Two MAC championship contenders met on Saturday in Kalamazoo, as Kent State traveled to Waldo Stadium to take on Western Michigan. The Broncos came away with an emphatic 64-31 victory, and Western alleviated any stress lingering within their fan base from the 45-20 defeat to Ball State in week 6. The Broncos now sit 5-2 (2-1 MAC) and are tied for second in the West, behind only 3-0 Northern Illinois. With a game against the Huskies looming on Nov. 23, Western still has every opportunity to reach Ford Field.
Kent State is the team that has some serious questions to answer after this game. The Flashes are still tied with Miami for first place in the East, but the defense was exposed in a bad way by the Western Michigan offense. Sean Lewis and his coaching staff have some issues to address if the Golden Flashes want to finish their season with a MAC Championship Game appearance.
Defense is still an issue for Kent State
Throughout non-conference play, Kent State fans were encouraged by the play of the Flashes defense. While the offense struggled to get going against P5 competition, the defense actually seemed to assert itself well. The Kent secondary looked especially improved, and the Flashes were second in the FBS with 12 interceptions through the first half of the season. Any optimism generated by that relatively good start has been dashed in these past two weeks.
Saturday’s performance was not pretty.
Let’s just start with the high level numbers: The Broncos amassed 648 yards of total offense, 307 through the air and 341 on the ground. WMU QB Kaleb Eleby needed only 22 attempts to reach that 300 yard plateau, finishing the day 15-of-22 for 307 yards and 3 TD’s. Not included in that stat is the penalty yardage from the six pass interference penalties that were called against the Kent secondary, which extended many drives for the Broncos. Eleby averaged 14 yards per attempt, and the Flashes did not have an answer for WMU wide receivers Skyy Moore (eight receptions, 140 yards, two scores) and Jaylen Hall (five catches, 144 yards and a score).
On the ground, the Broncos came into this game averaging 160 rushing yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry. Western more than doubled that per game average on Saturday while also averaging 6.7 yards per rush. RB Sean Tyler had a career day, picking up 169 yards and a score on only 17 carries. La’Darius Jefferson was able to rack up 64 yards and a score himself on his 18 carries.
There are no positives to take from this performance for the Flashes defense. The Broncos scored on 10 of their first 12 drives of the game, and the inability of the Kent defense to get off the field in the second half is what determined the game.
The Flashes also need to figure out their offensive line
There have been injuries on the offensive line for Kent State this year, but the struggles of the group are starting to hamper the offense as a whole.
This has especially hurt the Flashes in the passing game. Through seven games, Dustin Crum has been sacked 24 times, good for 10th in the MAC. The Western Michigan defense clearly saw this on tape, and the Kent offensive line was not ready for the level of pressure the Broncos brought on Saturday. Crum was sacked five times, and Western also recorded 12 tackles for loss. Ralph Holley, Ali Fayad, and Corvin Moment combined for three sacks and six TFL’s, and Kent State had no answers for any of the three.
The Flashes are still second in the conference in rushing, averaging 223 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry. Those number were greatly tampered on Saturday, as Kent was only able to muster 124 yards on 34 carries.
It seems that the Broncos may have given the remaining teams on Kent State’s schedule a template for slowing this offense down. Crum is the catalyst for this offense, but blitzing and getting consistent pressure makes it much harder for this offense to establish their tempo. If the Flashes offensive line can’t clean things up in pass protection, this offense may struggle the rest of the way.
For Western Michigan, last week was an aberration
A lot of Broncos fans, last week’s 45-20 loss to Ball State seemed like it could have been the beginning of the end. Over the past few years, this fan base has been conditioned for disappointment, and many felt that the loss to the Cardinals may start a downward spiral for the second half of the season.
Kaleb Eleby and company relieved WMU fans of those thoughts rather quickly in this one, and this performance did re-establish the Broncos as one of the best teams in the conference. Eleby was back to his usual efficient self, and the Broncos eliminated the uncharacteristic turnovers that plagued them against Ball State. The four turnovers against the Cardinals represent 80 percent of the Broncos giveaways this season. If Eleby and company can keep this up and not turn the ball over, they’ll give themselves a chance in every game.
The defense also returned to good form this week after a disappointing performance against Ball State. The Broncos held the high flying Kent State offense to almost 100 yards under their season average, and the front seven wreaked havoc in the Golden Flashes backfield all game. Ralph Holley and Ali Fayad may be the two best defensive lineman in the conference, and LB Corvin Moment is playing at an extremely high level right now.
With games still left on their schedule with Toledo and Northern Illinois, the Broncos still have every opportunity to get back to Ford Field. They will need some help (Ball State will need to lose one more game due to their victory over the Broncos last week), but if Western wins out, they’ll give themselves a chance.