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2023 MAC Football Week 2 Game Preview: Western Michigan Broncos at Syracuse Orange

Western Michigan and Syracuse beat their FCS opponents in Week 1, and look to get that second W against one another.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Saint Francis at Western Michigan Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Western Michigan Broncos are on the road for their second game of the 2023 season. Syracuse hosts the Broncos after each team won their opener against FCS opponents. The Orange put on a show against Colgate and won 65-0 without scoring in the fourth quarter. Western Michigan beat Saint Francis 35-17 and never trailed.

Western Michigan head coach Lance Taylor faces a much more complicated challenge in his second game leading the Broncos. Syracuse started last season 6-0 and had the college football world wondering if Syracuse was suddenly good. They lost to Clemson by six points and they finished 7-5. It was the first sign of progress since Syracuse went 10-3 in 2018.

Dino Babers is in his eighth season after coaching two seasons at Bowling Green. He’s hot seat adjacent, but did enough last season to avoid the axe. In his eight seasons, Babers teams have gone 2-6 in four of them so 4-4 and a bowl game was a solid step forward.

To add to the challenges for this season, the Orange have two new coordinators. Jason Beck is an internal hire after Robert Anae left for the same job at NC State and Rocky Long takes over for Tony White.

Western Michigan enters this game as a heavy underdog in the team's third meeting all time. Do the Broncos have enough to catch Syracuse?

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, September 9th at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time
  • Network: ESPN+ (A valid subscription is required.)
  • Location: JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse, New York
  • Spread and over/under: Syracuse is favored by 23.5 points with an over/under of 56.5 per DraftKings
  • All-time series: Syracuse leads the all-time series 2-0, they first met in 2018
  • Last meeting: Syracuse beat Western Michigan 52-33 in 2019

When Western Michigan has the ball:

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Saint Francis at Western Michigan Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Broncos debuted their new offense a week ago, and it was impressive. They ran 93 plays for more than 500 yards and controlled the ball for 38 minutes. Jack Salopek got the start, looked confident throwing the ball and taking off when the pass wasn’t there. In 2022, Salopek and the Broncos were the second-worst in the MAC in sack rate, and they showed some ability to avoid the negative play on Thursday.

The designed quarterback run and scrambling went away after the first quarter which might suggest that the Broncos knew they didn’t need to empty the playbook to get past St. Francis (PA). It’s something to watch for early in the game.

Western Michigan ran the ball more than 70 percent of their offensive snaps, a trend I don’t think will continue. (Though, if they can get 5.1 yards per carry and 194 yards from Jalen Buckley again they might.) The Syracuse front will need to be held in check with an effective passing attack. The wide receivers were a question mark without Corey Crooms but Kenneth Womack, Jehlani Galloway and Malique Dieudonne looked good as the top three in receptions a week ago.

The shutout that the Syracuse defense managed was impressive even against an FCS opponent. They allowed 106 total yards, 2.6 yards per pass and 1.4 yards per rush. Even if we remove sack yardage from the rushing yards, the average only improves to 2.0 yards per rush. The Rocky Long 3-3-5 defense was suffocating.

In the Colgate game, 14 players were credited with at least a half tackle for loss, while defensive back Jeremiah Wilson returned an interception 66 yards for a touchdown. Colgate didn’t cross into Syracuse territory until their second-to-last drive of the game. All this to say, the Syracuse defense was very good and made no mistakes on the way to the shutout.

Running back Keshawn King left the game in Week 1 with an injury and may have been held out as a precaution. He only had eight touches, but looked dangerous despite the relative lack of production. He would be a major asset for the Broncos to get back this week.

Syracuse is not expected to be led by their defense this year, but it’s clear that the unit can play. The Broncos will have to be effective through the air to stay in this game. That was a game Western Michigan was incapable of winning a year ago.

When Syracuse has the ball:

NCAA Football: Colgate at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Just like how the Broncos ran a ton of plays for a ton of yards, Syracuse was better. They ran 89 plays for 677 yards in 30 minutes of possession. They covered more yards in less time. Syracuse was moving fast.

The Orange moved the ball in chunks through the air and on the ground. That’s going to be a problem for Western Michigan. The Broncos allowed St. Francis (PA) to be explosive on their way to 17 points. They did bottle up SFU when they couldn’t get the big play, but Syracuse is going to consistently stress an inexperienced defense.

The Syracuse offense scored eight touchdowns, seven through the air. Bronco safeties were burned twice by either letting a receiver run by them or plain losing track of them. I’ve seen the Esposito defense have that problem with experienced players all over the defense, and now nine of the defensive starters have one game under their belt.

Garrett Schrader was extremely efficient throwing only six incompletions in 24 attempts for 257 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged more than ten yards per pass and the leading rusher, LeQuint Allen, averaged 6.7 yards per carry. Umari Hatcher and Oronde Gadsdon II led the team yards and catches respectively and are big targets, likely to give the Broncos a matchup problem. Isaiah Jones is a big play threat with a six-foot-four frame and two touchdowns on three catches and 71 yards against Colgate.

Michigan State transfer Tate Hallock led the Broncos in tackles in the first game and was routinely close to the line of scrimmage. This week he may need to stay off the ball more. Fast touchdowns would be incredibly hard for the Broncos to stomach and essentially cannot happen. Linebacker Boone Bonnema had 1.5 sacks and corner Keni-H Lovely had two tackles for loss. Both players and the defense in general, need to find negative plays Saturday for the Broncos to even hang around.


For the Broncos to score points, they need to be balanced. They were run heavy because they could be a week ago, but do they have more in the playbook? Can Salopek execute on a high enough level to keep the Orange defense honest?

Can the WMU defense create consistent pressure without surrendering the big play? These are the questions that will get answered on Saturday and unfortunately, I don’t see it working out for the Broncos.

Western Michigan 13
Syracuse 41