When P.J. Fleck was hired just over a year ago, he was met with mixed reception. His high energy was unmatched and he exhumed confidence, all while preaching of a bright future. Yet, his mantras were considered highly cliché and he had only ONE DAY of coordinator experience, and no prior head coaching experience at any level (not even Pee-Wee). So the fanbase didn't know what to expect.
On one hand, you had a fairly talented team that was gaining steam last season before Alex Carder came back and Bill Cubit (in this writer's opinion) stupidly started the rusty QB over a red-hot Tyler Van Tubbergen. You had a coach that seemed to do what Cubit never did/could in motivate the hell out of the team, and you had a not-to-bad schedule. On the other hand though, you had a first-time head coach that would start with 3 Big Ten road games in his first four games.
Then the pre-season came, and demolished the Broncos, almost literally. They lost their starting center in Terry Davisson, solid line-backers in Devon Brant and Terry Easmon, and, probably the most crippling of all, lost defending MAC Freshman of the Year Jaime Wilson to a knee injury. Before a game was even played, the Broncos were dropping players like flies. Fellow wide-outs Justin Collins and Daniel Braverman also suffered season ending injuries. Tevin Drake was arrested, again, and then dismissed from the team. It was not looking good for Fleck.
8/30 - @ Michigan State
A tough road game, no doubt, but to start your college coaching career against the mighty Spartans (at the time, unranked) and their vaunted defense. Oof. But oddly enough, Western Michigan and Fleck held their ground.
After coming out during the National Anthem (which was later blamed on a MSU staffer not knowing the schedule), the Broncos came out pretty decently. Well, after the hour long weather delay to start the 2nd quarter. TVT got injured after leading a pretty solid drive against Sparty, which led to Zach Terrell making his college debut. On his first career snap, Terrell found Clark Mussman in the end zone for a touchdown, tying the game.
However, MSU would assert their dominance, score before the half, and shut down the Broncos most of the way (a late TD made it respectable) and Fleck had his first loss: a 26-13 defeat to a team that made the Rose Bowl and went 12-1.
The optimism was high. But then came............
9/7 - vs Nicholls State or better yet..........
What else do you call it? After the MSU loss, Bronco fans were excited for their lone non-conference game against lowly Nicholls State, a team that WMU had drubbed twice before and hadn't won a game against a team NOT from the NAIA in 3 years.
Maybe the forewarning came with The Video. You've seen it. You've laughed. You've Gif'ed it (many times). I cried.
Let me go through the traditions really quick to let you know their staying power. In order. . .
- DJ Ill Mixx is still there. But has quickly learned to slow his roll. Kinda. They still are working out the kinks on that. I don't mind it though honestly. Not a "tradition" though.
- LOL Fog Horn. Sounds when the team takes the field. I think? Not before the game
- DJ Ill Mixx drops the ball often (like BGSU's wide-outs amirite? Anyone?) on Chelsea Dagger. Not like most of the Bronco fans notice. We're mostly Wings fans. Fight song still prevails, as it should
- The 2nd most ridiculous thing in this video, and the band only really does it. Wonder why.........
- The most ridiculous thing I've ever SEEN a coach do (we don't know what Bobby Petrino did with that lady on the motorcycle, but we can assume). Fans maybe do this for the first couple "rows", but no.....just no.
- This has been part of the team since before the Cubit days I think.
So yeah, that video made its rounds AND had no staying power within the program. Awesome.
Then the game, and I don't know what to say. The Colonels lost their starting QB in the off-season, their 2nd string QB in the Oregon game the week before, and their 3rd string QB before halftime (but not before ripping the Bronco defense to shreds with his dual-threatness).
Enter Tuskani Figaro (Tus-KAHN-ee Fee-GAR-oh). The man struggles in the 3rd, while the Broncos pound the ground back into the game after trailing 14-0 after the first quarter and 21-9 at the half. Figaro completes just 2 passes, but one is a bomb to stall the game and set up a huge FG. TVT gets picked at the goal-line trying to hit Corey Davis, and WMU loses 27-23. I'm going to go ahead and say it was the single most embarrassing week in WMU Football history.
9/14 - @ #17 Northwestern
How do you follow possibly the single most embarrassing loss in program history? With a trip to Chicago and a possible Rose Bowl bound Wildcat team!
It's easy now to look back at this game and wonder what the hell happened to Northwestern. They were ranked highly, had a solid offense, and were a dark horse to knock off Ohio State and make the Rose Bowl. After this game, they wouldn't beat a FBS team until the season finale against Illinois.
WMU led. Twice. 3-0 after the first quarter and 10-7 after a Northwestern touchdown. It was TVT's last, uhh, "decent" game. He only threw one INT, and had a pair of touchdowns. Let us ignore the < 40% completion percentage and look at his 33 yards on 5 carries. After the 10-7 lead, the Wildcats took over and dominated on offense. Final score: 38-17. Again, not a bad showing against a supposed decent team.
Also, Chicago is freaking amazing (or amazeballs as James Earl Jones would say). If you ever get the chance to go for a night game like this, do it. Buy a day pass if you'd like (a two-way pass would also suffice, but your choice) for the CTA and explore downtown. Hop on the Red Line back to the Purple (stop and visit Wrigley Field along the way) and the 2nd to last stop is a block away from the stadium.
9/21 - @ Iowa
We all know what NIU and Iowa did. Great game. Close game. And maybe WMU would hold their own against the Hawkeyes.
Nope. Not even close.
I was in Detroit for a Tigers game this weekend, so I got to turn off the game when it got out of hand. In short, I watched about 5-10 minutes of the game. Nobody showed up from Kalamazoo, and Kevonte Martin-Manley returned a pair of punts for TDs on back-to-back returns. Let's move on.
Final score: 59-3
NOTE: Iowa ended up not being that bad. But 59-3 is ridiculous.
9/28 - vs Kent State
Oh hey Kent State! The Golden Flashes held on last season to beat WMU and now looked pretty shaky coming into the match-up without Dri Archer.
Then Archer got to start. And he changed the gameplan.
His presence alone helped keep the Broncos off balance, and despite getting as close as 15-14 midway through the 3rd quarter, PJ Fleck and company couldn't get anything going en route to a 32-14 defeat.
Now came the questions. "Will WMU go winless?" "Is P.J. Fleck right for the job?" "When does hockey season start?" "What lunchable tastes best?"
10/5 - @ Toledo
Another game I didn't bother to watch. Hockey season oddly started the next week, and we all knew what was going to happen, and it did.
The Rockets, again, tore up the Broncos on the ground and Western Michigan, again, could barely move the ball. TVT was benched for pretty much the rest of the season in favor of Terrell at the half, and you could see then, at 0-6, this was going to be a very difficult season to bear through. Final score: 47-20 (WMU scored 13 points in the 4th after trailing 47-7).
The rest of the schedule was a mixed bag, however. Buffalo and Ball State, two pretty solid teams, were due up next and NIU still remained. However, EMU, UMass, and CMU also were left, so a 3-win season was reasonable, right?
10/12 - vs Buffalo
Another game I missed. Family time is fun time.
I actually hear this game was a lot closer than the score allows. However, it's WMU, so I don't know what to believe.
Final score: 33-0
10/19 - vs Ball State
Another game WMU led early on. Another dominating offensive performance by a solid offensive team.
Keith Wenning and Co. found their groove and were pretty much unstoppable once they got going. Another loss, and 0-8 was looking, well, deserved. Final score: 38-17.
The offense wasn't moving the ball with any consistency, the defense was gassed after holding early on, and special teams was hit-and-miss. However, the best 3-game stretch was ahead, and the winless streak was going to end. Right?
10/26 - @ Massachusetts
HELL YEAH IT ENDED. SUCK IT MINUTEMEN! WOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
OK, so it was a win against UMass. And it was bad. UMass returned the opening kickoff for a TD, and the teams traded blows most of the game. Eventually, Terrell found Davis on a deep-ball late in the 4th to break a 24-24 tie and give the Broncos a nice 31-24 lead with under 5 minutes to play. Surely the defense would hold, right?
Nope. UMass marched right down the field, and scored with just 22 seconds left. Then, in one of the most ballsy decisions of the year, Charlie Molnar went for two, and the win, and A.J. Doyle's throw was too high. WMU recovered the onside kick and won 31-30.
They won, they wouldn't go winless for the first time ever, and they had a bye week to prepare for their two rivals. Things were suddenly looking better.
11/9 - @ Eastern Michigan
This game was so effin' infuriating.
Blame everyone. Blame the players for executing poorly. Blame the coaching for the weak play calls. Blame the refs because why not? Blame Ron English for going on a tirade and getting fired 2 days before the game.
After taking a 29-21 lead with just under 7 minutes left in the game, the Bronco defense was worn down to the nub by the EMU rushing attack, as the Eagles converted a pair of 4th downs en route to a touchdown with 51 seconds left. Then Brogan Roback pulled a perfectly designed play-action reverse roll-out and found a wide-open Ryan Brumfield in the flat for the two-point conversion.
EMU would win the toss, play defense, hold the Broncos to a field goal, and score the winning touchdown to snatch a 35-32 victory.
Then the anger came. Why did Andrew Haldeman kick SIX field goals? Why were FOUR of those under 30 yards? Why was no one covering the back side on the two-point conversion? How did EMU convert so many 3-and-longs and 4th downs? And last but not least, WHY DO WE KEEP LOSING TO THE EFFIN' EMU EAGLES?!?!?!?!?
Whatevs. Not even an hour after the disappointing loss, the WMU Football twitter account was already plugging the next game. The big one..........
11/16 - vs Central Michigan
Sure the Broncos shot themselves in the foot and missed out on the Michigan MAC Trophy. Again. But at least they could make sure Central Michigan didn't win it.
For the 3rd time in the season, a MAC foe brought back an injured player in full force as Zurlon Tipton came back specifically for the Central-Western game.
He didn't do bad. Neither did Titus Davis. Corey Davis was hot-and-cold. And basically let me use the same script as pretty much every other game for the season: WMU takes a lead, and gives it up. This time, it was again in the 3rd quarter.
Fleck actually appeared to coach a solid game, shutting down Tipton a little bit more later and limiting Davis as best he could. The execution though by the secondary and offense was terrible. Terrell frequently missed his marks and the run game was taken out of the plan after dropping the lead.
Terrell would miss on 3 straight passes to ice the game late, and WMU dropped their last winnable game 27-22. Just 2 seasons after winning every home game, the Broncos dropped every home game. And would only have one last game........
11/26 - @ #14 Northern Illinois
Another game I didn't watch. Really didn't care either.
Jordan Lynch broke his own single-game rushing record with 321 yards, single-handedly out-gaining the Broncos' total yardage. WMU hung, but never really threatened. 33-14 final.
So what do we take from this 1-11 season?
- Rebuilding - The Broncos are building around a new core of players, and used a decent mix of upper- and lower-classmen to help gain experience. While the running back corps loses pretty much everyone, and the defense will lose a couple key linebackers, the rest of the team should return next season a year older and wiser
- Recruiting - Fleck, to his credit, has recruited his ass off. He has two studs in Chance Stewart (QB) and Lonnie Johnson (WR) coming in next season. Add in some other good players, especially at the OL and defense, and Fleck has the top recruiting class in the MAC before the main recruiting period, and it isn't even close.
- Growth - Everyone grew. Corey Davis became a solid receiver, Terrell became a more comfortable quarterback, and the lines got experience. A 1-11 season is tough to go through as a fan. As someone who suffered through a 0-20 season in soccer, as the goaltender no less, going through a down season as a player is even worse. Through this adversity, if the team grows, then WMU could rise. And hey, Fleck even got through his first season and looks more like a coach now than at the beginning of the year.
- Closing - WMU failed to close out games often. The offense HAS to improve next season to give the defense time to rest. If they can do that, I really think the Broncos can maybe make it around .500. I mean, they were 3-5 plays or so away from 4-8, so is it really that tough to see happening?
A quick look at next season:
- P.J. Fleck and his coaching staff shouldn't lose anyone. I'm not sure if that is good or bad. You have stability, but the coaching was questionable at times this year.
- The QB position battle will be fierce. This season, we knew TVT would be the starter. Then he got hurt, Terrell came in, played decently, and when TVT sucked, we knew what was going to happen. Terrell has experience and 2 years of playing in a college environment (redshirted). However, Stewart has the tools to be stud. Also, Cam Thomas was redshirted this season, and thus has the knowledge of the Fleck system AND is rumored to have the tools of a solid QB. The Broncos should be deep at the QB position next season though.
- If the Broncos don't run 3 or 4 wide outs on every play outside of the 5 yard lines, they are wasting their tools. Seriously. Look at who they have for sure next season: Jaime Wilson, Corey Davis, Daniel Braverman, Kendrick Roberts, Timmy Keith. Add in the fact that Justin Collins could get a medical redshirt, the transfer of 4-star recruit Justin Ferguson from Notre Dame, and Lonnie Johnson, and you have a DEEP wide-receiving corps. And it isn't for just a year or two. Roberts, Johnson, and Collins would be the only players from that list that wouldn't have 3 years of eligibility, and Johnson would have 4 and could easily red-shirt. Whoever is under center will not have a lack of options, stellar ones at that, to throw to.
- The O-Line and D-Lines were very young this year. They should lose no one, as Travonte Boles, Davisson, and Greg Peterson are the big losses. 3 out of 8-9 isn't bad at all, and Davisson could apply for medical redshirt.
- The secondary returns pretty much everyone. Should they get better, they "no fly zone" actually could help force the run. Again, I'm not sure how good that is with how porous the run defense has been in recent years.
- The running back and linebacker positions will have some huge losses, but should be more easily filled. The linebacking corps actually has some depth already, so not too worried. Plus, why run when you can throw for days?
- The schedule? It ain't bad. The top 3 MAC teams each have big losses in Lynch, Wenning, and David Fluellen graduating. In non-conference action, the Broncos head to Purdue, Idaho, and Virginia Tech while hosting Murray State. So 3 winnable games (yes, Purdue sucks), PLUS EMU and CMU (always toss-ups no matter what), and WMU has a legitimate chance to go 5-7 before we know the cross-over games and how Toledo, Ball State, and NIU look next season.
So the word of the season is optimism. Next season will bring hope and maybe, juuuuuuust maybe, Fleck can right the ship (ugh, did I really do that? I was so close to the end without making a stupid boat pun. I hate myself) and turn the Broncos back into a competitive football program in the MAC. Until then, we wait.
We wait to see what the off-season brings and if Fleck can keep his stellar recruiting class together (or even grow it). We wait to see who comes out on top of the position battle. And we wait and pray for no more videos (at least I am. You trolls are drooling for them). Yep. No more videos.
Now DJ Ill Mixx, give me some funky to get down to for the next 8 months.