Bob Wojnowski, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau preview Week 2 games: Michigan vs. Western Michigan and Michigan State vs. Arizona State. The Detroit News
WESTERN MICHIGAN AT MICHIGAN
Kickoff: Noon, Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Line: Michigan by 28
View from other side
Andy Pepper, who is the sports director at WWMT and covers Western Michigan, breaks down the Broncos for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan-Western Michigan game at Michigan Stadium. You can follow him on Twitter at @APepperWWMT.
1. Western had a crazy opener down 34-7, then coming back before losing 55-42 to Syracuse — what was your biggest takeaway from that game?
Pepper: My two big takeaways: 1. Western is explosive, and they are gonna score a ton of points this season. They have an outstanding line, a very good Junior QB, and a couple of guys who can flat out fly in RB Levante Bellamy (4.32 40) and WR Dee Eskridge (4.33 40). 2. The defense however is fairly inexperienced and could struggle this season after losing — among others — a great trio of LBs and cornerback Sam Beal in the Supplemental Draft. Lester, though, believes that many of Friday’s mistakes are correctable, and that they won’t face many QBs who can tuck it and run like Eric Dungey.
2. It seems the Broncos' strength is its offensive line. How do you think it will do against Michigan's defensive line?
Pepper: The Broncos have an outstanding line — led by Senior Center John Keenoy who is on the watch lists for both the Outland and Rimington trophies — but they will be tested by a Wolverines defense that Head Coach Tim Lester says has “several future NFL players.” The Broncos won’t abandon the run though, as Bellamy and Bogan have the capability to bust long runs at any moment.
3. What are quarterback Jon Wassink's strengths? Will he be able to handle the constant attack mode of Michigan's defense?
Pepper: Wassink is smart, accurate, tough and has shown signs of becoming the next great WMU passer. The junior struggled in last year’s season opening losses to Power-Five opponents USC and MSU, but showed dramatic improvement from that point on, completing roughly 70 percent of his passes while throwing 14 TDs and just two interceptions before breaking his collarbone in Week 8. (At the time of his injury, he led the MAC in completion percentage (.642) and ranked second for pass efficiency (145.4)
He struggled early against Syracuse, but then was lights out in the second half. And he some exciting weapons in Eskridge, Jayden Reed, Jaylen Hall, and former Wolverine Drake Harris.
4. The Broncos' defense gave up 55 points in the opening-season loss, but Michigan's offense struggled to find a rhythm at Notre Dame. Can Western muster enough defense to slow Shea Patterson and the Michigan offense?
Pepper: That is the million dollar question. Syracuse WR Jamal Custis caught six passes for 168 yards and two TDs vs a Broncos secondary that has a lot of new faces. Anton Curtis is a former WR now playing in the secondary, and Stefan Claiborne is a former safety now playing corner.
CB Juwan Dowels is a Syracuse transfer who played well against his old mates.
Shea Patterson can tuck it and run, but is not quite as mobile as Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey who rushed for 200 yards in roughly two-and-a-half quarters. This is another big test for the WMU defense
5. Is playing at Michigan Stadium a big deal for the Western Michigan players? Does it have a buzz for them or is this business as usual?
Pepper: I think the players are pretty excited about playing in the Big House. WMU has a ton of players from within a 4-5 hour radius (Many of whom grew up Michigan fans) and they know that this is an iconic venue. I’m pretty sure the guys will be pinching themselves a bit during pregame, but that will quickly fade once opening kickoff arrives.
Players to watch
■ Jon Wassink, QB: The 6-foot-2 junior threw for three touchdowns, ran for a fourth and completed 19 passes for 379 yards in season-opening, 55-42, loss to Syracuse. The 379 yards, as well as an 84-yard touchdown throw were both career highs. The 379 yards was the fourth most passing yards in the FBS in Week 1. He played in eight games last season before suffering a season-ending injury at Eastern Michigan on Oct. 21. He threw for 14 touchdowns, ran for three and caught two. Wassink completed 124-of-193 passes for 1,411 yards and rushed for another 126. At the time of his injury, he led the MAC in completion percentage (.642) and ranked second for pass efficiency (145.4).
■ LeVante Bellamy, RB: The Broncos’ 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior running back, rushed for 120 yards on 11 attempts, with 7-yard and 64-yard touchdown runs in season-opener against Syracuse. As a redshirt sophomore last season, he played in six games, including four starts, but suffered a season-ending injury against Akron on Oct. 15. He had 394 yards rushing on 49 attempts and scored three touchdowns last season, and he also had seven receptions for 54 yards. In 2016, he played in the first three games before suffering season-ending injury in September and received a medical redshirt.
■ Dee Eskridge, WR: The 5-foot-9, 185-pound sophomore had a huge game against Syracuse with eight catches for 240 yards and two touchdowns. He helped lead the Broncos in their second-half comeback after trailing, 34-7, by scoring touchdowns on consecutive drives to make it 34-21. His second touchdown went 84 yards and put his 4.33 speed on display. The 240 yards and two touchdowns were single-game bests for Eskridge. It was the first time a WMU player had 100 yards or more receiving since Corey Davis’ 144 against Ohio in the 2016 MAC title game.
Facts and figures
■ Seeing the Broncos again: This is the seventh time Western Michigan and Michigan — all of them have been played at Michigan Stadium, with the Wolverines holding a 6-0 advantage. The 2018 meeting will be the fifth time since 2001 the two teams have met, after going nearly 60 years from 1943-2001 without playing one another.
■ Big Ten foes: The Broncos have played at least one Big Ten team every season since 2006. Nine of Western Michigan’s 11 all-time Power Five wins have come against Big Ten teams. During the Broncos’ undefeated season in 2016, the Broncos defeated two Big Ten opponents — Northwestern (22-21, Sept. 3) and Illinois (34-10, Sept. 17) on the road.
■ Lots of youngsters: There are 50 players on Western Michigan’s 106-person roster who are freshmen or redshirt freshmen. The Broncos have 24 sophomores, 22 juniors and just 10 seniors (with two of those 10 being graduate transfers), 13 Broncos (six true freshmen) played in their first collegiate game in the season-opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31. Three of those players were starters on offense (Fr. WR Jayden Reed, RFr. WR Jaylen Hall, RFr. LT Jaylon Moore). WMU also played a freshman long snapper (Bryce Bouwens) and punter (Nick Mahalic)