The Western Michigan-Central Michigan rivalry goes center stage Wednesday night at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, playing before a nationally televised audience with the defending Mid-American Conference champion Broncos needing a win to stay in contention for the West Division title.
The Broncos (5-3, 3-1) also will be trying to win the MAC Michigan championship — season sweep of Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan — for a fourth straight year.
Eastern will be playing host to Ball State while trying to end a six-game losing streak, those losses by a combined total of 23 points.
All eyes will be on Western true freshman Reece Goddard. He will make his debut as the Broncos starting quarterback following the loss of redshirt sophomore Jon Wassink, who suffered a broken collarbone in the overtime win at Eastern Oct. 21.
WMU first-year coach Tim Lester said the few extra days of preparation will help Goddard, a former three-star recruit out of Kirkwood High School where he led his team to the Class 6 Missouri state championship while scoring a record 44 TDs to break the former school mark set by NFL All-Pro Jeremy Maclin.
“It’s a great time for us to showcase ourselves, the league and this rivalry and I told Reece you get your first start on national television against our rival, you couldn’t draw it up any better,” Lester said. “We have a lot of experience with our offensive line, our running backs and our tight end and I know they are excited to watch Reece play, but they know we have a young kid in there and they have to pick up their game a little bit.
“Reece is a young kid and we’re really excited about him and every rep he gets he gets better, so having three extra days with a couple of extra practices really helped, for him to get in there and work on his timing with starting wide-outs and running backs and just getting the signals and doing all the things that people take for granted for logistically to operate an offense.”
Western ranks No. 21 in rushing, averaging 235.6 yards. Lester feels Goddard is more of a threat to extend a play with his legs than Wassink, able to scramble and find a receiver or just pick up positive yardage on the ground.
Central third-year coach John Bonamego is familiar with Goddard.
“We’re familiar with him from watching him in high school so we have a pretty good idea and understanding of what his skill set is which is very, very good and he has played significant snaps this year with the most meaningful ones obviously the fourth quarter of the Eastern Michigan game,” Bonamego said.
“Their offensive line is a big, strong talented group and I don’t see them deviating a whole lot from what they’ve done. They’re rushing for over 240 yards a game right now so I think that they’re in a good position with a young quarterback, that they have a lot of talented players around him so he’s not going to have to shoulder the load.”
And, the Broncos will be tested by a Central defense led by defensive end Joe Ostman who leads the nation with 10 sacks, including four in a 56-9 rout of Ball State Oct. 21 to push the Chippewas record to 4-4 (2-2 MAC). The Chips have forced 18 turnovers and the Broncos 16.
“I think that the biggest thing is defensively I’m really impressed with all of them, but I think their secondary does a great job, I think they make it hard to get open which buys time for their guys up front,” Lester said. “The secondary guys, they’re the ones who can make or break the pass rush.”
Western’s defense will get its first look at Central QB Shane Morris, a transfer from Michigan.
“Since their tight end’s been back and their quarterback is getting comfortable, I know every time you put in a new offense it takes time and they scored 59 (56) last week so it’s one of those things that they’re getting stronger every time they’re out there,” Lester said.
Tight end Tyler Conklin, who broke his foot early in training camp, returned Oct. 7 and caught two TD passes in a 26-23 win over defending East Division champion Ohio. Morris completed 16-of-21 passes for 199 yards in the spread offense against Ball State, throwing 3 TD passes to standout receiver Corey Willis.
EASTERN’S LOSING STREAK
Oh no, not again! That has to be Eastern’s feeling after the Eagles lost their sixth straight — all one possession setbacks, their latest 30-27 in overtime last Thursday at Northern Illinois.
Eastern (2-6, 0-4) led 24-10 early in the fourth quarter, then missed a 42-yard field goal at the end of regulation.
It was the Eagles’ third OT loss of the season.
“I was really proud of the fact that we bounced back after a fifth loss to Western, Homecoming and overtime and missing a chip shot field goal, that’s a tough one and to play five days later and on the road, super proud of our staff and players in terms of the preparation mentally, physically and emotionally,” Eastern coach Chris Creighton said.
“We were ready to go against Northern, a very good football team. The story of the game is that we were up 24-to-10 with 11 minutes left and we weren’t able to finish it off. Just again a devastating loss to our program, but being in mid-week now we’re just a couple of days away from hosting Ball State.
“We had a fantastic practice yesterday and I was just pleased with our guys resolve and their response to a tough, tough loss.”
The Eagles will match records against Ball State (2-6, 0-4) when the teams play Thursday night at Rynearson Stadium.
Eastern is a 24-point favorite. Why? Well, while the Eagles have been competitive in their losses, while Ball State’s MAC losses have come by one-sided margins, including 55-3 to Western, 31-3 to Akron, 56-9 to Central and 58-17 last Thursday to Toledo.
CMU AT WMU
Kickoff: 8 Wednesday, Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo
Records: Western Michigan 5-3, 3-1 Mid-American Conference; Central Michigan 4-4, 2-2
TV/radio: ESPN2/1130, 1270
Line: Western by 6.5
BALL STATE AT EMU
Kickoff: 6 Thursday, Rynearson Stadium, Ypsilanti
Records: Eastern Michigan 2-6, 0-4; Ball State 2-6, 0-4
TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/89.1
Line: Eastern by 24