The Western Michigan defense is built on creating havoc and negative plays. Last season, was the most effective they have ever been under Lou Esposito and it showed in the advanced analytics.
The Broncos were 12th in the nation in overall havoc rate, which is defined as the percentage of defensive plays that end in a tackle for loss, sack, pass deflection or interception. The defense was 11th in tackles for loss and sacks and 31st in pass breakups and interceptions.
I'm not in defensive meetings and I don't have All-22 game film, but the defensive backfield has a difficult challenge in this scheme. The front seven sells out to bottle up the run or pressure the quarterback but if they can't do that, cornerbacks and safeties are one on one with receivers and tight ends. The result is a defense that forces a lot of three-and-outs and gives up chunk plays.
The game against Michigan State last year is the defense when it’s not working, but they stopped Miami, Central Michigan (snow-aided) and Toledo in their tracks. What can we expect from the defensive backfield in 2023?
Let's take a look:
- Dorian Jackson (graduation)
- Gio Vonne Sanders (graduation)
- Keith Jones Jr (not on roster)
- Bilhal Kone (transfer from Indiana State [FCS])
- Lorenzo Williams Jr (incoming recruit)
- Corey Webb (incoming recruit)
- Angelo Stockstill (incomingrecruit)
- Keni-H Lovely
- DaShon Bussell
- Aaron Wofford
- Anthony Romphf
- Jeremiah Piper
- Cam Griffin
- SaVeon Brown
Starter Dorian Jackson graduated and leaves an opening at the cornerback spot. DaShon Bussell started opposite of Jackson but suffered a season-ending injury on the season opener. The 2022 season was the second full season missed by Bussell whom the previous staff had high praise for.
Bussell was originally recruited as a wide receiver and transitioned when the receiver room was decidedly more crowded. This season would be a personal success if he could play all 12 and be a major contributor to a secondary that needs experience.
Keni-H Lovely stepped up when Bussell went down and made the most of his season. He led the Broncos with four interceptions, including one against Michigan State. Athlon named him to their preseason all-MAC third-team and he can make a play on a pass more often than any other Bronco defensive back.
Lovely and Bussell seem like obvious picks for starters on the outside, but Bilhal Kone hopes to make that a more difficult decision headed into Week 1. He’s worked his way up the football ladder with two seasons at Iowa Central Community College and one season at FCS Indiana State. He has three career interceptions and 19 passes broken up. Aaron Wofford and Anthony Romphf got snaps in the secondary last season and will factor into the rotation this season.
Lorenzo Williams Jr. and Angelo Stockstill signed out of high school with the Broncos last winter. They are joined by walk-on Corey Webb. Williams had offers from nine MAC schools and two service academies. There is a consensus that he is an FBS football player and it’s a good get for the coaches. Stockstill had offers from three other schools, Bowling Green, Toledo and South Dakota. He might be a more under-the-radar talent, but a six-foot-four corner is never a bad thing.
The Broncos should be in a good place at cornerback. One transfer adds to a group that remains from the previous season. One starter to replace, but the Broncos get one back from injury.
- Bricen Garner (graduation)
- Delano Ware (graduation)
- Giacomo Iraci (not on roster)
- Christian Rapley (not on roster)
- Tate Hallock (transfer from Michigan State)
- Ryan Kilburg
- Eric Wenzel
- Anthony Enechukwu
This is the thinnest position group the Broncos have on the defensive side of the ball. Only four players are listed as a safety so it seems impossible that none of the players listed as corners shift over.
Western Michigan was fortunate to have two reliable, healthy safeties for the 2022 season, but now they play the price. Bricen Garner and Delano Ware graduated and now new players need to step up immediately. Garner and Ware combined for four interceptions and 130 tackles. They are going to be difficult to replace.
Tate Hallock transfers over from Michigan State and can be penciled in as a starter despite only appearing in 11 games over the last two seasons. He has limited experience, but the rest of the safeties on the roster have almost none.
Eric Wenzel is a former walk-on quarterback that converted to safety. He’s appeared on some special teams but hasn’t seen game action as a safety. Ryan Kilburg and Anthony Enechukwu were primarily special teamers as well, but they’ve seen some snaps on defense.
But that’s it for the position.
The Broncos are going to find their guys but if they have bad injury luck at the position, opponents could find ways to stress them. The Broncos have their opener against Saint Francis to figure it out. Syracuse and Iowa will certainly have the athletes to take advantage of sloppy play in the back end.
This is the last in a series of Western Michigan football previews. If you missed the first part or want to look at other MAC preview pieces, please click the link to our storystream here.
WMU’s season kicks off Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. Eastern time in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where they are set to play FCS squad St. Francis [PA] Red Flash.