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MAC notes: Broncos offense bolts out of the gate

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Western Michigan head coach Tim Lester has reason to feel good about his offense with receiver D’Wayne Eskridge once again healthy, along with the addition of running back La’Darius Jefferson, who transferred in from Michigan State.

The Broncos dominated Akron 58-13 last Wednesday, which was expected, but Lester was thrilled to see Jefferson rush for 70 yards (nine carries) and a TD and Eskridge using his 4.33 speed to grab a 76-yard touchdown pass.

Western Michigan's D'Wayne Eskridge in action against Akron last Wednesday.

Lester felt fortunate coming into the six-game shortened season to have a veteran quarterback in sophomore Kaleb Eleby who had multiple starts two years ago while filling in for injured starter Jon Wassink.

Lester knew he had quality receivers in Skyy Moore (51 receptions, 802 yards as a freshman) and 6-foot-4 Jaylen Hall (Macomb Dakota) and a solid back in sophomore Sean Tyler, but having a burner in Eskridge and a physical back in Jefferson — a former member of The News Dream Team in 2017 — are additions that can put a team over the top, and we’ll see if that happens when the Broncos play Toledo in Kalamazoo Wednesday (ESPN, 8 p.m.).

“D (Eskridge) is world-class speed,” said Lester of Eskridge, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 4 last season. He responded with three receptions for 114 yards and two TDs against Akron while also returning a kick 45 yards.

“He’s been doing a great job since he came back training with coach (Greg) Harbaugh, our new receivers coach. They knew each other since he was a freshman and Coach Harbaugh was a GA here, so it’s been fun watching them work together.

“It’s been fun watching him (Eskridge) try to become a complete wide receiver, just not a fast guy, I mean route running, getting off releases, blocking. He had one of the best blocks of the game on one of La’Darius' long runs (32-yarder). He ran the guy like 20 yards down the field and buried him. It was probably the play of the game for me. He stretches defenses and defenses are going to have to find out how they want to play him in certain situations and we’re going to have to counteract on what they’re doing to give one of our other athletes a chance.”

Lester also praised Jefferson.

“With La'Darius, I think we have three really, really good backs and now it’s up to us offensively to figure out a way to make sure they’re getting the touches that they need to make an impact in the game and they are all a little bit different which is good for us," Lester said. "It gives us a lot of variety in the types of plays we can run.

“His sheer size (6-1, 225 pounds), he’s is a phenomenal athlete and he came out and ran hard just like we thought he would.”

The Broncos last defeated Toledo in their MAC championship season in 2016, P.J. Fleck’s final year as head coach. Lester is 0-3 against the Rockets, who opened the season with a 38-3 win over rival Bowling Green.

“They (Rockets) lived in the backfield, Bowling Green’s quarterback took a beating and once you start getting hit it’s hard to hang in there,” said Lester of Bowling Green’s 8-of-30 passing attack against the Rockets.

“Their D-line did a great job of getting back in the backfield, they really took it to Bowling Green’s offensive line, so we have to protect and get the run game going. We have to run the ball, which is always our No. 1 goal. They play a lot of man, so we have to make plays on the edges.”

Lester knows the Broncos will have to get off to a fast start against Toledo after the Rockets took a 24-7 halftime lead and held on for a 31-24 win last season in Toledo.

Central visits Northern Illinois

Central Michigan went on to earn the MAC West championship last season thanks to Northern Illinois’ upset win at home against the Broncos in late November.

CMU will play at Northern Illinois Wednesday (8 p.m., ESPNU).

The Chippewas were the MAC West preseason favorites this season, then backed up ranking with a season-opening 30-27 win over Ohio.

CMU battled from a 27-20 third-quarter deficit by forcing a fumble to get a short field to work with (Ohio 22) and pulled even at 27 on junior Kobe Lewis’ 8-yard TD run and went ahead with a Marshall Meeder's 22-yard field goal after a time-eating 15-play, 70-yard drive.

Lewis, who rushed for 1,074 yards and 12 TDs last season, finished with 112 yards and two TDs while redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Richardson had a solid debut (243 yards passing, TD).

Northern Illinois lost its opener to Buffalo, 49-30, giving up 182 yards on the ground while turning the ball over five times.

The Chippewas have won five of the last six games against Northern Illinois.

Eastern seeks first win

Things didn’t start out the way Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton wanted in last Wednesday’s 27-23 loss at Kent State.

Now, the Eagles will try to get that first win when it travels to Ball State Wednesday.

EMU’s defense couldn’t slow down Kent State, allowing 212 yards on the ground while senior Dustin Crum hit on 21 of-29 passes for 219 yards and two TDs. 

The Eagles were picked to finish fifth in the MAC West by media members while Kent State was predicted to come in fourth in the East.

Eagles junior Preston Hutchinson threw for two scores, but also had two interceptions

Kent State took a 13-0 first-quarter lead led 20-9 at halftime before the Eagles fought back to take a 23-20 lead.

Still, EMU couldn’t hang on as Kent State went on an 11-play, 75-yard drive to pull out the win early in the fourth quarter.

Ball State lost its opener to defending MAC champion Miami (Ohio), 38-31 with the teams combining for 900 total yards, including Ball State’s 478 with quarterback Drew Plitt throwing for 309 yards and a TD and running back Caleb Huntley rushing for 130 yards and two TDs.

david.goricki@detroitnews.com