Western Michigan makes the trip to Oxford, Ohio to play the Miami RedHawks in their last Saturday game before midweek #MACtion kicks off. Miami has one more Saturday game against Akron before they start their midweek games.
Both teams are coming off disappointing losses, but for different reasons. Miami lost to Bowling Green 17-13 on the road and certainly thought they were the better team. They were unable to get anything going on offense and gave up a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that was the back-breaker.
Western Michigan lost at home to Ohio by 19. The Bronco offense collapsed in the second half and had six turnovers. They were down 20-14 at halftime with a chance to get back into the game. The defense was put in difficult situations and did a decent job despite giving up 33 points.
Western is headed in the wrong direction and Miami has its sights set on bowl eligibility. The RedHawks path to a bowl is much easier with this win in this game and would make it four straight bowl-eligible seasons, 2020 excluded. The Bronco's goals for this season might be dashed but the youth needs to start finding some consistency. Saturday would be a good start.
- Time and Date: Saturday, October 22nd at 3:30 pm ET
- Network: CBS Sports Network (A valid subscription is required.)
- Location: Yager Stadium in Oxford, Ohio
- All-time series: The Miami RedHawks hold a 37-23-1 series lead over the Western Michigan Broncos. The Broncos have won the last seven meetings between the two teams.
- Odds: Miami is favored by 6.5 points and the game has an over/under spread of 44 points, per OddsShark.
The Western Michigan Broncos through Week 7:
It’s shocking how poorly the Broncos offense is adjusting to life after Skyy Moore, Kaleb Eleby, Jaylen Hall, Mike Caliendo and Wesley French. It was always going to be a tall order, but the passing game has disappeared, and without some semblance of balance, the running game is ineffective.
There’s no bread and butter for this offense right now. Everything is difficult.
The Broncos lost their heavy runner, La’Darius Jefferson, early in last week's game to a shoulder injury. After the game head coach Tim Lester said it didn’t seem serious but his status is unclear for Saturday.
Running back Sean Tyler has been his explosive self, but the depth behind him without Jefferson is a serious question. The three running backs have combined for 26 carries and 52 yards behind Sean Tyler. They’ve seen the field in run-out-the-clock situations, but it’s okay to break a 12-yard rush out in garbage time. It’s not against the rules.
Head coach Tim Lester was disappointed in the passing game last week and said as much in the post-game conference. He acknowledged that two of the five interceptions thrown by quarterback Jack Salopek were tipped at the line and his arm was hit, but three were “poor throws.” It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a change in the offensive personnel along the line and at quarterback to try to find a solution.
Sean Tyler has the highest usage of any player in this game to this point in the season and that won’t change. If Jefferson is unable to play, it’s almost assured he will lead the Bronco offense in touches.
Corey Crooms has a healthy 14 yards per catch average and Salopek forces the ball to him, for better and worse. The entire offense would keep the defense on its toes by spreading the ball around, but it would be a mistake to look at the box score and see Crooms hasn’t touched the ball in two quarters.
The defense almost keeps the offense in games. The Ohio game was a one-possession game into the fourth quarter. It’s the same story against Pitt. They pitched a shutout third frame against Michigan State. The Bronco defense has their morale broken repeatedly by an offense that refuses to control the ball and score points.
That’s not to say they’ve been amazing, but if the offense could score some points and shorten the game they could be a fine unit in the MAC. The defense has given up 61 points in the fourth quarter over seven games. In the five games they have lost, they have been outscored in the fourth quarter 54-7. They find themselves in the same situation in most games. If they shut the opposing offense down and the offense can convert their drives into points, they can win this game. Neither unit has been up to the task, but the problem lies in the first three quarters of each game.
Defensive end Marshawn Kneeland returned two weeks ago after missing time with an injury and already leads the team in tackles-for-loss with 7.5. Linebacker Corvin Moment isn’t far behind with seven.
Cornerback Dorian Jackson leads the team in passes broken up, but he’s been thrown at frequently this season. Safety Delano Ware has intercepted two passes and leads the team.
The Miami RedHawks through Week 7:
The RedHawks offense is in a similar place to the Broncos. A young quarterback is struggling to be consistent in the passing game and the running game isn’t effective enough to carry the team.
Quarterback Aveon Smith isn’t supposed to be playing right now, but is taking the reigns after returning starter Brett Gabbert hurt his shoulder early in the out-of-conference slate. Smith is completing passes at a 53 percent completion rate and is averaging just over six yards a pass. The offense does utilize his legs and his number is called roughly ten times a game. He has the third-most rushing yards of any player in this game and the highest rushing average of any player with at least ten rushes.
They have talented skill positions, but the only ones they can get the ball to reliably right now are the running backs. Keyon Mozee, Kevin Davis and Tyre Shelton make up almost 60 percent of the offensive touches for the RedHawks this season, collectively average 4.7 yards per rush which is good when it’s the majority of the offense.
The RedHawks have problems when they can’t run the ball effectively or are forced into passing situations. Against Bowling Green, they averaged 2.9 yards per rush. The Falcons forced Aveon Smith to beat them through the air and he went 9-of-17 passing for 91 yards. Mac Hippenhammer and Jalen Walker are talented receivers but they aren’t getting the ball enough to show that.
For all of the struggles the offense have this year, the RedHawk defense is winning games for them. Their two FBS wins have been three-point wins against a very down Northwestern team and Kent State. Kentucky and Cincinnati are in different places in terms of roster talent and the same goes for Robert Morris, but their last four games have been within four points.
They have yet to allow a MAC opponent, or a Big Ten opponent, to score more than 24 points. This unit is without a doubt the best in this game.
Miami shuts down the opponents running game and keeps passes in front of them, limiting big plays. They are 18th in the nation in lowest yards per rush and 21st in rush yards allowed per game.
They are second in non-garbage time havoc rates. Havoc rate is the percentage of plays that end in sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles, passes broken up and interceptions. It can be split into the front seven and defensive backs, but no matter how it’s sliced, Miami is in the top ten in havoc rate.
The stats say they are vulnerable to the pass, but a well-timed deflected pass or sack has gotten them off the field this season. John Saunders Jr, Eli Blakey and Yahsyn McKee have combined to break up 16 passes. The Broncos have 24 as a team for comparison.
Matthew Salopek deserves credit as a do-it-all defensive back for this defense. His roster position is a defensive back, but he’s got linebacker stats. He leads the team in tackles for loss and has three sacks to his name.
This defense is legit, but they need more support from their offense.
Miami has the best position group in the game Saturday and that’s usually a good place to start looking for winners. Jack Salopek has been under pressure constantly this season and I expect that to continue with an aggressive and successful Miami defense opposite of him. The Broncos are going to need to find success in ways they haven’t shown this year to move the ball consistently.
Miami is aggressively knocking passes away this season. That part isn’t luck, but where it goes once it’s been separated from the receiver is. Miami will have plenty of opportunities to create turnovers on telegraphed passes to Crooms. Western won’t throw five interceptions again, but Salopek has struggled with ball security this season.
The Miami offense isn’t great, but the WMU results show that a consistent rushing attack can break them down over the course of a game. If the WMU offense shows some life, maybe the defensive morale and effort gets a boost late but it’s not something to be counted on at this point in the season.
Miami holds serve at home:
Western Michigan 13