Western Michigan will try to cap a perfect season at home when it hosts Ball State at Waldo Stadium Tuesday night to create havoc in the Mid-American Conference West Division race.
The Broncos (5-4, 3-2) are 5-0 at home and will try to avenge a 42-41 loss at Ball State late in the 2018 season that prevented them from playing in the MAC championship game at Ford Field.
“We’ve obviously played well at home, so we’re excited to play at home in front of our home crowd again,” third-year WMU head coach Tim Lester said. “We’re expecting a great atmosphere, and to be on national television here in Kalamazoo is great for the town and we’re excited to have the chance to play one more time here.”
Ball State head coach Mike Neu entered the season on the hot seat with a three-year record of 10-26 (4-20 MAC), but has his Cardinals (4-4) in first place in the West Division at 3-1 with Central Michigan (6-4) at 4-2, followed by the Broncos.
Lester was happy the Broncos had a few extra days before the showdown since they have yet to have a bye week. He is ecstatic that senior quarterback Jon Wassink is healthy and playing this time of year, something that didn’t happen the previous two seasons due to injuries.
Wassink has completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,273 yards and 16 TDs with seven interceptions, operating an offense that leads the MAC in scoring (36.0) and total offense (461.8) with senior running back Levante Bellamy running for 1,055 yards and 17 TDs.
“It’s exciting," Lester said. "We haven’t had Jon in the last four games in each of the last two seasons, so to have three games left and have him playing, we went down there last year and unfortunately Jon wasn’t with us, but to have a guy that you trust (is big) and we’re excited to have him healthy and leading our offense.”
Lester loves his balanced attack.
“I think balance is the key when you’re playing in inclement weather, when you’re playing teams that you think the advantage is your front seven then you can lean on the run, if you think your advantage is the back end, then you can lean on the pass,” Lester said. “We’ve been pretty balanced since I took over the offense two years ago and we’ve been able to sustain that fairly well.
“You never really know going into the game exactly how it’s going to play out, but to be able to be efficient in both, to make a run going into November and have game matters like this one, you have to have both to make it through.”
Ball State also showcases a balanced attack, averaging 33 points, including 193 yards on the ground, led by junior Caleb Huntley (723 yards) and junior quarterback Drew Plitt (1,977 yards, 17 TDs), but it’s the Cardinals’ defense that has Lester concerned.
“Their defense is flying around and running to the ball which is huge to having a great defense and they’re getting turnovers,” Lester said of Ball State, which ranks third in the MAC in stopping the run but just eighth in pass defense.
CMU bowl eligible
Jim McElwain has guided the Chippewas to one of the biggest turnarounds, if not the biggest, in the country, inheriting a 1-11 team and putting it in position to play for a MAC West title if it wins its final two games — at Ball State Nov. 16 and at home Nov. 29 against Toledo (5-3, 2-2) — and get a little help along the way.
CMU played its most complete game Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, dominating defending MAC champion Northern Illinois, 48-10, piling up 615 total yards, 327 on the ground while forcing four turnovers and limiting the Huskies to 22 rushing yards.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am for this group of kids and university, just how far we’ve come in a short time,” McElwain said. “We played a game that I felt all three phases finally came together. I really felt good about the win and hopefully our guys feel good about what they’ve accomplished up to this point and yet we have a lot of ball left, and it’s kind of nice when you get to November and the games kind of mean something.”
CMU quarterback Quinten Dormady couldn’t have gotten off to a better start, hitting on 7-of-8 passes for 130 yards and a TD to give the Chippewas a 21-3 lead after one quarter. They extended the lead to 38-10 at halftime with Dormady going 18-of-22 for 260 yards and three TDs while the Chips had 408 yards of total offense.
While Dormady enjoyed his best outing, CMU also got things done on the ground, picking up 327 yards (50 carries) to give the Chippewas 300 or more yards rushing for the third time in the last five games.
Sophomore Kobe Lewis rushed for 143 yards and a TD and senior Jonathan Ward had 138 yards and a TD, giving them a chance to both be 1,000-yard rushers with two games left. Ward is now at 863 yards and 10 TDs and Lewis 788 yards and nine TDs.
CMU’s defense was just as impressive, now ranking second in the conference in total defense (354.5) and second in rushing defense (110.6). Senior linebacker Michael Oliver (Detroit Cass Tech) was named MAC West Defensive Player of the Week for getting in on five tackles while intercepting a pass.
Senior defensive end Sean Adesanya got in on 2 1/2 tackles for loss and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Laquan Johnson, two sacks.
The Chippewas will get the chance to watch the WMU-Ball State game while enjoying their bye week before playing the Cardinals for what could be first place.
EMU suffers worst loss
After being involved in three straight games that weren’t decided until the final seconds or in overtime, the Eagles scored first on an 80-yard TD reception by Matthew Sexton before giving up 43 unanswered points in a 43-14 loss to Buffalo at Rynearson Stadium Saturday.
The Eagles (4-5, 1-4) had an impressive goal-line stand while leading 7-0, but then gave up a safety, and Buffalo went on to score on four straight possessions for a 29-7 first-quarter lead.
How bad did it get? Buffalo had 460 total yards while limiting the Eagles to 25 yards rushing. Buffalo had 20 more first downs (26-6) and held the ball for 42 minutes and 24 seconds.
“It was a bad day for us,” EMU coach Chris Creighton said. “Buffalo had a great plan on both sides of the ball and outplayed us, so it was a long, hard day for us.
“We needed to win the battle of field position all day and we just didn’t ever. We needed to give those guys long fields. It was an awesome goal line stand, but then we just couldn’t get it out. We started one drive at the 1-yard line, started another drive early on at the 5 and had some major punt issues.”
The Eagles will have some time to lick their wounds before Nov. 12 when they play at winless Akron (0-9, 0-5).