Jalen Buckley took the handoff on second-and-ten on Western Michigan’s opening drive and ran 75 yards to the endzone, granting the Broncos a quick 7-0 lead over the Syracuse Orange. They were able to prevent Syracuse (2-0) from taking the lead for one drive, but Syracuse would ultimately rip off 48 unanswered points on the way to a 48-7 win over the visiting Broncos (1-1) on Saturday afternoon.
Let's start by finding all of the good that came out of this game for the Broncos. It won’t be much, but it’s an important exercise. Jalen Buckley showed consistency in his ability to be a home run hitter for this offense. His 75-yard touchdown run was impressive.
Tate Hallock is an aggressive run-stopping safety and he showed that he can do it against legitimate power five opponents. The wide receivers and tight ends are good athletes who can make plays for this offense as long as the ball can get out of the quarterback's hands.
But that’s where the problems begin for the offense. The ball does not get out fast enough. Quarterback Jack Salopek took three sacks for 28 yards and Hayden Wolff took one for five yards lost. By the time Wolff and Treyson Bourguet entered the game, it was already statistically garbage time. The entire second half was played with at least a 38-point differential, which CollegeFootballData.com defines as garbage time. Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader didn’t play in the second half, which makes that point more clear.
The total game stats for the Bronco offense don’t look great, but they're far from bad either. The passing game completed 28 of 47 passes for 221 yards and one interception. The rushing game ran 26 times for 97 yards and a touchdown. Besides touchdowns missing, that’s not a terrible stat line. It doesn’t take much digging for the real problems to be seen.
If the big run is removed and the sack yards are added back in and taken out of the passing yardage, like NFL stats, it becomes obvious. Without the big touchdown run, the WMU rushing average drops to 2.5 yards per carry.
In the passing game, Salopek averaged 3.7 yards per pass with his sack yardage removed from his passing yards. With one big play and yards per play under in the 2.5 to 3.7 range, the Broncos had no hope of moving the ball enough to score a touchdown.
Syracuse brought more pressure as the first half wore on. They knew that they could contain the run with the middle of their defense and Salopek was struggling with pressure in his face. On 4th and 4 at the Syracuse 37, the Broncos were going for it to keep the drive alive just before the half. Syracuse brought six rushers and got Salopek moving in the pocket. He overthrew receiver Jehlani Galloway and Syracuse intercepted the ball and ran it back for a touchdown.
The Broncos faced 18 third down plays and they averaged 9.1 yards to go. Their failures on first and second down created situations that strongly favored the defense. Half of their third down plays were with seven yards or more.
In contrast to the offense’s ability to stay on the field, the defense couldn’t get off of it in the first half. Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader did almost whatever he wanted. The Broncos never sacked him and he completed 63 percent of his passes for 9.5 yards per pass with one touchdown. He ran for 31 yards on three rushes/scrambles for another score. Without negative plays or sacks, the defense couldn’t contain Syracuse.
Shrader was able to avoid pressure and make plays for the entire first half. The Broncos had the help of a penalty to start the Orange inside their own 20. A four-man rush with a line stunt got defensive tackle Mason Nelson free, but Shrader made him miss and threw a receiver open in the back end.
86 YARDS TO THE HOUSE— Syracuse Football (@CuseFootball) September 9, 2023
Garrett Shrader to Donovan Brown for the wideout's first career TD
As frustrating as that is, it’s worse when the defense makes the stops it needs but commits penalties to stay on the field. The drive after the 86-yard touchdown pass, Syracuse was facing a third and seven on their own 38. The Broncos pressured Shrader again and pushed him out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage, but a face mask gave Syracuse a new set of downs.
That next series was coming to an end with a third-and-12, but a defensive pass interference and a personal foul on Syracuse led to a second attempt. Shrader threw an incomplete pass on the second attempt, but a roughing the passer extended the drive again. Three plays later, and one more facemask penalty, got the Orange in the endzone to extend the lead to 24-7.
The Syracuse receivers had space in the back end all day. The safeties weren’t far away but they couldn’t prevent the pass from being completed. WMU safeties Tate Hallock and Aaron Wofford led the team in tackles. If the Orange wanted to score 80 points on the Broncos they could have. The defense had no solutions.
Thankfully, next week is a new opportunity.
The Broncos will head to Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0) next Saturday, a program almost completely the opposite team they played this week. Through two games this season, Iowa look like Iowa, centered on stifling defense and optimizing field position with excellent special teams. Their offense has a points quota that they haven’t met so far this season, but their defense is no joke. They haven’t given up more than 14 points so far.
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Eastern time, with the Big Ten Network handling the broadcast responsibilities.