Here we are at the halfway point of the season, so it’s about time that we’ve learned a few things about the season at large for all of the teams in the MAC.
For this particular game, I’ll be giving you two general observations from both the Eastern and Western Michigan perspectives after watching their game on Saturday evening. The scoreboard did not indicate the proper feel of this game, as WMU got a couple garbage time scores, but there’s still a lot to learn.
Eastern Michigan can be aggressive on defense
I’ve wrote a number of times how the Neathery defenses seem to be based on aggression and forcing turnovers. It seems that we got to see that in action against Western Michigan. Eastern Michigan got seven sacks—with four of them coming from Jose Ramirez— and eight total tackles-for-loss on the day, putting the WMU offensive line under siege from the opening whistle. Eastern Michigan’s defense was so stifling, that the game was never really in doubt.
They also recovered a fumble and held the Broncos to just 6-of-18 on third down attempts. EMU’s pass defense was especially on top of it, allowing only 15 completions on 40 attempts for about 208 yards, while the rushing defense held the duo of Sean Tyler and La’Darius Jefferson to just 91 yards.
One of my complaints about Eastern Michigan this year has been that they get a lead and then they go back to a coverage defense. But this go-around, their foot remained on the gas for 60 minutes, and they were able to prevent Western Michigan from coming back.
Taylor Powell is the quarterback
Taylor Powell, who had been out with injury over the last three weeks, showed that he was not only healthy, but could play. He was 20-of-30 for 293 yards with three touchdowns and no picks. I think he was also able to get the ball off quickly in a couple of instances, and showed superior control of the offense against WMU.
Austin Smith held the job down admirably in Powell’s absence, and even had a touchdown in this game, so there’s certainly still a role for him to play moving forward. I still think Creighton’s offense work better with a quarterback that can run, as the read option as really worked for the Eagles offense, but Powell’s arm is just too good not to utilize more frequently.
Add Tim Lester to the Hot Seat
This is Tim Lester’s sixth season, and this loss to EMU might just be the nadir of his tenure at the helm of the Broncos. He is 34-29 overall and 23-17 in the MAC, but he has lost four-straight to his cross state rival and is only 3-2 against Central Michigan. I suspect if Western Michigan loses to CMU later in the season, the grumbling about his performance might get a little louder. (Though, after this weekend, it’s already pretty loud.)
This team has never sniffed the MAC title game in Lester’s tenure, consistently fading down the stretch due to questionable performances, and it’s starting to really become an issue, as WMU will no longer be in a position to control their destiny with one more loss.
Granted, he’s over .500 in his career, but he’s also the highest-paid MAC coach by a good margin, and he took over for PJ Fleck, who raised the bar in Kalamazoo.
The offense seems to be an issue for the Broncos
They were able to rush for 91 yards against Eastern Michigan and they currently average 120 yards per game on the ground despite one of the strongest duos in the league, indicating something is wrong overall with the offense.
The passing offense is decidedly worse off, with Jack Salopek struggling for accuracy and receivers struggling to get open or catch the ball. This week, Western Michigan passed for 208 yards against Eastern Michigan, which is better than their usual 181 yards per game average, but it was a total inflated by garbage time numbers, as they were down 35-7 at halftime.
Successful college teams average in the upper 200s in passing in their normal game flows, and exceptional teams are getting to the 300s. I’m not sure how they can improve at this point, as it’s clear their personnel and playcalling don’t get along. Perhaps a more balanced effect with running the ball could help, but they’re running out of options after that.
EMU will play Northern Illinois on Saturday, while WMU will play Ohio, with both games kicking off at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.