Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo, Mich.
By MIKE SMITH
During his MAC coaches conference call this week, Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck remarked that the Miami RedHawks – who face WMU Saturday at Waldo Stadium– remind him of where the Broncos were a couple of years ago. The RedHawks are a team full of young players taking their knocks as they gain crucial game experience.
Nowhere is that more true than at quarterback, where true freshman Billy Bahl is immersed in the school of hard knocks.
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It’s 2014 meeting at home against Western Michigan, however, was not a productive game for Hendrix. Bronco freshman running back Jarvion Franklin, on the other hand, had anoutstanding day, carrying 29 times for 182 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-10 win.
Hendrix, himself, lacked substantial game experience in his time at Notre Dame, where Martin was his offensive coordinator. Hendrix did, however, know Martin’s system and relished the opportunity to both play a lot and play close to home in Cincinnati. It was a win-win for player and school as Hendrix revived what had been a dormant unit that previously ranked among the bottom of FBS offenses.
With his departure, however, the RedHawks were left with three quarterbacks who had nil – or virtually nil – game experience. True freshman Billy Bahl was eventually moved into a starting role, but the transition has been anything but smooth.
Pair that with a still-struggling running game, sputtering aerial game, inconsistent line play, too many penalties and – worst of all – too many turnovers (especially in the passing game); the result has been an offense that struggles to keep the chains moving and put points on the board.
Among MAC teams, Miami is:
-- Last in scoring offense (14.7 ppg)
-- 11th in rushing offense (125.1 ypg)
-- 11th in passing offense (204.9 ypg)
-- 12th in total offense (330.0 ypg)
-- Seventh in penalties (69.9 ypg)
-- 13th (last) in turnover margin (-1.43)
No small part of the issues are related to youth and inexperience. There is a little more of both on the defensive side, but that unit has also struggled at various points.
Western Kentucky torched MU with the pass, albeit WKU ranks second nationally in passer rating. Northern Illinois, meanwhile, rolled up 311 yards rushing the ball against Miami in a 45-12 victory last week.
“We made some plays, but we missed an inordinate amount of plays,” Martin said. “Defensively, it (camd) down to misfitting run plays. … Northern does a good job with all the jets and the motions.”
The RedHawks are 9th in total defense(449.3 ypg), 10th in passing defense (252.9 ypg) and 11th in rushing defense (196.4 ypg).
It all points to another big challenge this week as MU faces off against a well-balanced, explosive Broncos team that is starting to hit its stride. Western Michigan has won two straight since falling to No. 1 Ohio State, 38-12.
Junior quarterback Zach Terrell is very capable, as evidenced by his No. 3 rank in pass efficiency. He is completing 67.5 percent of his throws and has 17 passing TDs against six interceptions.
Receivers Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis are thriving.
Braverman is second among MAC receivers in receptions (10.3 rpg) and third in receiving yards (119.0 ypg). The latter ranks seventh best among all FBS teams. His nine receiving TDs leads the MAC and is fourth in the nation.
Davis is sixth (MAC) is receptions (5.8 rpg) and reception yardage (75.2 ypg).
As good as the passing game is, Western Michigan can – and does – roll over, around and through teams with its running game. Although the Broncos had less than 40 yards rushing in the first half Saturday at Ohio, they exploded for 401 rushing yards after intermission.
According to Fleck, Franklin is even better this time around, but the gaudy individual stats aren’t there now because WMU has more weapons in its running arsenal. Last week was an excellent case in point as the Broncos came within five yards of having three players reach 100 rushing yards in the same game. Freshman LeVante Bellamy (5-11, 185) carried nine times for 149 yards with one TD. Another freshman, Jamauri Bogan (5-7, 174), totaled 135 yards with ond score on his nine carries. Franklin stepped off 95 yards with one touchdown on 13 rushes.
“If we didn’t have two guys behind (Jarvion) that were really good, we wouldn’t do it,” Fleck said. “They all give you something different. … it’s hard to stop all of them, because it’s not the same back coming at you. It’s hard to find Bogan and Bellamy. You can see Jarvion, but then he’s going to run you over. The other ones are going to make you miss.”
It will be a tough assignment for Miami, which has been burned by long runs on a number of occasions this year.
Both teams rank in the bottom half of MAC teams in turnover margin. Westen Michigan is 10th at -0.67, while Miami is last with a -1.43 mark. WMU has turned the ball over 10 times in six games – six via interceptions. Miami has 21 turnovers in seven outings – 16 by interceptions. Bahl had seven interceptions in one two-game stretch. He had just one last week. That went to FBS leader Shawun Lurry, who took it out of the end zone and returned it 47 yards. NIU scored on the next play with a 63-yard run.
“I thought he was much better, but obviously he started out (the game) with not a very high bar,” Martin said of Bahl. “A lot of his mistakes have come (while) hanging onto the ball … and making a late throw.”
Given WMU’s fire power, the RedHawks hopes of sticking with the Broncos would revolve around:
-- Eliminating turnovers and penalties as much as possible.
-- Keep moving the chains. Keep the WMU offense off the field as much as possible.
As for the Broncos:
- Keep doing what works. Mix the passing game with an often dominant running game.