For their opening game, your Western Michigan Broncos head to West Lafayette to take on the Purdue Boilermakers (kickoff Saturday, 12:00 EDT). Really, the most interesting narrative here is that both programs had, um, not the best seasons last year. Both Western and the Boilermakers went 1-11 with new coaches P.J. Fleck and Darrell Hazell, respectively. But at least our win was against a conference team, and not some FCS school like Indiana State! What's that? We lost to FCS Nicholls? Shoot! Well at least we lost to NIU by a smaller margin than you! Got ‘em! (Right?)
Ok, so these teams were objectively terrible. Now how do they turn that around? This game will help define that rebirth for both squads.
One of the things I'm really curious about for this game is how WMU runs the ball. Two running backs have been named as joint first-stringers on the depth chart. There's Dareyon Chance, a fifth year senior who has seen significant touches over his tenure and should provide some stability at the position. Joining him is freshman Jarvion Franklin, a three-star recruit from Illinois. Chance comes in at 5-foot-5, 170 pounds while Franklin is 6-foot, 220 pounds, which should provide an interesting size dynamic to the running game. These guys will be running behind arguably one of the more experienced areas of the young Bronco team, an offensive line in which four of the five starters are a junior or senior. It might sound simplistic, but a consistent running game would bring stability, allowing for greater offensive creativity and giving the defense the rest it needs.
Purdue's ability to run the ball - or rather how Western will combat the run - will also be a critical factor in this game. Purdue will likely field both first string back Raheem Mostert and second string Akeem Hunt, both seniors. Fleck has predicted that Purdue will utilize these two "explosive" players outside the backfield as well. Being able to contain this Boilermaker talent will show that the Bronco defense is improving from the rush defense that ranked 118th in the nation last year.
Assuming that the WMU run defense is improved this Saturday (and I think there's a relatively good chance it will be) and Purdue is forced to pass, the Western defense should be able to display its skill, and moreover, its experience. This won't come easy though, as Purdue's starting quarterback, sophomore Danny Etling, is settling comfortably into the position after the rough season last year hardened his resolve. Oh, and plus his mom made this amazing motivational montage-video of him which, ya know, can't hurt? Side notes, the main song from Disney's Hercules was a FANTASTIC choice and thanks to WMU beat writer David Drew for finding this gem.
Predicting games like this are incredibly tough. These teams are really tabula rasa and have nowhere to go but up. If Western can get the running game going and see some great Zach Terrell-Corey Davis connections, then the Broncos can stay in this thing. This will of course depend though on how much Etling has instilled confidence in Purdue's offensive eleven. My gut tells me that this is going to be a clunky affair, with both teams trying to awkwardly figure out their identities on both sides of the ball. Because I still don't feel supremely confident in the Bronco defense, I'm going to say Purdue 31, Western Michigan 24. But believe me you guys, in my heart that score is reversed. Go Broncos, #RTB.