Western Michigan has gone from contenders to mere pretenders in the Mid-American Conference fight for the West Division title and a shot at competing for the MAC championship.
Just two weeks ago, the Broncos were sitting in the driver’s seat controlling their own destiny with a 4-0 conference record while hosting three pivotal games on the journey for the title.
After a lopsided 51-24 home loss Oct. 25 to defending MAC champion Toledo, the Broncos were embarrassed last Thursday at Waldo Stadium, falling to MAC preseason favorite Ohio, 59-14. Western Michigan trailed 21-0 after the first quarter, and 45-0 at halftime because of costly turnovers.
The Broncos (6-4, 4-2 MAC) missed a 39-yard field goal on the game’s opening drive, and it only got worse from there.
Ohio went on a 78-yard touchdown drive for a 7-0 lead, forced a Jamauri Bogan fumble on WMU’s second drive and took advantage of the short field (19 yards) to open up a 14-0 lead before blocking a punt on the Broncos’ third drive and scooping the ball up for a 13-yard TD and a 21-0 cushion.
Western Michigan now has a week off to lick its wounds before a Nov. 13 date at Ball State (3-7, 2-4). A loss in that game more than likely will have WMU sitting at home during the bowl season for the second straight year, with Northern Illinois (6-3, 5-0 West) looming on Nov. 20.
WMU was 6-6 last season, but passed over for a bowl bid.
Sure, the loss of junior quarterback Jon Wassink (foot injury) hurt, but the Broncos were dominated on both sides of the line against Ohio, giving up 256 rushing yards (6.2 average) while picking up just 118 yards on the ground (3.0 yards per carry).
“We made a bunch of big-time mistakes and really the game was out of reach by halftime, had six turnovers and got behind fast,” WMU second-year head coach Tim Lester said. “We had our freshman quarterback (Kaleb Eleby) starting his first game, and he struggled. He’s very talented, but you can’t replace experience.
“You can’t hand a team that has 13 fifth-year seniors playing for them that many chances. I think we turned the ball over five times inside our own 20. It’s a good learning experience. We have seven freshmen playing for us, and unfortunately five of those turnovers were on them. We’ve been able to hide them most of the year and they kind of all blew up on us at one time.”
Eagles flying high
Eastern Michigan is gaining momentum heading into the final two games of the season, winning three of its last four games, including a 17-7 win over Central Michigan on Saturday in Ypsilanti.
The Eagles (5-5, 3-3) got things done defensively, limiting CMU (1-9, 0-6) to 138 total yards while forcing four turnovers.
“I was proud of our guys, an in-state rival game and still a lot to play for,” EMU coach Chris Creighton said. “We came out and played really well, got off to a quick start. I felt our defense was phenomenal, took the ball away four times, limited them to 138 yards and pitched a shutout.”
The Eagles had eight tackles for loss, including four sacks while intercepting two passes and forcing two fumbles. Junior Maxx Crosby had four tackles for loss, including two sacks, while forcing a fumble. Jeremiah Harris had a sack and a forced fumble.
Tyler Wiegers came in relief and completed 17-of-25 passes for 150 yards and a TD while Shaq Vann picked up his first 100-yard rushing game of the season (13 carries, 114 yards, touchdown), including a 26-yard TD run on EMU’s opening drive.
CMU’s lone touchdown came on a 68-yard fumble return by Mike Danna — one of three EMU turnovers.
“Over the course of the year we felt pretty good about how we’ve taken care of the ball," Creighton said, "but it got away from us a little bit so we’re going to need to be much, much, much sharper in that area.”
The Eagles can become bowl eligible with a win Saturday at Rynearson Stadium against Akron (4-4, 2-3 East). They play at Kent State (2-7, 1-4) Nov. 23 in their regular season finale.
Akron (4-4, 2-3) — which has lost four of its last six — defeated Northwestern, 39-34, on Sept. 15 and will play at South Carolina Dec. 1.
Akron sophomore quarterback Kato Nelson threw for 299 yards and two TDs in a 36-26 loss last week to Northern Illinois. Nelson suffered a lower body injury during the second half against Northern Illinois and didn’t return, leaving his status in doubt for the EMU game.
Chips have big opportunity this weekend
Something has to give this Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium when the Chippewas play host to Bowling Green (1-8, 0-5).
CMU and Bowling Green are still looking for their first MAC win of the season.
Bowling Green is 7-26 since its MAC championship season in 2015, with Dino Babers leaving for Syracuse following that title, quickly turning the Orange into the No. 13 team in the nation.
The Chippewas will be trying to avoid their first seven-game losing streak since 2000. They have never had a winless MAC season and their lone win this season came against FCS Maine back on Sept. 22.
“I think when you take a look at their offense, they’ve got weapons all across the board and their talent level is much better than their record would indicate,” CMU coach John Bonamego said of Bowling Green. “I’ve been very impressed with the young quarterback (Jarret Doege) and his ability to go through his progression and his ability to deliver accurate, timely throws.”
Doege, a sophomore, has thrown for 2,285 yards and 23 touchdowns with nine interceptions.