When the Broncos from WMU and the Minutemen from UMass take the field this Saturday, it will mark the first meeting between the two schools. UMass will also become the first team from the state of Massachusetts to not only invade Waldo Stadium, but play the team from Kalamazoo as a member of said state. Either way, the two teams combine for 8 losses, the most in any MAC game being played this weekend. Now onto our interview questions........
BnG: Let's start off with that Ohio game. What the hell happened out in Foxboro? Ohio playing bad or you guys actually playing good?
Mike Paquette: I'm not sure you can simplify it to just one or the other. It took a while for OHIO to get going on offense, but when they did, they ran all over the Minutemen as we've seen every team do this year. Beau Blankenship finished with 269 yards, more than double the previous season high for rushing yards allowed to one player for UMass. The UMass pass defense played pretty well, considering they had to be keying the run every play.
But it was the UMass offense that surprised... well, everyone, really. Mike Wegzyn looked great, throwing over 50 times with four long touchdowns and no picks. The receiving corps finally got their act together and started hauling in passes, and Mike Cox was again effective on the ground. I was most impressed with Deion Walker, who made 11 tough, acrobatic catches. It looks like the team is finally getting the hang of Charley Molnar's offense. Whether they can execute consistently moving forward is the question.
WMU has alternated wins and losses so far this season (by the way, thanks from the state of Mass for knocking off UConn. Again.). Do you view this as simply inconsistent play, or is it a function of who they played and when?
BnG: I think it's a combination of both. You see the first win over EIU sandwiched between road trips to Big Ten schools Minnesota and Illinois, followed by a win-loss combo in a weaker UConn squad and the always scary Toledo Rockets. It's not an easy schedule, but the ups and down have been somewhat predictable.
What has been perplexing is the inconsistency. You look at the Illinois game, and the defense plays good, but the offense looks terrible. Then EIU comes, and it's a domination by both sides. Next is Minnesota, and the offense is shaky, and the pass defense gives up 3 TDs in a row to put the game out of reach. UConn was a great game by the offense, but shaky game on passing defense, and Toledo was just bad all around.
Speaking of UConn, you guys started off horrid against them on offense, but have steadily improved. What is going right?
MP: They are learning to play within their means. The improvement has been reflected on the scoreboard, where they have increased their scoring each week, but you can also point to individual players and see how they are getting better. Mike Wegzyn has increased his yardage steadily, and got his first (and second, and third, and fourth) career passing score last week. He looks confident in the pocket and isn't taking unnecessary risks.
In fact, the team has been pretty strong in terms of protecting the football all season, something that can only help them the rest of the way if they keep it up. Not to be overlooked, Mike Cox has proven to be a consistent threat on the ground, which is helping open up Molnar's spread offense even more.
The Broncos were pegged as one of the teams to seriously compete for the MAC West Division title. I know it's still early, but after stumbling in their conference opener last week, it's going to be an uphill battle. What did you see that gives you confidence that they are still a serious contender for the division crown?
BnG: Nothing. Honestly, nothing looks good right now. We almost have to win out to win the West, and that includes beating a very good NIU team, a strong passing team in Ball State, and a surprisingly good Kent State team that is good on defense and has Dri Archer, and that's all coming after this week. We still don't know when Carder is coming back, and that scares me because TVT didn't look sharp at all in his first start against a quality opponent.
Who are the playmakers on offense for the Minutemen? What type of offense should we expect to see Saturday?
MP: UMass runs a spread offense, and as we've mentioned, they have improved their production on that side of the ball each week. I don't think we should expect another four-touchdown performance by Wegzyn, but I wouldn't be surprised. If UMass is going to keep up with WMU, you should see the Minutemen put the ball in the air often. This means Walker, Alan Williams, and Rob Blanchflower will be getting a lot of targets.
Walker is quickly becoming Wegzyn's go-to receiver, while Williams showed a ton of explosiveness in the OHIO game. Blanchflower has been strong this season as well, showing he has more in common with that other New England tight end than just a first name and jersey number.
What's going on at quarterback over there? Tyler Van Tubbergen looks like he will get the start this week, but made a lot of questionable decisions in the game against Toledo. We can attribute this to the game being his first career start, but is Kalamazoo impatiently waiting for Carder to return, or can they win with Van Tubbergen?
BnG: Correction: it is his 2nd start. He started against Akron last year to end the regular season, throwing 6 TDs and 249 yards. That's not a typo. That's also why many fans, myself included, thought he'd be a great replacement if Carder ever struggled or got injured. The latter happened, and Toledo pounced.
WMU can win with TVT, he just has to stop showing he can throw and actually be a QB. He looked on some throws that he wanted to be Superman and make every great throw, and some of them cost him. He has a cannon for an arm, but his decision making has to improve. We should see a good game from him this week, but the Ball State game will be a huge test of how far he has come. With Carder expected to maybe return against NIU at the earliest, we have to hope Van Tubbergen can get things rolling again.
Now for the defense, something that you guys aren't that great in from first glance. What should we expect from the Minutemen defense? Give me some players to watch out for.
MP: The defensive players that have really been impressing me lately have been the newest additions to the team. True freshmen Kassan Messiah (LB) and Joe Colton (S) both recorded 12 tackles against OHIO, and made their presence felt all over the field. Seniors Perry McIntyre (LB, 14 tackles vs. OHIO) and Darren Thellen (S) have been a bit up-and-down, but to be fair, the defense had been put in a lot of tough spots so far this season. Both are solid playmakers the Western Michigan offense will have to account for.
The defensive line has seen a lot of moving parts, and if someone can emerge as a steady run stopper, they will reap the benefits of more playing time. As of now, that hasn't happened.
UMass fans have very little familiarity with Western Michigan. Give us a brief rundown on both sides of the ball - who should fans keep their eyes on other than the quarterbacks?
BnG: Jaime Wilson is a stud at wide receiver, and he's only a freshman. Dareyon Chance looks to keep the rushing game going as the main back. Dann O'Neill is a potential NFL Draft Pick. On defense, Paul Hazel is the leader out there, and is dealing with an ankle injury, so he may be limited Saturday. Johnnie Simon is a ballhawking Rover, but may not lead the team in tackles due to Desmond Bozemon's emergence at LB. The CBs, Lewis Toler and Donald Celiscar, both are really good at what they do, but are susceptible at times to get beat.
How do you feel the jump from FCS to FBS is going so far. Look past the 0-5 record and into the future.
MP: The record itself is a bit disappointing, but not surprising. There are growing pains associated with a move like this, and one of them is losing. A lot. It's going to be a few years before the team can make a serious push to be a conference power. That being said, I do like the direction this season is going, and I think it sets the team up well for next year. If they can continue to be a pain in the ass to the rest of the MAC and squeeze a win or two out of the rest of their schedule, that can only serve to help Molnar's pitch to recruits.
As for the team on the field now, they seem to have the right mindset and work ethic. Molnar said after last week that they just need validation in the form of a W, I just don't know when to expect it.
With UMass being the new kids on the block, a simple win over them isn't completely satisfying, as we saw last week. Do you see WMU coming into this game looking to make a statement, or might we see another close one? What's your prediction?
BnG: They have to make a statement. The defense was dominated last week, the offense looked bad, and only J Schroder really had a great game (63 yd punt returned for a safety, 50+ yds avg punting). This is homecoming, and the start of the 2nd half of the home schedule, with only NIU at the end of the month and EMU to end the season left.
I think this game won't be close, but if it rains, it'll deaden the score. I think the weather holds though, and the Broncos return to .500 and head into the biggest stretch of their schedule trying to become bowl eligible. WMU 56, UMass 21
What about you? What is your prediction for the game?
MP: I'm almost happy UMass didn't get the win last week as it should serve to keep them humble and focused on the matchup this Saturday. They played easily their most complete game of the season, but there were still a lot of mistakes that cost them the win. If they can eliminate a few of those errors this week and continue improving on offense they may be able to keep it close.
I just don't see WMU falling flat like OHIO did. Vegas says WMU by 17. I say UMass beats the spread for a third straight game. WMU 42, UMass 28
Kickoff is set for this Saturday, October 6th, at 2 p.m. Tickets should still be available if you are in the Kalamazoo area.