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MAC notes: Western, Eastern face big tests with Big Ten foes

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Jon Wassink of the Western Michigan Broncos throws a pass against the Syracuse Orange in the third quarter.

Western Michigan second-year coach Tim Lester hopes the Broncos to get off to a better start when they travel to the Big House to face Michigan on Saturday.

“Obviously, playing an in-state Big Ten school is exciting since a lot of guys on our team are from Michigan and the Midwest, so they are all excited to go to the Big House and play,” Lester said Monday. “I watched the game and offensively they (Wolverines) didn’t get into much of a rhythm, obviously a lot of that credit goes to Notre Dame’s defense.

“On defense, I felt they played great. They’re arguably one of the best defenses in the country. They’re going to be physical, up in our face, and it’s going to be a very difficult challenge to go up against Don Brown, who in my opinion is the best defensive coordinator in the country.

“We have our work cut out for us, but defensively we’re not going to have to go against a team (like Syracuse) that goes so fast that it’s hard to even line up. So it will be a totally different challenge for our defense and I’m looking forward to watching them get out there and continue to grow.”

Lester wants the Broncos to play better early on both sides of the ball after trailing Syracuse 34-7 at halftime Friday at Waldo Stadium before losing 55-42.

“I want to see us start better," Lester said. "I was really proud with the way we picked it up in the second half and played more like I think we can play. I think our offense played with a little more aggressiveness and a little more calm in the second half.”

WMU’s defense couldn’t handle Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey, who led the Orange to an upset win over Clemson last fall.

Dungey, who entered the season as the only active FBS quarterback with 6,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing, led Syracuse to scores (four touchdowns, two field goals) on the Orange’s first six drives of the first half for the 27-point lead, running for 164 yards through the first two quarters and throwing for 104 and a TD.

The Broncos got on track in the second half, picking up 352 total yards to pull within 34-28 and 41-35 in the third quarter. They actually held a 621-560 advantage in total yards with quarterback Jon Wassink throwing for 379 yards and three TDs, including TD tosses of 21 and 84 yards to D’Wayne Eskridge, who ended the day with eight receptions for 240 yards.

“They came with a different defense than we were anticipating, the leverages were different, so at halftime we changed a lot of our routes to give our guys an advantage to the leverage they were playing and obviously Eskridge got going,” said Lester.

Former Michigan receiver Drake Harris was targeted seven times in his WMU debut but came up with just one catch for 12 yards.

Eskridge was one of Wassink’s top targets last year when he had 30 receptions for 506 yards, including three touchdowns.

“(Wassink) throws it well and we had three or four drops in the first half and couldn’t move the chains, but once we calmed down and played we were fine, so we have to do that sooner,” Lester said. “(Eskridge) played great. He’s a fast kid, a 4.3 kid who did a good job of running through coverage and Jon threw some beautiful deep balls, so we definitely have some speed out there.”

Wiegers, EMU tackle Purdue

The Eagles had a successful opener, taking care of FCS team Monmouth 51-17 Friday night with Iowa transfer Tyler Wiegers completing 18-of-21 for 238 yards and two TDs.

Wiegers and the Eagles, who won at Rutgers last year, will play Saturday at Purdue.

Wiegers (Detroit Country Day) found Blake Banham eight times for 103 yards, including a 16-yard TD pass to open the scoring, helping the Eagles take a 30-3 halftime lead.

EMU’s quarterbacks connected on 22-for-27 for a 81.5 percent completion rating, setting a school modern day record.

With the Eagles loaded at running back and light at receiver, Banham – a senior captain – moved from running back to receiver and showed he will be a weapon.

Now, EMU coach Chris Creighton’s focus is on trying to slow down Purdue true freshman Rondale Moore, who set a Purdue record for all-purpose yards in his debut, racking up 313 (79 rushing, 109 receiving, 125 kickoff) in a 31-27 loss to Northwestern last Thursday.

“He is phenomenal, electric and scary with the football,” Creighton said. “Coach (Jeff Brohm) is very creative and gets the ball to guys in space. They are very dangerous. In his first year, they basically took the Big Ten by storm. And, defensively, for as much attention that their offense got last year, people who played them would say the defense is the reason they got seven wins.”

Wiegers completed more passes in his EMU debut than his entire three years at Iowa. He will be going up against Purdue junior cornerback Navon Mosley (West Bloomfield), whose nine tackles against Northwestern tied for the team lead.

“We were really pleased with setting the school record for completion percentage and using multiple quarterbacks, so again we really believe that can be a strength of our team,” Creighton said.

Central Michigan's Devonni Reed  returns a recovered fumble for a touchdown against Kentucky.

CMU expects ‘packed house’

Central Michigan coach John Bonamego was impressed with the play of a large number of Chippewas making their first starts in Saturday’s 35-20 loss at Kentucky, including redshirt freshman defensive back Devonni Reed (Belleville), who came up with 14 tackles and a 20-yard TD fumble return.

“We’re clearly disappointed in the loss, but at the same time there’s a lot to be optimistic about,” said Bonamego. “We played an awful lot of young players. I think we had four true freshmen who saw action – one was a starter at tight end, Bernhard Raimann. We had nine redshirt freshmen play in their first game, two starters in offensive lineman Jamezz Kimbrough and (Reed)."

The Chippewas forced four turnovers — all in the first half — helping them to a 20-14 lead before Kentucky scored 21 unanswered points to take control.

“We’d like to be a little more consistent scoring touchdowns in the red zone, but the mistakes we made were self- inflicted, a lot were penalties, pre-snap penalties,” Bonamego said. “Some of that can be expected with a young team on the road, but at the same time it’s unacceptable.”

Bonamego felt good about redshirt sophomore Tony Poljan’s first start at quarterback. He completed 17-of-27 for 137 yards and also rushed for a team-high 47 yards. Jonathan Ward, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, was knocked out of the game, but Bonamego expects Ward back soon.

Poljan led an 80-yard drive, leading to a 4-yard TD run by Kumehnnu Gwilly (Utica) for a 10-7 lead, then defensive end Mike Danna (Warren De La Salle) got a hold of a running back while Nate Brisson-Fast jarred the ball loose, leading to Reed’s 20-yard TD return for a 17-7 lead.

CMU will host another Power Five opponent when Kansas comes to Kelly/Shorts Stadium Saturday at 3. The Chippewas defeated Kansas in Lawrence last season, 45-27, and the Jayhawks lost their opener to FCS team Nicholls – which was 8-4 last season – 26-23 in OT, averaging just 3.6 yards a play.

"We're a work in progress, trying to get better every day," Bonamego said. "I like where we're at, like the mentality of this football team, like the work ethic and like the leadership.

"It's a great thing to have Kansas here for opening day at Mt. Pleasant and I expect a packed house and an electric atmosphere."