MAC notes: Western Michigan tackles run-first Toledo in key West showdown
With a win over rival Central Michigan safely tucked away, Western Michigan can now concentrate on Saturday’s game at Toledo in what could decide the MAC West championship.
The Broncos (3-2, 1-0) jumped out to a 24-0 lead over CMU and went on to earn a 31-15 victory, to come away with the Victory Cannon for the seventh time in the last nine years.
WMU senior quarterback Jon Wassink threw for 244 yards and a TD and ran for another, while running back LeVante Bellamy rushed for 105 yards and a TD, giving him three straight 100-plus yard games.
The Broncos gave up 330 yards through the air, but also intercepted CMU quarterback David Moore twice and sacked him three times.
“I was proud of the defense since they didn’t score until the fourth quarter,” said WMU third-year coach Tim Lester, who is now 2-1 against the Chippewas. “They did move the ball a little bit, but they didn’t get it into the end zone. We had two huge fourth-down stops and we had three (forced) turnovers. We’re fast on defense and we fly around. We have to continue to tackle better.
“Offensively, we were pretty consistent throughout the game. I thought that we improved on many phases. We still have a lot to improve on, but it’s always good to get a win against your rival.”
Now, it’s payback time for the Broncos, who play MAC West preseason favorite Toledo (3-1, 0-0), a team that dominated the Broncos the last two years, 37-10 at Toledo in 2017 and 51-24 in Kalamazoo last year when Wassink was forced to the sidelines early in the game due to a season-ending foot injury.
The last time the Broncos won in Toledo was a 35-30 decision over a Rockets team that was ranked No. 24 in 2015. WMU defeated the Rockets 55-35 in Kalamazoo in 2016, when the Broncos went on to win the MAC championship.
WMU’s defense should be entering Saturday’s game with motivation after giving up 515 total yards to Toledo in last year’s game, with the Rockets piling up 268 yards on the ground.
Toledo’s strength is its running game this season, ranking 10th nationally (262.3), including 436 rushing yards in a 41-35 win over Colorado State and 242 yards in the 28-21 win over BYU Saturday in Toledo, when it held the ball for nearly 35 minutes.
The Broncos rank 18th nationally in total yards (498.6) with Wassink ranking seventh nationally in passing yards (1,466) and Bellamy seventh in rushing yards (559 yards).
“I think they have great speed,” said Lester of Toledo. “I think their defense flies around and they keep people out of the end zone. I think they are now No. 1 in the league in scoring defense. Their running game is stronger than ever, so you know they’re going to score points. There’s a lot of chips stacked against us and we’re excited to get out there and play.
“We have to be efficient on offense, get the ball moving and grind out first down because they don’t give up many big plays. And we have to limit their explosive plays because they are an explosive offense.”
Toledo pulled out an exciting win over BYU when junior running back Shakif Seymour rushed for 96 yards, including a 2-yard TD with 51 seconds remaining. The score was set up by safety Kahlil Robinson’s interception with less than a minute left.
EMU vs. CMU showdown
The calendar turns to October and Eastern Michigan has played just one home game.
The Eagles (3-1) hit the road again Saturday, this time heading to Mount Pleasant for their MAC opener against CMU (2-3, 1-1), which will be playing its third conference game.
EMU coach Chris Creighton is 2-3 in the Eagles’ rivalry with CMU, winning two of the last three games, including 17-7 last year. They haven’t won at Kelly/Shorts Stadium since 2011, losing the last three games in the series at CMU.
The Eagles are well rested after having a bye week while the Chippewas lost to WMU.
Creighton has been impressed with the job Jim McElwain has done in reviving CMU’s program after the Chippewas were 1-11 last season.
“I think it’s a very, very good defense that’s built from the inside out, and built like all good defenses in that it’s going to stop the run first,” said Creighton. “Offensively, they’re getting good quarterback play from a new quarterback (David Moore), who was a backup at the beginning of the season. They moved Tony Poljan to tight end, which I think is great move. He is a tough matchup, and then they have wide receivers – the transfer (Kalil Pimpleton), he can really scoot – so it’s going to be a huge, huge challenge for us.”
Quinten Dormady entered the season as CMU’s No. 1 quarterback, but suffered an injury against Wisconsin, opening the door for Moore, who hit on 33-of-48 passes for 330 yards and a TD against WMU, but also had two interceptions. Jonathan Ward, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2017, picked up 107 yards.
“There’s a lot of things that need to be cleaned up obviously, not to take anything away from our opponent, who really took it to us,” McElwain said. “I thought they physically dominated us in a lot of areas, and yet we keep growing as a program.
“We have to learn from it and get ready for a another huge instate rivalry game, one that means a ton to us, against a very, very good Eastern Michigan team.”
McElwain has been encouraged with how the Chippewas have moved the ball, but now wants to see them close drives by putting points on the board. CMU’s first drive ended with Moore being intercepted by defensive back Patrick Lupro (Belleville) at the WMU 41.
“We have to capitalize since we’ve moved the ball pretty decent the last two weeks, kind of between the 20s,” McElwain said. “We’ve got to be able to get some third-and-shorts, fourth-and-shorts for our team to stay on the field and keep our defense off the field, and we weren’t able to do that.”
CMU’s defense will be tested by the Eagles’ passing attack, led by quarterback Mike Glass, who has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 1,120 yards and MAC-leading 12 TDs with four interceptions.