Western Michigan’s defense was a big key for the Broncos during their Mid-American Conference championship season in 2016.
Now, WMU’s defense is by far its biggest weakness, displayed in a 55-42 season-opening loss to Syracuse — followed by last Saturday’s sad showing at the Big House, a 49-3 loss to Michigan.
Yes, the Broncos (0-2) already have given up 104 points, but worse is the way they have started games, falling behind 34-7 at the half to Syracuse and 35-0 at the half to Michigan.
WMU already has given up 1,011 total yards, 642 on the ground — average of 371 — for an average 6.5 yards a rush.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing," WMU second-year head coach Tim Lester said Monday. "I didn’t think we played well and defensively we gave up 11 big plays, and we had 45 plays of four or under and they were just giving it to 22 (Karan Higdon) and running it so we played better, but still gave up big plays.
“Offensively, we had 17 first downs and moved the ball, but weren’t able to pop any big plays and put any pressure on their defense. We know that they were the No. 1 pass defense in the country, No. 1 in sacks and tackles for loss so we knew we had a challenge in front of us and I don’t think we played well.
"I feel the guys are going to learn from it. They took ownership in the mistakes we’ve made and we’re going to move forward from this one.”
So, where does Lester feel the Broncos need to make improvement in the weeks ahead? Their schedule gives them the ability to fix their problems heading into an Oct. 6 home game with Eastern Michigan — playing host to a bad 0-2 FCS Delaware State team this Saturday, before traveling to Georgia State (1-1) on Sept. 22 and Miami of Ohio (0-2) Sept. 29.
“I think offensively we have to do a better job of getting open and making contested catches,” Lester said. “They (Michigan defensive backs) were up in our faces playing man coverage and we didn’t have a great day throwing the ball.
“Jon (quarterback Wassink) had one turnover, but overall made good checks and got us into ways that we could hopefully grind out first downs. We have to do a better job of being more dynamic in the passing game for sure and do a little bit better job up front so we can pop some of the runs.”
Chips look bad in loss to lowly Kansas
Things weren’t any better for the Chippewas (0-2) in Mount Pleasant, as Kansas ended its 46-game road losing streak last Saturday, defeating CMU, 31-7, for its first win away from Lawrence since 2009.
CMU red-shirt sophomore Tony Poljan struggled in his second start at quarterback, throwing four interceptions.
So, how bad did things get for CMU? Well, the Chippewas had one stretch in the opening half where they had eight straight possessions of either going three-and-out or turning over the ball before then — fumble, interception — leading to Kansas enjoying a 21-0 second quarter lead.
“We’re playing a lot of young players across the board at this time and some of this is growing pains," CMU fourth-year head coach John Bonamego said. "We have a young quarterback and a young, but talented receiving core. We’re young in the secondary at some spots and I thought overall defensively we played a very good game, especially in the first half. In the second half we started to commit some turnovers and it got away from us.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing, but in watching the tape and looking at it, not discouraging in any way, shape or form because all of the things that took place and were on the minus side are all correctable things and we’re a talented enough team where we feel if we don’t hurt or beat ourselves we can certainly beat anybody.”
The Chippewas will be playing at MAC West preseason favorite Northern Illinois this Saturday. The Chips have won four straight against Northern Illinois, including a 34-17 win at Dekalb back in 2014 — Dan Enos’ final year as CMU head coach — and 34-28 in triple-overtime in ’16.
While CMU had its troubles with Kansas, Northern Illinois (0-2) played tough at Utah, trailing 7-6 in the fourth quarter before Utah scored 10 unanswered points for a 17-6 win.
Bonamego will be looking for a better start after the Chippewas had just one first down in the first half of Kansas and didn't cross midfield until 7:54 left in the third quarter.