This week we are looking at some of the MAC teams, where they are at the halfway point, how they've exceeded/failed expectations, and predict how they will finish the year.
Well, its been a fun ride so far this year for the Broncos. They are 4-2, with a 2-0 record in the MAC. With losses to Michigan (in 3 quarters) and #24 (at the time) Illinois, both of whom are now #10 and #15 in the USA Today Polls. And the scary part, Western was competitive in both games (lets forget the 3rd quarter of the Michigan game).
Now entering full conference play from here out, Western has a chance to do something they've never done, go to Detroit for the MAC Championship game. This is a team that many of the contributors on this blog thought would finish 3rd in the West. Only one person thought the Broncos could win the West.
The schedule will not be kind to the Broncos however. Out of the 6 remaining games, 2 are home. With trips to NIU (this weekend) and Toledo, Western still has work to do. They do get they "who are they" Ball State Cardinals at home, and should have an easy win in Akron to end the season, so that helps. If Miami keeps up their poor showing, and Eastern is still Eastern, Western could have a good shot at going 5-1 or even 6-0 from here on out.
Lets look at dimensions of the Broncos from here on out
First lets look at turnover margin. The Broncos, at 4-2, are -4 in turnovers. Uh, what? Now, lets look at their losses. -3 at Michigan (please make me stop talking about this game) and -1 at Illinois. -3 + -1 = -4. So +/- 0 in their 4 losses combined. That's both good and bad. Good in that Western is self-sufficient in producing their own wins without their opponents' mistakes. Bad in that, against teams like Toledo, you have to force turnovers to kill momentum. This stat will be watched semi-closely from here on out. GRADE: C-
Alex Carder is 9th in the nation in passing yards. Jordan White is tied for 1st in receptions and is 2nd in receiving yards. YAWN. No, but seriously, this passing attack is good. Chleb Ravenell and Robert Arnheim don't get enough credit for being GREAT 2nd options behind White. The line is finally getting healthy too.
The key here is the run game. It looked good against Michigan and Bowling Green (my God, it looked GREAT against BG), but non-existent against Illinois and UConn. Without a consistent run-game, Western will not win the West. I think this problem will get sorted out going forward. Or at least that's what I'm hoping.
Now Western's scoring offense is 4th in the MAC, but they've played Illinois and Michigan. This is a very lethal offense. Also, if it gets to 4th down, and the offense is still on the field, get ready, because you're probably still going to watch the show continue. 10-10 on 4th downs. No one else in the MAC has more than 6 conversions, let alone is perfect. This helps kill morale.
How about red zone offense? Western is 2nd in the MAC in the red zone, scoring 25 times on 26 trips. I can't seem to remember the lone time they didn't score........
Oh, that, yeah. Does it count as a TD still? No? Please? Sigh. Excuse me while I cry.
Overall, the offense has to develop a consistent run game. Until then, the half-way grade for the offense is: GRADE: A-.
This defense is good. They aren't great, but they do their job most of the time. They've struggled to stop the run this year at times, but do a decent job getting stops when they need to. I think they will do fine going forward against more finesse teams in the MAC.
Remember the 4th-down offense? Western is great on 4th-down defense too. Only 3 conversions on 10 attempts. They are 3rd in the MAC on holding their opponents to low numbers of 1st downs. Good numbers.
But let's look at actual yardage. Western has the 3rd best pass defense in the MAC, allowing only 183.8 yards/game through the air. But it's a totally different story on the ground. Western allows 171.2 yards/game on the ground. Its not good to have your rush defense and pass defense basically the same number. But nevertheless, Western's defense stands at 4th overall in total yardage in the MAC, and that should be pretty good going forward given the offensive capabilities.
Two big tests remain for the defense: Toledo's speedy offense, and NIU's Chandler Harnish offense. One happens on Saturday, the other doesn't happen for another month.
Overall, the defense has done a good job getting stops when needed. Some work on the rush defense is needed, but overall, they are doing their job. GRADE: B
John Potter has missed a few field goals that I think he should've made, but at least he's perfect on PATs. He also provides a full 11th man on kick-off coverage, netting 3 tackles on the year.
Ben Armer hasn't had to punt much, but, with his punt coverage, has Western 2nd in net punting this year.
Dervon Wallace is a beast on kick-off returns. He leads the MAC in yardage, and has Western 2nd in kick-off returns.
Overall, special teams has lost one game (2-4 on field goals at Illinois), but they do a great job at not allowing big plays otherwise. GRADE: B+.
I think I'm hard on Western. I grew up in a Notre Dame family, I'm used to expecting perfection. This Western team is a great team all-around. The key is to finish strong. If they win next week, November 8th becomes the MAC West Title game (barring a huge surprise). That game is a toss-up, so let's flip a coin. Heads: Western wins the MAC West. Tails: Toledo wins the MAC West. Heads. Western goes 10-2, runs through the conference schedule. And goes to the MAC Title Game for the first time ever. We'll see though how true the coin is going forward.