River Rogue’s own Mareyohn Hrabowski got his first start of his college career in place of Jack Salopek (injury) at quarterback, but the same issues as usual cropped up for the Broncos, as WMU (1-3, 1-0 Mid-American Conference) quickly dug themselves a hole in the first half that they wouldn’t recover from, eventually falling to the San Jose Spartans (2-1) by a final score of 34-6 on Saturday night.
San José State took the ball after the opening kick and after a quick first down, punted on five plays.
A great punt started the Broncos inside their own 15, which would be a pattern. The struggle started on the first drive and was multifaceted. The Broncos hit on a big pass to Corey Crooms for 39 yards to cross midfield. Western Michigan moved the ball down to San José’s 13 and then the problems started.
The Bronco's offensive line had back-to-back false starts without running a play. A holding penalty a play later created a third-and-16, but WMU was bailed out by defensive pass interference. They were awarded a first-and-10 from the 14, a yard behind where their last first down was. The drive ultimately came to its conclusion on a failed fourth-and-two conversion attempt.
It was a fourteen-play, 78-yard drive that came up empty and took 8:14 off the clock.
The Spartans responded with a couple of penalties of their own to back them up into the shadow of their own goalposts. On second-and-13, from his own endzone, quarterback Chevan Cordeiro hit receiver Jermaine Braddock in stride. Braddock was eventually chased down, but after an explosive gain of 82 yards. The Bronco defense clamped down and got a sack on third-and-10 to force a field goal, which was made.
The ensuing return was cut in half due to a holding call, so the Broncos started at their own 12. Then there were three consecutive penalties all on Western Michigan. There was another pair of consecutive false starts that pushed WMU back to their own two-yard line. Punter Nick Mihalic sent it downfield from the back of the endzone, but not out of WMU territory.
San Jose used six plays to get into the endzone and push the game to a two-possession difference. A reverse pass to the quarterback was initially ruled incomplete, but it was reviewed and overturned for a first and goal. They punched it in on the ground on the next play to make it 10-0.
Sean Tyler bobbled the kick and was only able to return it to the WMU 14. The Broncos were faced with another long field and had no ability to create an explosive play to overcome it. The Broncos did not throw the ball on this drive. Every series went to third down, and they converted four of them. The average third down was third and two, but eventually a third and four was too much. The next fourth and two was the same and ended in a turnover on downs.
This drive was a sixteen-play, 63-yard drive that took 8:50 off the clock, but ultimately resulted in no points.
The Broncos then shot themselves squarely in the foot on the defensive end as well, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on a fourth-and-one situation to give the Spartans a new set of downs at midfield. The next plays went for 19, 15, 0, 6 and the final play on third-and-four was a 13-yard pass for a touchdown.
That was a back-breaker for Western Michigan right before the half. Even if the Broncos didn’t score, a two-possession game is generally easier to manage than three in one half of football.
The Broncos got the ball to start the second half and picked up a quick first down after starting at the 25. Three plays later, they were punting the ball to SJSU.
The Spartans sandwiched two touchdowns around Sean Tyler’s remarkable 90-yard kickoff return score, with Cordeiro finding Charles Ross on a 39-yard connection to Charles Ross for a touchdown halfway through the third quarter before Tyler’s kick, and Kairee Robinson turning in a Broncos turnver-on-down into six points on just one play with a 23-yard run afterwards.
Tyler’s return would prove to be the only Broncos points of the night, as the ensuing two-point conversion attempt fell flat.
Chevan Cordeiro threw one truly bad pass in this game and it fell incomplete, despite two Broncos having a chance at the floating ball. The Broncos had no answers for the passing attack that they knew was coming. Receiver Justin Lockhart did the most damage with four catches for 114 yards, but one guy didn’t beat the Broncos. Cordeiro was able to find whoever was open and deliver an on-target pass. The Hawai’i transfer was very impressive.
The Bronco defense couldn’t get to him when they brought pressure, which was often, and the cornerbacks playing press coverage on their own still isn’t working.
The defensive front of the Spartans, by contrast, played very well. Prior to this game, they were pushed around by both opponents they faced and didn’t create many negative plays. On Saturday they stuffed the Broncos on all three fourth-down conversion attempts to get off the field.
Looking out over the long term, the Broncos’ offensive woes continued, as the departures along the offensive line and the loss of Kaleb Eleby are looking like insurmountable obstacles after the last two games for the Bronco offense.
The Broncos have not been able to throw the ball with either quarterback, becoming a major issue for the offense. They have not been able to stretch the field with a reliable downfield passing attack, partially due to quarterback play. The running game can’t do it all, although they have tried. Western Michigan only attempted three passes in the first half.
Another consistent issue for the Broncos is field position. They came in 114th in the NCAA in average starting field position and Saturday night was especially bad. Their average drive started at their own 18. Those are all problems which will be hard to solve in a short time.
The Broncos return to Kalamazoo and mercifully get their FCS opponent, although it looks like they need to be ready to play. They can’t take anyone for granted given their performances this year. New Hampshire comes into Kalamazoo 3-1 and will want to test Western Michigan.
Still, it’s an opportunity for WMU to exercise some demons and build confidence heading into October.