Around the MAC: Western's MAC title hopes cut through Northern Illinois

David Goricki
The Detroit News

P.J. Fleck took the head coaching job at Western Michigan to change the culture, win big games in November to get the Broncos to Ford Field to play for a Mid-American Conference championship.

Well, the next two weeks will define the Broncos’ season and it could be a special one with a MAC West Division championship with wins Wednesday night at Northern Illinois (7-3, 5-1) and at Toledo (8-1, 5-1) Nov. 27 or one that’s simply mediocre with losses against the Huskies and Rockets.

P.J. Fleck needs Western Michigan to bounce back after losing at home to Bowling Green last week.

The Broncos (6-4, 5-1) failed in their first big test of the final quarter of the season, falling at home to Bowling Green 41-27 last Wednesday to have their five-game winning streak come to an end.

Simply put, the Falcons (8-2, 6-0) made more big plays than the Broncos to clinch the East Division title for a spot in the MAC championship game at Ford Field Dec. 4.

The Broncos control their destiny to get a rematch with Bowling Green, but must end a six-game losing streak in the rivalry with Northern Illinois and a five-game losing skid against Toledo.

Fleck knows the biggest challenge is staring Western Michigan in the face in Northern Illinois. The Huskies haven’t lost a game in November this decade, winning 20 straight during that key month.

This will be WMU's best chance to beat Northern Illinois in Fleck’s three years as head coach. Freshman Ryan Graham will be making his second start at quarterback for the Northern Illinois after an injury to starter Drew Hare earlier this month. The Broncos can concentrate on stopping Joel Bouagnon (1,105 yards rushing, 17 TDs) and dare the Huskies to beat them through the air.

“They have a ton of tradition, they have really good players and that stadium is a tough atmosphere (to play in),” said Fleck, who played at Northern Illinois in the early 2000s and was an assistant coach at the school from 2007-09. “There’s a lot of focus on the MAC West right now and we’re right there in the West with everybody else.”

Western is right there with Northern Illinois and Toledo atop the West, but the Broncos can’t afford to have missed opportunities like they did against Bowling Green. That included a dropped pass in the second quarter by Corey Davis, which would have been a TD.

And, what has happened to MAC Offensive Player of the Year Jarvion Franklin, who rushed for 1,551 yards as a true freshman for the Broncos last year, scoring 25 TDs?

Franklin has fallen to the Broncos’ No. 3 running back role, getting a combined 38 carries the last four games.

Franklin was benched for a couple of quarters after a first-quarter fumble against Ball State, then had just two carries against Bowling Green, a team he ran through a year ago in a 26-14 win, rushing for 149 yards on 37 carries.

When Fleck was asked of Franklin’s status, if he was banged up or in the doghouse, he replied: “There’s nothing with the doghouse, nothing with injury. We’re just rotating backs and giving people with the best opportunity to help us win an opportunity to grow. Jarvion got a chance last year to grow no matter what, good or bad, and some of these young guys deserve a chance to grow as well because I think they are very, very talented as well.

“We’re going to rotate running backs and put people in that we feel like according to that game plan gives us the best matchups. This past week we knew we needed to match them score for score and a lot of the runs we had we wanted to have explosive plays. At the end of the day, we’re going to play the best people and we have to keep the ball from getting on the ground.”

Franklin had rushed for 663 yards on 137 carries the first half of the season. Redshirt freshman Jamauri Bogan has emerged as the featured back, rushing for 764 yards and 11 TDs, including 289 yards on 40 carries (four TDs) the last two games.  True freshman LeVante Bellamy has 20 carries for 138 yards the last two games

Central's bowl aspirations

Central Michigan came up short in its first attempt to become bowl eligible, losing at home to Toledo, 28-23, last Tuesday.

Well, the Chippewas (5-5, 4-2) will try to punch their ticket Wednesday night when they travel to Kent State (3-7, 2-4) to play the Flashes. CMU will end the season at home against Eastern Michigan (1-10, 0-7) Nov. 27.

Kent State has dropped three straight, getting shutout twice, including a 27-0 loss at Ohio last week.

CMU will try to get off to a better start after trailing Toledo 21-0 early in the second quarter. The Chippewas fought back behind the play of junior quarterback Cooper Rush to pull within 21-17 late in the third quarter and had a chance to take the lead in the fourth, but a holding penalty on tight end Ben McCord wiped away a TD.

Rush completed 33 of 52 passes for 349 yards and two TDs and has thrown for 2,975 and 22 TDs this season.

Factory shutdown:

Eastern Michigan finished the home part of its schedule, suffering a 28-17 loss to UMass Saturday at Rynearson Stadium to fall to 1-10 overall and 0-6 at The Factory.

EMU coach Chris Creighton wanted to slow UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel and the Eagles limited him to 10 of 20 passes for 109 yards and a TD, intercepting a pass.

However, the Eagles again failed to stop the run with the Minutemen (2-8, 1-5) rushing for 330 yards.

Creighton is 1-14 in MAC games. The Eagles have a bye this week before their season finale in Mount Pleasant.