Western Michigan extended its winning streak over the Miami RedHawks to eight with a 16-10 victory in Oxford, Ohio on Saturday afternoon.
The Broncos, down starter Jack Salopek due to injury and looking for some new blood, entrusted true freshman Treyson Bourguet with the start at quarterback. Miami brought out a surprise of their own, as Brett Gabbert returned from what was presumed to be a season-ending injury to start for the RedHawks, relieving backup QB Aveon Smith.
Both offenses struggled to find a consistent rhythm as both quarterbacks had to get acclimated to playing at the collegiate level. The timing in the passing game was lacking for both squads, but the defenses did their part as well.
Both defensive fronts bottled up the run effectively. The Broncos fared better at four yards per rush and the RedHawks were only able to manage three yards on average. With the running game under control, the defenses were able to pin their ears back in passing situations and make the quarterback’s afternoons difficult.
WMU running back Sean Tyler’s 20-yard touchdown rush midway through the third quarter would wind up being the key difference in the game, setting up the scenarios for the rest of the second half in favor of the visiting Broncos.
Folks,,,,— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) October 22, 2022
We've got a TOUCHDOWN! The seas part for Sean Tyler and it's nothing but green, green turf in front of him for the score! 13-3 WMU 7:15 3Q. pic.twitter.com/pJzmS4Fc9W
For as important as the Tyler run was, that alone was not where the game was won and lost. The Bronco defense won this game by keeping the RedHawks to just 10 points. Almost every time they were challenged, they made the necessary stop.
The RedHawks didn’t get their first third-down conversion until the fourth quarter, finishing the game 2-of-13 on third down attempts. Their average third-down distance was 7.9 yards, with Gabbert suffering sacks three times in those situations. That was the deciding factor in this game.
The RedHawks forced a three-and-out on the Bronco's first possession and started the game with chunk plays on their first drive. Tyre Shelton got loose on the right side for 26 yards, and Brett Gabbert connected with Kevin Davis for 15-yards on his first pass.
Then the clamps went on.
A five-yard rush from Keyon Mozee to the WMU six-yard line is where the drive ended, with the RedHawks settling for a Graham Nicholson field goal to open the scoring.
The Broncos showed life on the next drive, but no explosion. In a 15-play drive, they moved the ball 53 yards, ultimately missing a 39-yard field goal attempt. This exchange of drives wound up setting the tone for the rest of the game.
At this point, the WMU faithful probably felt like they were watching a rerun of every loss they’ve had this season. The defense was giving up chunk plays, and the offense couldn’t convert promising drives into points.
Despite the history, the Bronco defense forced three consecutive punts. Two of those punts were on drives that started at midfield for Miami. Getting these stops was crucial while the Broncos figured out what was working on offense.
Western Michigan broke the string of five straight punts with a 52-yard field goal to tie the game. The Broncos were bailed out by a personal foul penalty on 3rd and 11 that pushed them across midfield. One more first down got them to the edge of field goal territory and kicker Palmer Domschke tied the game.
Gabbert connected on a 23-yard pass with Miles Marshall to start the next drive. Three plays later the drive was over and a 23-yard punt left WMU in decent field position. The Broncos would end the first half on a nine-play drive and a field goal to take the lead as time expired.
After forcing a punt from plus territory, the Broncos controlled the ball down the field for their only touchdown. Bourguet completed four of five passes on the drive for 33 yards, and Tyler delivered the 20-yard rush to seal it. The stagnation of the offenses in this game made the 13-3 lead feel insurmountable, but Miami would fight back.
A strip sack gave Western Michigan great field position to start their next drive.
TURNOVER, WMU!— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) October 22, 2022
Andre Carter spooks Brett Gabbert into a fumble and Ryan Selig is there to pick it up, giving the Broncos new life, up 13-3! pic.twitter.com/D1lDWdGLwy
The offense started on the Miami 32 and moved the ball a total of 12-yards. The timing between Bourguet and his receivers was off and it ended the drive. One of the passes was right in between two Bronco receivers and it wasn’t held onto too long. The drive ended in another field goal and a 16-3 football game.
The Bronco defense made a great stop on 4th and 5 to turn the RedHawks over on downs, but they wouldn’t get the same result on their next drive. Gabbert decided to do it himself and started with a 26-yard pass to Jack Coldiron. A play later, the pair connected again for 12-yards. On top of the 38-passing yards, he scrambled for 26 more when he couldn’t find open receivers. The final scramble was for nine yards and their only score.
Welcome back to the #MACtion, Brett Gabbert!— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) October 22, 2022
His first rushing score of the year in his first game back from injury brings the game to within a score early in the fourth quarter. pic.twitter.com/hTicCalxIq
The game finished with the final score of 16-10, as Miami could not get themselves into position to score or even keep drives alive. Each of their next drives ended with a sack on third down to create fourth and long situations in their own territory. They were forced to punt and WMU ran out the clock.
WMU finally gets off the slide and gets to 2-2 in the MAC. Miami has dropped to 1-3 in the MAC and their losses are by a combined 14 points. Both teams need to finish 3-1 or better to be eligible for a bowl game which would be huge for WMU and salvage the season for Miami.
Miami plays another MAC East opponent next Saturday when they travel to Akron. If they can stay focused and apply pressure on the offense, as they usually do, they should leave Akron with a win.
Western Michigan has a bye next Saturday but starts their weekday #MACtion schedule on the road at Bowling Green. The Falcons defense has been rolling the last two weeks and kept their opponents to under 20 points. The Broncos have ten days to figure it out.