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Five Things Learned: Western Michigan at #4 USC

Western Michigan held their own for three quarters against a powerhouse.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Western Michigan Broncos lost to USC 49-31, but the game felt much closer than the score implies. Both teams exchanged scores evenly in the first three quarters. The fourth quarter was a different story. So, what can be learned from this?

Playing all four quarters is mandatory.

Western Michigan payed the price for not finishing against USC. The first three quarters ended in a 21-21 tie. In the final quarter, the Broncos were outscored 28-10. Granted, USC has much better talent and a deeper bench than most of the other teams on the schedule this year. Regardless, Western Michigan has to improve in playing all four quarters. There is no room in the competitive Mid-American Conference for sloppy gameplay. I will give the Broncos all the credit for the first three quarters. They looked phenomenal. The Broncos just need to carry that energy forward one more quarter.

Western Michigan’s passing game is almost non-existent.

Finding an open receiver was not the issue against USC. Jon Wassink saw the open man, delivered a reasonable pass, and everything falls apart from there. Pocket protection was good, but defenders easily batted down passes by reading Wassink. He stared predictably at his targets that gave away when to swat at the line and in the secondary. When the ball does manage to reach the receivers, they were dropped. D’Wayne Eskridge, who was expected to be a key receiver, only caught one pass. Jon Wassink was the only person to catch a touchdown pass, which was thrown from receiver Keishawn Watson. Western Michigan only put up 94 yards against USC. They need to step up such terrible passing if they want to be competitive in the MAC.

The “Three-Headed Monster” is alive and well. And terrifying.

LeVante Bellamy led the Broncos in rushing with a solid 102 yards. Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin rotated for an additional 117 yards combined. Those three were not alone in the rushing attack. In a surprising turn, Jon Wassink proved that he run, escape sacks, and take hits. Chukwuma Okorafor led his fellow offensive linemen in pushing around the Trojan defensive line. If the Broncos can push around a powerful USC team, imagine what that offensive line can do to its MAC opponents. Having a deep backfield will be critical for Western Michigan’s success this year. Add in the elusive moves from Bellamy, Bogan, and Franklin and you have an unstoppable running force.

Western Michigan has entered a new era, the Lester-era.

No longer is Western Michigan just another low-level MAC school. Maybe I am biased and just “drinking the Kool-Aid”. Western Michigan has been the beneficiary of plenty of media attention and hype following the last season. After a successful 13-1 season and Cotton Bowl berth, the Broncos are on the radar of every opponent they face. Despite the sudden onset of attention, Western Michigan has kept their focus on football. The Broncos showed some serious skill on both sides of the ball, especially in the first three quarters. Defensively, they forced four punts and two interceptions. On the offensive side of the ball, the Broncos imposed their will. More importantly, Western Michigan competed with a top-five school with almost no passing yardage at all. Once Tim Lester figures out the passing struggles, they will be a true force.

Western Michigan will be ready for another Mid-American Conference Championship.

I am definitely jumping the gun, but this game got me excited for the season to come. Running has proven effective. Tim Lester managed the clock efficiently up until USC started pulling away with the lead. A well-practiced offensive line is pushing around even the toughest defenses. The passing defense is solid in both secondary and pass rush. Darius Phillips is still doing Darius Phillips things like returning kicks 102 yards for really fast points:

I do say that they will be ready, because there are areas the Broncos need to improve. Tackling was an issue that led to some big gains. Passing and receiving needs to be addressed in the next three weeks. Once the passing game and tackling are fixed, Western Michigan only faces two obstacles: finishing the season with wins, and surviving the wackiness that is the MAC.