The Western Michigan Broncos (5-7, 4-4 MAC) beat the Toledo Rockets (7-5, 5-3 MAC) in Kalamazoo on a Senior Day to close out the season, bringing the assembled home fans a triumphant 20-14 victory. It was both a defensive coordinator’s dream and a punting exhibition, as the Rockets and Broncos combined for 24 punts in a game with 37 total drives. Most people probably don’t pay attention to how many possessions each team has in a game, so I should tell you that 37 is insane.
There were 17 three-and-outs in this game. Both defenses were spectacular, but the problems for the offenses were beyond that. The Broncos rested Treyson Bourguet to preserve his redshirt and the Rockets were rotating their players to maintain health prior to the MAC Championship Game.
Toledo’s defense was truly suffocating.
They sacked Western Michigan quarterback Jack Salopek six times, mostly on third down, and shut down the run with 12 tackles-for-loss. They allowed one explosive play and two field goals. The Broncos were held to 2.9 yards per rush and 2.6 yards per pass. That’s good enough to win football games. Somehow, not this one.
The Broncos tied the game in the second quarter with a Keni-H Lovely interception return for a touchdown.
Halfway through the third quarter, running back Sean Tyler extended a lead the Broncos would not relinquish with a 63-yard touchdown run. It was the only semblance of offense the Broncos put together all day.
Western Michigan received the opening kick-off and started a series of five punts to open the game. Jack Salopek was decisive and pulled the only passing opportunity down to run on second down. The Broncos were stuffed on the ensuing third and one by Jamal Hines and forced to punt.
Toledo started Dequan Finn at quarterback after there was speculation that three quarterbacks could be used in the game. Finn did not play the previous week against rival Bowling Green while he rested an ankle injury. During the same game, Tucker Gleason injured his left hand and required surgery and a titanium plate.
Finn’s start was shaky at best and was off-target with his throws in the opening drive. His backfield counterpart was running back Peny Boone and he got most of the carries the Rockets had to offer. Fellow running back Jacquez Stuart ran the ball only three times and Micah Kelly did not get a touch.
After punts were traded and Toledo started to win the field position battle, Finn threw his first of two interceptions. Finn threw a good ball to Devin Maddox that was knocked up in the air and into the arms of Western Michigan’s Dorian Jackson.
The interception flipped the field but it was for nothing. The Broncos were forced to punt and two drives later they threw an interception of their own.
Quinyon Mitchell intercepted his fifth pass of the season and gave the Rockets offense the ball at the fifty-yard line. The Toledo Rocket coaching staff decided at this point it was time to make a change at quarterback. Tucker Gleason came into the game with his left hand heavily wrapped and quickly took the Rockets down the field for a touchdown. Gleason trucked his way into the endzone from the two-yard line for the opening score.
The next Toledo drive was quarterbacked by Finn and he threw the interception that was returned to the house. That was the end of his disappointing day. He did not look like the quarterback that was the leader of the MAC’s best offense. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for the Toledo coaching staff, Gleason’s performance wasn’t confidence-inspiring either.
The first half close with five more punts and a field goal by the Broncos. Western Michigan was able to hit some chunk plays to move the ball 33 yards and into field goal range. They took a 10-7 lead into the half in a game they had no business leading. Their defense had made plays, but without the defensive touchdown, the Broncos were not in the game.
The Rockets started the second half with the ball and had their second-longest drive of the day for 22 yards. After trading punts, the Rockets were on the move. They had moved the ball into WMU territory to the 41. Tucker Gleason saw some space and ran for 17 yards before Andre Carter punched the ball out from behind. Linebacker Zaire Barnes scooped it up and returned it a couple yards.
On third and one of the next series, Sean Tyler got to the endzone on a 63-yard run.
The next ten drives combined for 42 plays and 106 yards. Sean Tyler left the game for the Broncos with a limp and did not return. Western Michigan converted another field goal to take a two-possession lead, 20-7. The final drive of this stretch finished with a Western Michigan punt on fourth and four from the Toledo 36-yard line.
That’s pretty disgusting in terms of individual context, but it did pin the Rockets at their own five-yard line in a game where field position proved vital. Alas, in an ultimate reversal of expectations, the Rockets scored a touchdown with a four-play, 95-yard drive. It was finished by a 17-yard touchdown pass from Gleason to DeMeer Blankumsee.
Toledo! Tucker Gleason to DeMeer Blankumsee for the 17 yard TD! pic.twitter.com/lpfqo1meSw— @ (@FTBeard7) November 25, 2022
The score was 20-14 with five minutes left in the game. There was plenty of time for the Rockets to find one more big play.
Western Michigan wasn’t interested in scoring points and went three-and-out on each of their final two drives. Toledo’s first drive ended on the second play with an interception. Warren Dabney deflected the pass at the line and safety Bricen Garner was in the right place at the right time.
The final drive ended on fourth down with the Bronco defense swarming Toledo’s Gleason.
Western Michigan's defense ends it with a 4th down stop!! pic.twitter.com/WpgvgjYt9z— @ (@FTBeard7) November 25, 2022
They never found the one big play they needed.
Western Michigan’s Andre Carter had an incredible game with a sack, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Braden Fiske showed up everywhere harassing Toledo quarterbacks, but it didn’t show up in the box score.
Toledo's defensive end Desjuan Johnson got a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss and the defensive end opposite Nate Givhan got two sacks of his own.
Western Michigan’s season is done at 5-7. The defensive rebound down the stretch is encouraging for them, but the depth the offense fell to does not reflect well on the coaching staff. No matter the issues, this team, this staff, the gameplan is their own.
Toledo had a bad game. Thankfully for them, it’s not the important one.
Next week, they play Ohio in Detroit for the MAC Championship. They need to be ready to contain an aggressive Bobcat offense while solving their own offensive issues. This game isn’t confidence-inspiring, but it doesn’t mean they won’t play better in Detroit. The Rockets have seven days to find their early season form.
The Broncos will finish their season sitting at 5-7, with a two-game winning streak hopefully giving them some positive momentum for an offseason which will surely see a number of changes.