Western Michigan will try to keep the Michigan MAC Trophy when the Broncos travel to Ypsilanti to play Eastern Michigan on Saturday night at Rynearson Stadium.
The Broncos defeated Central Michigan and EMU last season to bring the Michigan MAC Trophy back to Kalamazoo.
The Broncos (4-3, 2-1) defeated CMU, 31-15, Sept. 28 in Kalamazoo. They have won the last five meetings in their series with EMU, including a 20-17 overtime win in Ypsilanti in 2017 and a 27-24 win over the Eagles last year at Waldo Stadium.
EMU sixth-year coach Chris Creighton is 0-5 against the Broncos, as the Eagles (3-3, 0-2) will need to find a way to slow down WMU’s running game, something they have failed to do the last two weeks in losses to CMU (42-16) on Oct. 5 when they gave up 308 rushing yards and to Ball State on Saturday in Ypsilanti, allowing 196 yards on the ground in a 29-23 loss.
WMU senior LeVante Bellamy ranks fourth nationally with 764 yards rushing, averaging 6.2 yards a carry, picking up 135 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-16 win Saturday over Miami (Ohio), including a 47-yard TD run to put the game out of reach.
WMU senior Jon Wassink ranks fifth nationally with 1,906 passing yards (14 TDs) with Keith Mixon Jr. grabbing two TD passes in the win over the RedHawks.
And, still it was the Broncos’ defense which made the difference in the win over Miami.
With Miami holding a 6-0 lead and driving to the WMU 25, linebacker Drake Spears intercepted a pass and ran 74 yards for a TD. It was the first of three forced turnovers by the Broncos, who were outgained by a 355-171 early in the fourth quarter.
Spears was named Mid-American Conference West Defensive Player of the Week. Junior linebacker Treshaun Hayward had eight tackles to give him 75 for the season, third best nationally.
WMU third-year coach Tim Lester was proud of how his defense forced turnovers.
“They limited big plays and they got turnovers,” Lester said. “We held on in the fourth quarter and pulled away a little bit, so I was proud of the way we played as a team.”
Of course, sweeping CMU and EMU would go a long way toward contending for a West Division championship and spot in the MAC championship game at Ford Field in early December.
“I think it hits a lot of different phases, obviously it affects recruiting when players are in this building and the Cannon Trophy is here and the Michigan MAC Trophy is here,” Lester said. “We recruit Michigan, we recruit Michigan hard and having that trophy in your building definitely helps continue to sustain success. Trophy games are always fun. It’s a road game which for us is something that we’ve been really talking a lot about, we have to get better at, so it’s a great opportunity this Saturday.”
The Broncos are 4-0 at home this season, but 0-3 on the road with losses at Michigan State, Syracuse and Toledo.
Creighton talked of how his Eagles have to be at their best to pull out a victory, something they did in a 34-31 win at Illinois Sept. 14, then had to block a punt to pull out a 34-29 win over Central Connecticut State on Sept. 21 before the two losses to CMU and Ball State.
EMU actually had a chance to win in the final seconds Saturday against the Cardinals, but officials said receiver Arthur Jackson was out of bounds — by inches after hauling in Mike Glass’ pass in the end zone with less than 20 seconds remaining.
The Eagles have lost 12 games the last three seasons by a touchdown or less.
“We lost the turnover-takeaway ratio 1-to-4 and we were 2-of-13 on third downs,” Creighton said. “Still, our guys fought and with a few seconds left we were a half of foot out of bounds there and ended up losing the game.”
Glass was 20-of-34 for 283 yards and a TD, but was intercepted three times and sacked three more. The Eagles were limited to 89 yards rushing (33 attempts).
Creighton called the Broncos, "super explosive offensively."
"They have a quarterback (Wassink) with a ton of experience and knows the system well," he said "The quarterback and the O-line make everything go, and then with Bellamy, he’s a guy who can take a broken play 50 yards. He’s just electric. And, then to their credit with having lost some receivers they just reloaded. They have guys who can run and catch the ball, so they have some new faces there, but are still talented.”
Chips carry winning streak to Bowling Green
The MAC is without a league power, opening the door for CMU to do what Miami did back in 2010, go from 1-11 to MAC champions.
The Chippewas were 0-8 in MAC play last season, costing head coach John Bonamego his job.
Jim McElwain has come in and quickly turned things around in Mount Pleasant. The Chippewas are now over .500 at 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the MAC, and with a win Saturday at Bowling Green, they could understandably get excited with the possibilities heading into the final third of the season.
After all, preseason MAC powers Ohio (East Division) and Toledo (West) have stumbled with Ohio (2-4, 1-1) suffering a 39-36 loss to Northern Illinois on Saturday, while Toledo (4-2, 1-1) lost its rivalry game against Bowling Green, 20-7.
Last week, McElwain said that “every week becomes almost like a benchmark for us, like OK, let’s see where we’ve come, let’s see if we’re able to put something back-to-back together.”
The Chippewas now will be trying to earn their first road win of the season at Bowling Green (2-4, 1-1).
McElwain brought in former Tennessee quarterback Quinten Dormady, but it’s been the running game that has been impressive for the Chippewas the last two weeks.
In the 42-16 win over Eastern Michigan on Oct. 5, CMU piled up 308 yards on the ground, then followed it up with 352 yards rushing in a 42-28 win over New Mexico State with sophomore Kobe Lewis running for 161 yards.
Senior Jonathan Ward ran for 131 yards on 18 carries, has rushed for 370 yards the last three games and 531 yards for the season, and is averaging 7.4 yards a carry.
“Obviously, it’s one of those things where those guys don’t get those yards unless you’re doing the right thing up front," McElwain said, "and I think the last couple of weeks we’ve done a better job trying to establish the line of scrimmage, really on both sides of the ball.”
“Those guys are instinctive, Jonathan is still not 100 percent yet, I just love his toughness, he’s given everything he’s got for this football team. Kobe is a guy we know has a ton of talent as well. I’m just proud of the way those guys have really, more than anything, played off of each other. They’re both excited for each other when they’re in there and that’s something that really good football teams do.”
Left tackle Clay Walderzak has been with CMU’s program for six years, playing for Dan Enos, Bonamego and now McElwain. He has had two full left knee reconstructions and decided to come out again this fall after getting a medical redshirt from the NCAA.
“The fact he came back — I’m not only proud of him, but I think it speaks volume for the care he has for this program and wanting to see it move forward in the right direction, and the huge part of that leadership component and the communication component up front,” McElwain said. “He’s one of those guys in the locker room that is a really good guy to be around and he’s really good for the young offensive linemen who are playing as well to see how a guy goes about his business.”
Walderzak is playing on a line anchored by senior center Steve Eipper with junior Derek Smith at left guard, sophomore Luke Goedeke, a transfer from Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point, at right tackle and redshirt freshman Johnathan Berghorst and Iowa State transfer Oge Udeogu playing a right guard.