The season could not have started on a better note for the Broncos than this dominant road win over the Zips. We reviewed MWU’s impressive win over Akron and came up with the following takeaways.
In the Trenches
In our game preview, we highlighted as a team strength the offensive and defensive lines and WMU showed us that they are as good as projected.
The Broncos’ offensive line and TEs showed why they are one of the best units in the MAC in run and pass blocking. The Broncos established the running game early, scoring 17 points on its first three drives, which featured a total of 18 runs.
WMU was able to gash Akron’s middle and weakside defense with runs led by center Wesley French, left guard Mike Caliendo, and left tackle Jaylon Moore. The other linemen turned in notable plays too, like a nice combo block by Dylan Deatherage to key a long run in the second quarter.
With the run established, starting at the end of the first half, the Broncos went to the air with great effect. The first big passing play was a 68-yard touchdown to WR Jaylen Hall, where QB Kaleb Eleby had as clean a pocket as you can get and all kinds of time to throw. In the 3rd quarter, Eleby hit D’Wayne Eskridge on an 83-yard catch and run for score.
The offensive line provided an almost worry-free pocket all day with only one sack and one tackle for loss.
The defensive line, anchored by veterans Ali Fayad and Ralph Holley, did their jobs, helping to hold the Zips to 13 points and 256 total yards of offense. Sure, Akron started four redshirt freshman on the offensive line, but you can only play who they put in front of you. Also, with some experience, I think the Zips line will be pretty good.
Redshirt freshman DE Marshawn Kneeland, WMU’s Co-Scout Team Player of the Year in 2019, made an impression in only his second career game, finishing with four tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Skill Position Players Looked Good
We wondered in our season preview how WMU would replace all the talent they lost at QB, RB, and TE. WMU’s new crew performed very well overall in their debut.
There were a few hiccups early, like a red zone fumble by a WMU running back which was recovered by the RB, and a run where either the RB or the QB went the wrong way. So while there were a few early miscues, nothing disastrous happened.
New QB Kaleb Eleby hit 75 percent of his passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He had some really nice passes, including the first touchdown pass of the season to D’Wayne Eskridge, where Eleby threaded the needle and Eskridge made a nice adjustment to haul in the score.
The Broncos employed a trio of running backs who did a strong job replacing some of the production of MAC 2019 Offensive Player of the Year, RB LeVante Bellamy. La’Darius Jefferson, Sean Tyler, and Nevada transfer Jaxson Kincaide combined for 180 yards rushing and each scored a touchdown. They group showed good vision, making some nice cuts to daylight, including a run by Jefferson on a 4th and 1 in the second quarter to get the first down. All ran hard, with good effort.
And the RBs passed the test early on in other important parts of the game. For example, I saw some nice blocks in pass protection.
With only two receptions for 16 yards, the TE’s were not a big factor in the passing game like Giovanni Ricci was in 2019 (51 recs, 642 yards, 8 touchdowns), but the TEs did play a key role in establishing a dominant running game. The group here was led by Anthony Torres and Brett Borske. Borske had a nice block in the second quarter that keyed a touchdown run on fourth and one. Borske went in motion and sealed the edge with RB Sean Tyler cutting back off Borske’s block for the score.
D’Wayne Eskridge Cast an Early Ballot for MAC Offensive Player of The Year
Eskridge did everything he could in this one to keep the MAC Offensive Player of the Year award in the WMU trophy case with a stellar performance against Akron (as noted above, WMU’s RB LeVante Bellamy won the award in 2019).
When you win by this score, a lot of players are doing a lot of things right. Yet, among all the great play, Eskridge stood out. Eskridge combined for 235 yards receiving and on kickoff returns.
Eskridge’s first two kickoff returns showed great skill, where he caught the ball near the goal line and weaved between blocks to give the Broncos great field position (beyond the-40 yard line on the first two returns). Eskridge and the kickoff return team’s quality early kickoff returns forced Akron to change strategy to tactics such as squib kicking in order to limit the damage.
The WMU website reports Eskridge ran a 40-yard dash in 2018 in 4.33 seconds. That electric speed was on display as Eskridge caught three passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns. On perhaps the greatest display of speed of the night, Eskridge caught a 76-yard touchdown in the third quarter. The play consisted of 12-yard throw on a slant followed by a 64-yard run by Eskridge where he weaved through traffic before turning it up field to seal the score.
ESPN Analyst Dustin Fox spoke with amazement about Eskridge’s speed during the game: “is it just me or, when I watch Eskridge run, he seems like he is playing at a different speed than everyone else. Look at how fast he is…Eskridge is playing at a different level than everyone else.”
A final area where Eskridge made an impact was his run blocking. On a 32-yard run in the second quarter, Eskridge can be seen 40 yards down field, making a pancake block on a Zip DB.
All things considered, Eskridge’s return to offense after a year on defense and a season-ending injury could not have gone better.
High marks for the coaching on both sides of the ball.
On offense, all the new players looked ready to go and executed well. Also, the gameplan worked to perfection. The Broncos took the pressure off its new QB and placed it on its capable offensive line/TEs by establishing the run. WMU moved the ball on the ground with 18 runs in the first three possession resulting, in two touchdowns and field goal.
With the ground game established, the Broncos unleashed the passing attack, where Eleby had three touchdown passes.
On defense, the gameplan was very effective, holding the Zips to 13 points on 256 total yards. The Broncos used a lot of zone defense, with four down linemen, dropping seven into coverage, occasionally mixing it up with a 5th or 6th rusher. That type of defense has been very effective against Akron’s offense going back at least to game four of the Arth era, where the Troy Trojans used similar defense to limit Akron to seven points on 242 yards.
Western Michigan returns to action on Wednesday, November 11 at 8:00pm Eastern against Toledo in a critical MAC West matchup. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and we will have a pregame preview for you here at Hustle belt in the days leading up to the game.