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MAC notes: Fleck likes WMU’s reaction to adversity

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck was thrilled with how the No. 20 Broncos responded to adversity after trailing Eastern Michigan 17-14 late in the first half of their Mid-American Conference game Saturday at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo.

EMU quarterback Brogan Roback put great touch on the ball to drop it in-between a pair of WMU defenders to Antoine Porter for a 29-yard TD and a 17-14 lead with 3:35 left in the half.

Fleck watched Zach Terrell go to work, finding Carrington Thompson for a 51-yard pass play to the EMU 14 to set up Jamauri Bogan’s 6-yard TD for a 21-17 lead with 1:14 remaining.

Then, after cornerback Obbie Jackson (West Bloomfield) intercepted a Roback pass at the WMU 27 with 39 seconds left, Terrell directed the Broncos (8-0, 4-0) on a 46-yard drive to set up a 44-yard field goal by Butch Hampton for a 24-17 halftime advantage. They went on to a 45-31 victory.

“We needed a game like this to be challenged and to have some things not go right,” Fleck said of the Broncos, who had last trailed in a game 3-0 at Central Michigan on Oct. 1. “We turned the ball over twice and we’ve turned the ball over now just three times all year. When you start to look at how our team was going to respond to being down 17-14 with three minutes to go in the first half, and the next three minutes we put 10 more points on the board so I was very proud of how they responded to go into halftime 24-17, then found a way to pull away in the second half.

“Again, I was very proud of our football team’s resolve and their resilience that they showed their true character. Nothing is ever going to be perfect and we’ve proven we’re not perfect, but we do have real character people and they find a way to get things done and they found a way to win which really good football teams do.”

WMU has set up Heisman hype for standout senior receiver Corey Davis, who grabbed a 31-yard TD pass on a 50-50 jump ball pass from Terrell to open up a 38-24 third-quarter cushion, but Terrell should be getting just as much recognition. He was 29-of-35 for a career-high 398 yards and three TDs and has completed 72.2 percent of his passes this season for 1,995 yards and 20 TDs with just one interception. His quarterback rating of 183.0 ranks third nationally.

The Broncos are off until Nov. 1 when they play at Ball State and Fleck is thankful for a few additional days to rest before the Tuesday night, nationally-televised game against the Cardinals.

“The first thing we have to be able to do is get healthy and that’s the biggest key for us because with our non-conference schedule, as hard as that was and as physical as that was, we’ve been going 13 straight weeks since training camp,” Fleck said of the Broncos who have non-conference wins over Northwestern and Illinois of the Big Ten.

“For us, it looked like on Saturday at times like we were running in quicksand. I just didn’t feel like our team was as fast as we’ve been and as quick as we’ve been and as physical as we’ve been so I think it’s come at a perfect time to address some of those issues. We’ve got to get our legs back and got to be able to get our bodies fresh.”

WMU is 12th nationally in total offense, averaging 502 yards per game, and has a plus-12 turnover margin to rank No. 2, just behind Washington (plus-14).

Eagles set to become bowl eligible

Fleck had high praise for EMU and he should with the Eagles piling up 461 total yards, outscoring the Broncos 14-10 off of turnovers and Roback completing 29-of-45 for 319 yards and showing his ability to run for first downs.

Now, the Eagles (5-3, 2-2) have a pivotal game Saturday, hosting the much-improved Miami RedHawks at Rynearson Stadium with an opportunity to become bowl eligible with a win. EMU’s last bowl game was the California Bowl in 1987 when the then-Hurons won the MAC title.

Miami — coached by Chuck Martin, the former Grand Valley State head coach and Notre Dame offensive coordinator — has won two straight after opening the season with six straight losses. The RedHawks lead the MAC in total defense and were aided by the return of starting quarterback Gus Ragland, who found Kenny Young for a 55-yard TD with 1:34 left for the difference in a 18-14 win over Kent State two weeks ago, then threw for 215 yards and three TDs Saturday in a 40-26 win at defending MAC champion Bowling Green.

“We have an opportunity to win a sixth game and to be bowl-eligible, that was our goal from the very beginning. Our seniors made it crystal clear that our goal was to go to and to win a bowl game and we were going to do that by going 1-and-0 each day and each week,” EMU third-year coach Chris Creighton said.

“Miami is coming off of two big wins. Their defense is No. 1 in the conference and last year their defense absolutely crushed us. It was our worst offensive day of the year by far. And, offensively they got their quarterback back two weeks ago, then won a game, then after two weeks of practice they go to Bowling Green and scored 40 points.”

Chips also closing in

Like the Eagles, Central Michigan has to toss aside the disappointment of a loss (31-17 to Toledo) in a hurry.

After all, the Chippewas have a big opportunity in front of them Saturday, a chance to become bowl eligible with a win over Kent State (2-6, 1-3) at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant.

CMU second-year coach John Bonamego knows the Chippewas have to clean some things up to get the job done.

Kent State has been competitive despite its sub-.500 record, losing four games by four or fewer points, including three in the last four games, 31-27 to Akron, 18-14 at Miami and a 14-10 setback against Ohio Saturday.

“I felt we played very well in the first half, but we left some plays on the field and made too many mistakes,” said Bonamego, referring to how the Chippewas fumbled at the Toledo 1 late in the second quarter to allow Toledo to take a 3-0 halftime lead.

“We talked an awful lot about before you win consistently you have to learn how not to lose. When you turn the ball over at the 1, when you have penalties that extend three drives that end with scores, it’s hard to win that way, especially on a team that’s as talented and as well coached as Toledo. We have to figure things out. I believe we still have a good football team and have a lot to play for, but realistically with two conference losses we’re pretty much out of the picture in representing the West in the MAC championship game and that’s our goal every year.”

Twitter: @DavidGoricki