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2016 Week 4 Preview: Western Michigan Broncos vs. Georgia Southern Eagles

Can Fleck and the Broncos row along?

Western Michigan v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

This September, the Broncos have kept their oars in the water, rolling to the program’s first 3-0 start since 1994. Along the way, P.J. Fleck coached Western Michigan to a single-season record two road Big Ten victories. But the ensuing game against the Sun Belt’s Georgia Southern may be the toughest test for Fleck’s team yet.

The Broncos (3-0) battle the Eagles (3-0) in a clash of undefeated Group of Five schools. Western Michigan is one of three remaining undefeated MAC West teams, while Georgia Southern remains the lone undefeated Sun Belt member after a narrow 23-21 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. This game is significant to the Broncos not only to preserve their perfect record, but to avenge their most brutal loss of the past season.

In 2015, Western Michigan was pummeled on the road by the Eagles, 43-17. The Broncos defense could not solve Georgia Southern’s spread option attack. The Eagles ran for 413 yards and five touchdowns. Matt Breida, who dismantled the Broncos with a 176-yard and four-touchdown performance, should be one of the primary focuses on game film for Western Michigan.

While the senior running back is not on pace to replicate his 1,608 yards and 17 touchdowns from a year ago, he remains a force in the Eagles’ triple option scheme. Paired with senior mobile quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw in the backfield, the Eagles remain a threat to any team that struggles against the running game. Currently, their powerful running attack ranks second in the nation behind Army — 1,069 yards in three contests.

The improved Western Michigan defense ranks 11th in the FBS, only allowing 77.3 yards per game. The defensive unit only allows about 17 points per game, which bodes well for the Broncos offense, given their slew of weapons and ability to work the scoreboard.

Corey Davis, the offense’s centerpiece, is arguably the top receiver in the country. The senior receiver will likely see playing time on Sundays in the near future, but he is accustomed to wrecking secondaries on Saturdays. Davis, college football’s active leader in career receiving yards, posted 317 yards, complemented with three touchdowns to start the season.

Gifted with a talented quarterback in Zach Terrell, the Broncos establish a passing game that could serve as a handful for the Eagles, who have yet to play an opponent the offensive prowess of Western Michigan.

Junior inside linebacker Ironhead Gallon (23 tackles this season) counters the Broncos, leading the Georgia Southern defense that held opponents to 0, 9 and 21 points. But none of those opponents possess the passing and rushing attacks exhibited by Fleck’s program this season.

The Broncos have assembled an adept running game too. Sophomore Jamauri Bogan has assumed the position of the team’s feature back and ranks fifth in the FBS in rushing yards with 423. This can be credited to the breakout of tackle Taylor Moton on the offensive line. The early Outland Trophy candidate has smoothly transitioned from the interior to the exterior of the line to provide needed protection to Western Michigan.

If there has been a weak point in Western Michigan’s stellar start, it exists within the passing defense. Yielding 717 yards in three contests can be improved upon, but that number will likely decrease after Saturday.

Georgia Southern does not pass. Passing is not an integral part of the system the Eagles have operated with great success. Upshaw and Ellison combine for 42 passing attempts this season, completing 24. Facing a more predictable offense, the Broncos need not worry about an air raid attack but must amend the issues the triple option caused them in 2015.

Backed with a home crowd in Kalamazoo this Saturday, Western Michigan should not expect consecutive blowouts in the series. Stifling the rushing attack is the primary key on the defensive side of the ball, and on offense, the Broncos must utilize their array of talented weapons to attack the Georgia Southern defense.

The game kicks off at 7 p.m. ET at Waldo Stadium and can be streamed on ESPN3. The winner receives more votes for the AP poll, while the loser is set back with the first loss of the season.