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Western Michigan Broncos at Michigan State Spartans: Five Things Learned

Mistakes and missed opportunities haunt the Broncos in 28-14 loss to Spartans.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Western Michigan saw a huge opportunity slip through their fingertips. Michigan State played a pretty bad game compared to their normal selves. Unfortunately, the Broncos shot themselves in the foot too many times to capitalize on those mistakes. Dropped passes, missed tackles, and poor blocking effectively handed the victory to the Spartans.

Last week I suggested that the Broncos keep working on their passing game. Now I demand it. There is no way that a 42% completion rate will cut it in the competitive MAC play with a spread offense.

Mistakes are killing the Western Michigan Broncos.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but Western Michigan need to eliminate the easy mistakes. Way too many balls are flying through receivers’ open hands. There’s an old saying for coaches: “If it hits you in the hands, you have to catch it.” The Broncos caught only 12 of the 27 passes thrown against Michigan State.

Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin also made the mistake of running laterally or even backwards waiting for holes to open up. The Spartans may have put a lot of pressure on the Broncos, but at some point they have to attack the holes, open or not. On the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos settled for too many half-hearted attempts at tackles. That led to missed tackles all game long.

Jon Wassink cannot keep taking hard hits.

Seriously, I am concerned for the man’s safety. I applaud Jon Wassink’s dedication to the job, but he has to be more careful. My problem is not with Wassink, however. My problem is with the rest of the Western Michigan offense.

The Bronco offense needs to protect Wassink and keep him out of situations that get him hit hard. For example, if fourth-and-five had not come up, Wassink could have taken a more conservative approach. If Wassink had a shorter distance to make up, he would not have had to dive head first.

Last week, Jon Wassink dove head-first into the end zone. That time he took a much more scary hit. The last thing Western Michigan needs is for Wassink to suffer a concussion, or worse.

Passing is not optional in the Western Michigan offensive scheme.

The Bronco receiving corps has drained the confidence from Tim Lester and Jon Wassink. At this point, the Broncos only pass when necessary and on occasion to keep the defense honest.

If we learned anything from Michigan State and USC, defenses do not really respect the pass. Defenses load the box to stop the run and trust receivers to drop the balls. It is frankly insulting.

With the spread offense Western Michigan runs, passing is not only useful. Passing is an integral part of the offense. Even in run-first offenses, the pass is used to set up the run. Unless the Broncos switch mid-season to a triple option attack, the Broncos have to improve their passing attack. The receivers have to catch passes. Offensive linemen have to protect Wassink so his passes are catchable.

Darius Phillips is a grown man.

Darius Phillips could be the only man to win a race to the end zone against a Ferrari. Michigan State’s punter Jake Hartbarger intentionally aimed his punts either skyward or out of bounds to prevent Darius Phillips from touching the ball. Phillips is so dynamic that opponents have to scout for him.

Spartan kicker Brett Scanlon learned this the hard way, with two incredible kick returns from Phillips. If you have not heard yet, one went for a 52-yard momentum boost and the other went 100 yards for a score. Fortunately, Darius Phillips had a stunning game on defense as well. He added to his tally a half-dozen pass break-ups and an interception.

It did not take long for the Spartans to realize he was covering receivers as tight as a vise. Phillips also forced a Hunter Rison fumble, which he also recovered and returned 67 yards for a touchdown. In the end, Darius Phillips scored every point except for the PAT attempts.

The defense needs a break.

Western Michigan has an offense problem, and it is leeching into the usually stout defense. Every person needs time off to catch their breath and get water. The Bronco defense only averaged two minutes and 45 seconds of game time to take a break. Jon Wassink and the offense have to control the clock and gain yardage so the defense can rest.

As the game dragged on, the defense looked visibly tired and were missing more tackles. I can understand that Darius Phillips can get awfully winded from his kickoff returns, but those at least bring exciting momentum swings. If the offense cannot begin to put up points and run the clock out, the defense will continue to struggle to close games out.