Tuesday night was not a typical Tuesday night for the Broncos.
Kent State led 14-3 and maintained a one-point edge at halftime. But the Broncos escaped to a 10-0 record. Takeaways from a wild game in Kent, Ohio:
- Slow starts don’t phase Western Michigan. Just one week ago, Western Michigan struggled to contain the Ball State running game in the first quarter, but won 52-20. And against Kent State, the Golden Flashes jumped to a 14-3 lead in the opening frame. The Broncos withstood an early scoop-and-score touchdown, but remained focused and ended up victorious by 16 points. P.J. Fleck is credited for his fiery pregame speeches and motivational mantras, and he deserves additional recognition for maintaining his team’s composure when trailing by double-digits on the road. A safety in the fourth quarter eventually swung the game in Western Michigan’s favor, providing the Broncos a lead they would never relinquish. Kent State gave their best effort in a hard-fought battle that was deadlocked as late as 12:11 left, but Western Michigan ultimately proved why it has a ranking attached to its name.
- Weather strongly affects the Broncos’ offense. The Broncos are equipped with one of the nation’s top receivers in Corey Davis, yet only threw on 13 out of 77 plays. The conditions in Dix Stadium were not ideal—the field was muddy and the turf was ripped up as a result of heavy rain in Kent. Fleck embraced the conditions in his pregame locker room speech, inspiring his players to enjoy a unique weather opportunity. But the rain caused Western Michigan to revert to conservative play-calling, rarely choosing to air it out in the wet conditions. Zach Terrell owns the second highest completion percentage, 71.6 percent, in the FBS but struggled with accuracy Tuesday night. He completed 6-of-13 passes to three different targets for 83 yards. Luckily for Western Michigan, the offense is loaded with a talented backfield. A strong running game propelled the Broncos to victory. On a 20-play drive to take their first lead of the game, they ran 19 times, finishing beyond the pylons. Even though predictable, Western Michigan seemed unstoppable on the ground in the second half.
- Fabian Johnson demonstrated how deep the Broncos’ offense runs. The senior halfback entered the night with 166 career rushing yards spanning over three seasons. But with Jamauri Bogan out with injury, Johnson was able to step up in Fleck’s run-centric offense. He rushed through the Kent State defense for a career-high 125 yards on 19 carries. Johnson sealed the game, powering through the opposing defense en route to his third career touchdown with four minutes remaining. Johnson and teammate Jarvion Franklin both eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in the victory. In every game this season, a Western Michigan running back has reached triple-digits in the yardage department. The offensive line by senior tackle Taylor Moton continues to dominate in the trenches, paving the way for breakout performances. Against Kent State, Johnson was the latest offensive weapon to flourish behind the front-five, and his usage could increase if Bogan remains sidelined with injury.
- Nick Holley is a great running quarterback. The junior has more rushing yards than passing yards this season. Against a stout Western Michigan defense, Holley ran physically, gaining 141 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Holley has been a solution at the quarterback position for Kent State, with a running ability reminiscent of Julian Edelman. He is averaging 145 rushing yards per game over the last six competitions. Over the time period, Kent State’s total point differential is minus-one. The Golden Flashes, 3-7 and eliminated from bowl contention, may not contain the talent-level of their opponents, but have played to their fullest potential under Holley’s lead. His running game has proven successful, and if the junior quarterback becomes more comfortable throwing in the pocket, Kent State could rise in the wide-open MAC East for the 2017 season.
- Western Michigan’s nemesis is turnovers. Since the Northwestern game on week one, the Broncos’ two closest games are a 14-point win over Eastern Michigan and a 16-point victory over Kent State. These are the two of the three games in which the Broncos have committed a turnover this season. On the Broncos’ first play from scrimmage, Jarvion Franklin fumbled for his first time in 2016. The football was scooped up from the muddy field by the Kent State defense, and the turnover was converted into seven points. Both Western Michigan turnovers this season have been exchanged for touchdowns by opponents. If the Broncos hope to comfortably win their games, they must continue their speciality of not making crucial mistakes. Two turnovers through 10 games is nearly perfection, and perfection is what Western Michigan needs if it wants a ticket to the Cotton Bowl.