During the 49-14 win against FCS opponent Wagner, the Western Michigan Broncos’ second string saw most of the second half action. Head coach Tim Lester tested the depth of his lineup, much to his delight. It turns out Western Michigan has lot of hidden talent. Jon Wassink saw an incredible night of passing accuracy, despite a play-calling emphasis on running. There were some issues that still need worked out before Mid-American Conference play begins. Let’s dig into the take-aways from this win:
Darius Phillips makes a huge impact on field position.
During the past few weeks, teams have been trying to avoid getting the ball in Darius Phillips’ hands. When Phillips is on defense, that just means passing to a second-choice receiver. That is an easy adjustment, albeit inconvenient. Darius Phillips also lines up to return kicks and punts, which brings up an interesting point. Wagner intentionally kicked away from Darius Phillips, assuming that giving up free penalty yards was safer than giving up a touchdown on the return. Idaho and Michigan State did it too. By choosing to intentionally kick away from him, it gives the Broncos a distinct advantage in field position. Without even touching the ball, Phillips’ presence for one kickoff out of bounds and two more kicked short. That does not even mention the punts out of bounds and kicked high to prevent a return. Phillips may have had a quiet day statistically, but his presence is incredibly intimidating to opponents.
The Broncos are shooting themselves in the foot with penalties.
Penalties are an inevitability in football. I do not expect perfection out of the Broncos. However, ten penalties for 92 yards is essentially giving up a full touchdown. Some of those penalties are simply inexcusable. Personal fouls are never acceptable, but Steven Clark and Chukwuma Okorafor were each penalized with them. A roughing-the-kicker call costed the Broncos a touchdown when the drive continued. Another disturbing trend is that nearly every game features false start or holding penalties against Chukwuma Okorafor. His 6’6”, 330-pound frame is almost impossible to hide when he is committing penalties. Okorafor and the Broncos need to get better at avoiding infractions.
Talent runs deep at running back.
Going into this game, I was not expecting to be excited to see the fifth-string running back in action. However, once Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin each exceeded 100 yards rushing and three total touchdowns, Tim Lester subbed them out. LeVante Bellamy did not play, as per Lester’s request, to rest up after being banged up in the first three weeks. Next up was Davon Tucker, who spent no time earning 75 more yards and a touchdown of his own. By this point I was already excited for the future of the Bronco backfield. Then, Tucker was relieved by Leo Ekwoge. Ekwoge swiftly took off for 35 yards in only four attempts. It was beautiful. What this tells us is that the Broncos have five running backs ready to go at any time. That is really good.
Gang tackles made the defense look good.
One major improvement this week was tackling. The Bronco defense was much more confident in their positioning, allowing for better tackles. Stuffing runs up the middle was their bread-and-butter this week. That came from gang tackles. Defensive linemen for the Broncos held running back Ryan Fulse until Asantay Brown could help finish the job off. The key is that the Broncos tried to secure the tackle instead of giving up. Even after the back-ups joined in the game, they looked solid in their tackling. If the defense can continue tackling this well, the rest of the MAC may be in trouble against the Broncos.
Jon Wassink’s passing confidence improved from this game.
I have to admit: I was giddy with excitement watching Jon Wassink’s passes. His first nine passes were caught. He had no sacks or interceptions. At the end of the day, he was 11-for-12, racked up 165 yards, and threw for three passing touchdowns. His favorite targets were Keishawn Watson and D’Wayne Eskridge, although five different receivers caught passes. Watson caught six passes for 45 yards, while D’Wayne Eskridge caught only two passes, but for 92 yards. They say that quarterback is a very mental position, and confidence is the most important factor to success. If that is the case, then Jon Wassink and his receivers are on the right track to having a very successful year.