive backfield should once again be a big contributor as there is both skill and experience along the back line.
Linebacker, on the other hand, will see several new faces. Development/production there, as well as along a relatively young (and light) front line, will be necessary if WMU is to improve against the run. The Broncos were 12th (MAC) in 2013 when they surrendered an average of 250.0 ypg. If opponents can run it, they will run it.
Alex Haldeman converted 16 of 20 field goals last year (4th MAC), but he will be trying to improve the kickoff role in 2014. WMU registered just four touchbacks and ranked 12th in net average. The Broncos were also 12th in punting. Junior J. Shroeder got a workout last year, punting 11 times in the opener at Michigan State and totaling 77 for the year (tying the school record). That was just two off the MAC leader, Zac Murphy of Miami. But while Murphy averaged 46.6 ypk, Schroeder was ninth at 39.7 ypk.
There are certainly some areas of concern and an abundance of question marks given the team’s youth.
“We could start 14 true freshmen this year,” Fleck said. “It’s scary in one way. But in the other way, they don’t really know how good they are yet. Sometimes they surprise you,” he said. “We have so much youth, but the future is really bright. I’m going to turn them loose and let them play.”
- Western Michigan will be on the road for three of their first four outing. The Broncos open at Purdue and visit Idaho two weeks later. After hosting Murray State, Western wraps up non-conference play at Virginia Tech.
- Cross divisional opponents this year are Bowling Green, Ohio and Miami. OU is the only home game among the three.
- MAC Michigan matchups are Nov. 15 (EASTERN MICHIGAN) and Nov. 22 (at Central Michigan.
- “We went after the high character kids that didn’t really care what the record was,” head coach P.J. Fleck said, of the incoming freshman class. ”People … -- that is how this program is going to get turned around. That is how Joe Novak turned around Northern Illinois.. ... You do it with people.”