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2018 MAC Football Game Preview: Western Michigan Broncos vs. Brigham Young Cougars

Can Tim Lester and the 7-5 Broncos pull off the upset of the 6-6 Cougars in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl?

Syracuse v Western Michigan Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The 2018 season didn’t end on a high note for either of these two teams, so the Western Michigan Broncos and the Brigham Young Cougars need to find a way to win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in order to salvage something good from the season. After a strong start from the Broncos, they limped to the finish line with three consecutive losses before beating a Northern Illinois team in the season finale that packed it in after clinching the MAC West. Meanwhile, BYU suffered four losses by one possession and got crushed by eventual PAC-12 champion Washington and in-state rival Utah State but beat Wisconsin on the road.

With the injury to Jon Wassink, Kaleb Eleby performed admirably in the NIU game as he went 19-35 for 285 despite getting sacked six times. The two-back attack of LeVante Bellamy and Jamauri Bogan terrorized defenses all season long with 1,874 rushing yards and 22 total touchdowns between them. Jayden Reed emerged as a big-play receiver in 2018 with 56 receptions for 797 yards and eight touchdowns while WMU’s other explosive receiver hauled in 36 catches for 715 yards and three scores.

The Broncos are a defense that loves big plays as it has registered seven TFLs per game, 29 sacks, nine interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, and ten fumble recoveries. Alex Grace and Drake Spears have been stalwarts in the unit as they each have 80+ tackles, 9.5+ TFLs, 1+ sack, and one interception. However, special teams has been a significant weakness for WMU as it is in the bottom of the MAC in every category except for punt return, where Reed and Tyron Arnett have both returned punts for touchdowns this season.

BYU also had to deal with injuries at the QB position Zach Wilson replacing Tanner Magnum and performing well with a 62.2 completion percentage, 1,261 passing yards, 198 rushing yards, ten total touchdowns and three interceptions eight appearances and six starts. The offense has been in a funk all season long as leading rusher Lopini Katoa has 423 yards and leading receiver Matt Bushman has 459 yards.

However, the strength of BYU lies in a defense that has held offenses to 3.7 yards per rush and 37.2% on third down. Sione Takitaki is a force with 99 tackles, eight TFLs, two sacks and a fumble recovery on the year while Corbin Kaufusi is wrecking ball with 9.5 TFLs and 8.5 sacks. As far as special teams is concerned, there is not much explosiveness in the return game and kicker Skyler Southam is 4-9 on field goals of 40+ yards or more but the coverage units are solid with 19 punts downed inside the 20-yard line and a net of 42.9 yards on kickoff.

This will be an intriguing match-up since BYU is not a high-flying offense but it’s defense will likely give WMU fits in the running game. The game will come down to ball security and field position, two things that strongly favor the Cougars. However, the Broncos has some big-play potential at wide-out so they need to take advantage of the opportunities that they have in the passing game to equalize BYU’s advantage. This should be a hard-fought game that won’t be decided until the very end.