The Western Michigan Broncos and the fourth-ranked USC Trojans lined up for their first ever meeting. Three solid quarters of play gave false hope to the Bronco faithful, as USC beat Western Michigan 49-31.
Ronald Jones II started the scoring first for USC, capping off a run-heavy drive with a touchdown. Western Michigan did not seem have solid tackling to slow him down in the first drive. Jamauri Bogan replied for Western Michigan with a short touchdown run after a hard-fought drive. Just after the second quarter began, Jon Wassink dove in for a seven-yard touchdown. Ronald Jones II again found paydirt on a short run to tie the game 14-14 through halftime.
A rousing halftime speech from Tim Lester rejuvenated the Broncos on both sides of the ball. The Broncos ate up about six minutes in their first drive, which proved successful. A tricky double-pass from Keishawn Watson to Jon Wassink went 27 yards for a touchdown, giving Western Michigan the lead back:
Still rowing the boat?— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) September 2, 2017
Western Michigan leads No. 4 USC in the second half. pic.twitter.com/vo6l5JCn15
Before the start of the fourth quarter, Sam Darnold took a designed run 11 yards into the endzone to tie the Broncos at 21 each. Mid-way through the fourth quarter, USC marched down to the redzone. Stephen Carr raced in for the go-ahead touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Darius Phillips sprinted the ball 102 yards from endzone to endzone tie the game 28-28. USC changed gears on the next drive with quick big plays.
Ronald Jones II made the Bronco defense pay with a final 37-yard scamper. A Josh Grant field goal closed the gap for the Broncos. Stephen Carr responded with a 52-yard touchdown run, courtesy of a key missed tackle by Justin Tranquill. Another tipped pass led to a pick-six for Marvell Tell, extending USC’s lead. USC’s PAT attempt was snapped by Jake Olson, who is blind. Western Michigan ran the clock to escape with dignity.
Tim Lester promised a run game. The Broncos delivered. Western Michigan’s run game was slow to develop, but Jon Wassink got the big plays started for the Broncos with a long scramble in the first quarter. In the ensuing possession, LeVante Bellamy tore up the field for 42 yard in just one drive. Chukwuma Okorafor led the offensive line all day for 263 rushing yards. Western Michigan’s “three-headed monster” at running back took turns plowing through the vulnerable middle of USC’s defense most of the game. Cameron Smith, the starting middle linebacker for USC, missed the first half from a suspension carried over from last year. His absence was needed in the fourth quarter to assist USC in the fourth quarter.
Tight coverage from USC proved challenging to the young Bronco receiving corps. Their first 11 pass attempts yielded only five completions for 31 yards. Jon Wassink looked plenty comfortable in the pocket, but the balls were thrown inaccurately. Perhaps it was nerves; perhaps it was a USC defensive line batting passes down. Wassink looked most comfortable scrambling and planned draws. Another serious issue that plagued the Broncos were receiver drops. A late interception from USC effectively killed all confidence in the passing game. The Broncos finished with 94 yards, sorely missing the recently graduated receivers.
Western Michigan’s defense had a rough first drive. Fortunately, Robert Spillane, Asantay Brown, and the gang rebounded quickly to force three punts in a row. When USC tried to run the ball, they only managed short gains for the most part. The Bronco linebackers filled the gaps, but failed to tackle securely in key situations, though. Although the tackles-for-loss were few, the Broncos managed to hold most USC rushing plays to a minimal gain.
Despite Justin Tranquill’s covered receivers being targeted most, he maintained his skin-tight coverage. Such tight coverage forced USC to settle for 289 passing yards. Pressure came hard and fast from the outside, resulting in just a few sacks. Darius Phillips intercepted Sam Darnold, courtesy of an Asantay Brown pass deflection. Sam Beal also recorded an interception, which was confirmed after a lengthy review.
On special teams, Darius Phillips did not have many chances for returns, but he still made USC pay on a 102-yard kick return for a touchdown. Shortly before halftime, Josh Grant missed a 38-yard field goal for the lead, but made a crucial 44-yard field goal. Grant also added all four field goals.
Western Michigan is now 0-1, and will head next to East Lansing against the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are returning from a 35-10 victory over Bowling Green.