If there was any doubt that the Western Michigan offense could score, and that their performance against Purdue was a fluke, Saturday might've erased all of those doubts.
In their 45-33 victory, the Broncos scored on seven of their first eight drives, with the lone no-score coming on a safety occurring with just 30 seconds left in the first half. Jarvion Franklin again had a monstrous game and Corey Davis came alive after being held in check by Purdue two weeks ago.
After holding the Vandals to a 3-and-out on the opening drive, Zach Terrell hit Davis on a short screen, and the reigning MAC Freshman of the Year did the rest, taking it 61 yards to the house on the Broncos' first offensive play of the night. It would set the tone for the rest of the game, for both teams seemingly.
After that touchdown, Vandal quarterback Matt Linehan, son of the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator, directed a drive with solid throws and swift legs to extend plays. His 7-yard scamper would tie the game, capping a 17 play drive. After Franklin would punch in the first of his three touchdowns on the night, Linehan again would direct a scoring drive, but not before taking a key Bronco player out first.
On a long run into the red zone, Linehan would slide into position, giving himself up. Bronco cornerback Donald Celiscar, having been cleared to play after a nasty head injury late in the Purdue game, went for the sliding quarterback head-first, resulting in a targeting penalty, and an ejection. It marks the second straight game Celiscar has left after attempting to make a play while leading with his helmet. The Vandals would only muster a field goal on the drive, but they had the momentum with the top cornerback out.
Terrell would direct his own masterful drive to extend the lead to 21-10, capped by hitting an extremely wide-open Daniel Braverman on a 31-yard strike. When Linehan hit Richard Montgomery for a 62-yard score shortly after, Terrell found Braverman again for a 57-yard touchdown to make it 28-17.
Linehan would not waiver, directing his Vandal squad down the field with ease. However, facing a 3rd-and-goal from the Bronco 12-yard line, the freshman was picked off by Ronald Zamort, who returned the pass 57 yards into Idaho territory, and completely crushing the Vandal momentum.
Franklin would go untouched 39 yards to make it 35-17 two plays later, and Idaho would falter multiple times on their drives after looking comfortable early on. They would get a safety on the next Bronco drive - one that started from their own 2-yard line after a great punt by Austin Rehkow - after the freshman long snapper would air mail the snap to punter J Schroeder.
The Broncos would come out and continue to pound the ball down Idaho's throats, going all the way down to the Vandal one-yard line before settling for a field goal. After Linehan hit Justin Podrabski to cut the lead to 38-26, Franklin would continue to wear down the Vandals before punching in his third touchdown of the night.
The two teams would go back and forth, but the only score would see Linehan hit Joshua McCain for 75 yards on a defensive breakdown late in the game. The Broncos would use their run game, and when they took the final snap, PJ Fleck had his first non-conference win.
In all, Terrell looked much more comfortable, going 8-for-13 for 218 yards and a trio of touchdowns. He hit Braverman for two of them, with the sophomore wide-out ending up with 99 yards on just 3 catches. Davis finished with 119 yards on the other 5 receptions and his lone touchdown. No other Bronco caught a pass.
Franklin, meanwhile, continues to impress everyone. He finished with 210 yards on 33 carries and 3 touchdowns. His 200-yard performance is just the 18th in Bronco history, with the last coming in 2002. He now has 6 touchdowns on the season, tying him temporarily with Taysom Hill and Kareem Hunt of BYU and Toledo respectively (note: stats pulled from ESPN, and do not include stats from games played on Saturday). However, he has played just two games, making his feat more incredible.
The Bronco defense also looked better at times. They recorded four sacks on Linehan, the first time they've done that since the Buffalo game two years ago. Cleveland Smith had three of those alone. And even though Linehan ended up going 27-for-41 for 362 yards and a trio of touchdowns, he was forced out of the pocket early on and did throw the interception - the only turnover of the game for either side.
The Vandals would finish with just 45 yards on 31 carries. The Broncos would almost sextuple that with 266 total yards. Leading Idaho rusher Jerrell Brown would finish with 44 of those yards, but Linehan's sacks would drag the net total down. The Vandals' receiving corps were led by McCain and Montgomery, with both finishing with 7 catches for 128 yards and 3 catches for 88 yards respectively.
The Broncos now head back to Kalamazoo to open up their home schedule and take on FCS foe Murray State. PJ Fleck has yet to win at Waldo Stadium, going 0-5 last season with notable losses to Central Michigan and low-rung FCS opponent Nichols State. Game time is scheduled for 7:05 pm.
Editor's note: Hat-tip goes out to the WMU Stats Department and David Drew for providing some of the stats/notables used in this article