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2017 Week 3 Preview: Idaho Vandals at Western Michigan Broncos

It’s the home debut for new coach and former WMU alum Tim Lester as the Broncos take on the Vandals.

Western Michigan v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

This weekend promises to be an exciting one for all of Kalamazoo. Western Michigan’s Athletics Department has been teasing an updated Buster Bronco mascot via Twitter, and CommUniversity Night has always draws a solid crowd.

Even better than that? The Darius Phillips Show is back.

Loyal Bronco fans get yet another chance to see Darius Phillips score from literally anywhere on the field. This game promises to be a fun one to watch. More importantly, this match-up has the advantage of being played outdoors instead of the tiny, stuffy Kibbie Dome.

When the Western Michigan Broncos (0-2) and the Idaho Vandals (1-1) kick off, you can be certain of a few things: points and craziness. Comparing the two schools from their first two games is almost pointless. Each team has looked completely different in each of the last two weeks. Western Michigan put the #4 USC Trojans on upset alert in week one. Week two was much less dazzling for the Broncos, failing to put up any offensive points against the Michigan State Spartans. This match-up against the Vandals appears much more favorable.

Idaho managed to beat Sacramento State by a balanced attack and a suffocating defense, only giving up 190 total yards. Matt Linehan hardly had to throw the ball at all, but he did boast a 74% completion rate. After shaking out the cobwebs, Idaho played a good game overall against Sacramento State. Against the UNLV Rebels, Idaho looked simply flat. Aaron Duckworth led Idaho’s rushing attack, but ultimately the Vandals were forced to pass out of desperation. Linehan stepped up to the tune of 261 passing yards. The defense was not up to the task either, giving up 44 points.

More important than past games and statistics is how these two teams will match up this week.

When the Broncos have the ball, Idaho’s defense may not be able to handle the speed and elusiveness of the three running back system. Idaho gave up 357 yards to a so-so UNLV team. Imagine what Jamauri Bogan, Jarvion Franklin, and LeVante Bellamy can do. Idaho does have a decent secondary that will challenge Western Michigan’s passing attack further. Offensively, the Broncos have the advantage.

When Idaho has the ball, their play-calling is almost 50-50 run and pass. Matt Linehan is starting at quarterback for the Vandals for the fourth year in a row. He is just as good as he was in the 2014 match-up. Linehan does have a habit of targeting star receiver Jacob Sannon rather than spreading the ball out. Assuming Darius Phillips covers Sannon, Linehan will have to throw elsewhere, or abandon the pass altogether. Idaho does not pose much of a rushing threat, however. Averaging 158 yards per game should build confidence in the experienced Bronco linebacker crew. Again, the Broncos hold a defensive advantage.

Thanks to Phillips, any kick or punt is liable to become the next Bronco score. Cade Coffey does all the kicking and punting for Idaho, even though he is just a redshirt freshman. He did miss one of his six extra points so far, and has only attempted two field goals, making one. Western Michigan’s Josh Grant is also one-for-two on field goals, but made all six extra points. Courtesy of the touchdown machine, advantage goes to the Broncos.

Players to Watch

Darius Phillips, #4, DB/KR/PR

I love showing highlights from Darius Phillips, but I will spare you from the long kickoff return touchdowns. Enjoy a 67-yard fumble return touchdown.

This man can run fast. Ordinarily, that would be enough to put him on the radar of players to watch. He can also defend the pass. Against both Michigan State and USC Phillips had tight coverage. He matched his receivers in stride, kept his eye on the ball, swat the ball away, and make a sure tackle if the receiver does somehow catch it. Honestly, it is impressive. He has seriously improved his defending skills since his sophomore year. Did I mention that he is abnormally fast?

LeVante Bellamy, #5, RB

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Michigan State
LeVante Bellamy (#5) breaking a Michigan State tackle on Sep 9.
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Which back will get the leg up in rushing yardage? My bet this week is on LeVante Bellamy. This man is quick in space and around the edge. All three backs will probably see plenty of playing time and yards, but I do not think Idaho has the speed to keep up with Bellamy. He already has 169 yards on the ground, mostly coming from a strong game against #4 USC. Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan will rotate in more if the score is lopsided. With the home field advantage against a weak rushing defense, LeVante Bellamy is poised to have a night for his highlight reel.

Aaron Duckworth, #23, RB

NCAA Football: Idaho Potato Bowl-Idaho vs Colorado State
Aaron Duckworth (#23) rushes in for a touchdown against Colorado State last year in the Idaho Potato Bowl.
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Senior running back Aaron Duckworth has had a great start to the year so far, earning more than twice the yards as backup Isaiah Saunders. Duckworth has speed hitting the hole, but does not exactly have breakaway speed. He has to rely on his blocking and agility. Fortunately for the Vandal fans, Duckworth also has good catching ability. A few times already this season, he made a good option when Linehan’s receivers were covered. On paper, he looks like a run-of-the-mill running back, but he is not. Aaron Duckworth can and will catch defenses napping. Asantay Brown and Robert Spillane will have to keep an eye out for Duckworth popping through a running lane all night.

Matt Linehan, #10, QB

NCAA Football: Idaho at UNLV
Matt Linehan (#10) stretched out for a score against UNLV last year.
Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

Orchard Lake native Matt Linehan has lined up for Idaho the past four years. Now more than ever, Linehan looks to be a serious threat to the Broncos. His pocket awareness is top-notch. Despite a porous offensive line, it is quite difficult to sack Linehan. He can and will take off on a sneak if he feels too much pressure. As a quarterback, he consistently throws on-target, high-percentage passes. Linehan runs a mixed offense, but he is not afraid to air it out any time he can. Showing off his excellent arm strength is usually put on hold in favor of shorter passes to keep the offense marching downfield. The talented Bronco defensive line will be able to hurry him into mistakes and scrambles. Hopefully for Western Michigan, the linebacker staff will be able to contain those scrambles.

Keys to the Game

Give the running backs room to run.

Now is not the time to get tricky with the passing game. I still demand that the Broncos need to improve their catching skills, but the key is keeping the ball on the ground. Western Michigan is loaded with talent at running back and offensive line. Use it. Western Michigan can easily get a lead by running the ball hard and fast.

Defend your turf.

Western Michigan is projected to be the favorite in this game. They need to play like it. The pressure is on for the Broncos. Not only are they expected to defend their home turf against Idaho, but they are also expected to win games this year. Tim Lester’s first year as a Division I head coach needs wins for him to keep his job safe. So far, he is keeping the community heavily involved. That also goes to my point of defending Waldo Stadium. Winning this game would go a long way towards regaining the community’s confidence.

Game Notes

Western Michigan hosts the game at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The game kicks off on Sep 16 around 7pm EST. The game is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN3.

Western Michigan won the last time the two met, 45-33. That game took place in 2014 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho.


In my extremely biased and optimistic opinion, Western will dominate. The Broncos will win the game by running the ball. I expect a few huge highlights on each side of the ball. Idaho will be able to find the end zone on one long drive and one broken tackle. Tim Lester will get his first win as Western Michigan’s head coach, and the entire city of Kalamazoo will celebrate.

My prediction: Western Michigan 31, Idaho 17