Entering with a combined 7-1 record, the 2016 edition of the Western Michigan-Central Michigan rivalry was one of the most anticipated in the series. Under the lights in Mt. Pleasant, the Broncos (5-0) showed no mercy, maintaining an undefeated record after a 49-10 thrashing of the Chippewas (3-2). Questions of how far the Broncos can row or if the Chippewas are collapsing were addressed following the blowout. Takeaways from Saturday night:
- Western Michigan deserves to be ranked. The Broncos are one of 16 in the FBS without a loss and possess the only perfect record in the MAC. P.J. Fleck and company entered Mt. Pleasant with two road Big Ten victories and a quality win over Sun Belt favorite Georgia Southern. But winning the Victory Cannon in dominating fashion may have been the greatest statement win by Western Michigan this season. After trailing 3-0, the Broncos went straight to business, anchoring three long touchdown drives in the first half. The game was sealed on the first offensive play of the second half, when Zach Terrell connected with Corey Davis for a 45-yard touchdown to extend the margin of lead to 25. Following the win, Western Michigan owns an average point differential of plus-26.5, ranking in the nation’s top 10. The schedule has not been a cakewalk, and the Broncos continue to roll through each opponent. It’s time the voters recognize what Fleck has built in Kalamazoo and reward his Broncos with their first ever AP poll appearance.
- Corey Davis is the greatest MAC receiver of all-time. Six catches, 72 yards are not the most stellar numbers recorded by the senior wideout. But it was a night of accolades for Davis, who became the MAC’s all-time leader in receiving yards on a nine-yard catch in the second quarter. Davis snagged in two of the Broncos’ seven touchdowns in the contest, tying former Western Michigan receiver Greg Jennings for most touchdown catches in program history with 39. Davis needs eight more scores to tie former Marshall receiver Darius Watts for most in conference history. Ranking in the top 10 in receptions and first in receiving yards, Davis can feasibly set the MAC touchdowns record with seven regular season games left and a likely postseason matchup. When Davis plays that final game, he will leave a legacy as one of the most extraordinary college football players in his program and conference.
- Central Michigan’s running game needs work. The Chippewas average 128.8 yards per game on the ground, good for 108th in the nation. Only five teams below this mark currently sport a winning record. Central Michigan was outplayed by Western Michigan in every nearly facet of the game, most notably in the rushing column. The Broncos more than doubled the Chippewas’ output, winning the rushing yard battle 254-99. Junior Devon Spalding led Central Michigan with 52 yards. Against FBS teams, the back recorded 131 yards in four games, averaging only 3.3 yards per carry. Freshman running back Jonathan Ward has 98 yards against FBS opponents, 4.3 per carry. Ward has performed kickoff return duties for the Chippewas but only earned one rushing attempt for 15 yards in the loss. Adjustments are needed in Central Michigan’s rushing game, and one may be working the freshman more extensively into the offense.
- Darius Phillips is one of the most exciting playmakers in the conference. Phillips intercepted Cooper Rush as the Chippewas were driving in the third quarter. The junior cornerback capitalized on the opportunity, sprinting 85 yards to the end zone, untouched, for his third career defensive touchdown. Phillips reiterated his signature highlight against Georgia Southern, where he took an interception 70 yards to the house. Not only has Phillips succeeded at creating turnovers, he has demonstrated his talented hitting ability. Phillips sacked Rush from the corner position in the first quarter against Central Michigan. His four solo tackles in the rivalry game are the second-most in 2016 after posting 12 against Illinois. Phillips, who also scored a 100-yard touchdown as a return specialist this season, has been one of the most successful playmakers in the MAC, utilizing his impressive speed to torch defenders when the ball is in his hands.
- Zach Terrell can succeed off of limited attempts. Terrell has yet to throw an interception this season and has looked steady at the quarterback position. He is surrounded by offensive weapons such as receiver Corey Davis and the powerful running back combo of Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin, who decrease the workload off of the senior passer. Terrell completed 15 out of only 21 attempts for 170 yards in Mt. Pleasant on Saturday, continuing his trend of limited passing attempts. Terrell only passed on at least 30 occasions in the opener over Northwestern, a one-point victory. In the four subsequent blowouts, Fleck’s offense has mainly kept the ball on the ground because the rushing game (17th in yards per game) has been effective at maintaining the Broncos’ leads. Terrell has the best completion percentage of his career at nearly 70 percent and is anchoring the strongest offense of his career, even if it comes with less passing opportunities. The trend should continue unless the Broncos find themselves playing from behind.