With roughly 14 weeks to go until he season starts it is time to start looking at each opponent, especially if I am going to try and do one preview per week. That means this week we start with Western Michigan, a flashback team the Boilers played just two seasons ago in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl.
2013 Record: 1-11, 1-7 MAC
Bowl result: None
Blog Representation: The Hustle Belt
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 3-0
Last Purdue win: 12/27/2011 37-32 at Ford Field (Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl)
Last Western Michigan Win: None
Last Season for the Broncos
Purdue was bad last season. Of that there is very little doubt. Western Michigan may have actually been worse. Purdue was at least 0-fer in the Big Ten, a major conference full of good teams. Western Michigan went through 2013 also finishing 1-11 and their lone win was by a point of Massachusetts, who barely qualifies as a MAC team. UMass also went 1-11, so to start the season in Ross-Ade Stadium we get one of the weakest FBS games of the year. It is two 1-11 teams whose only win in 2013 also came over a 1-11 team.
There were a handful of common opponents last season between Purdue and Western Michigan. Both teams played Michigan State, Iowa, and Northern Illinois, while the Broncos had a third Big Ten game against Northwestern. Purdue's 14-0 loss at Michigan State was one of its best efforts of the season, especially when Michigan State was probably the second best team in the country, Western also played then relatively close, losing 26-13 in the first game of the Year. Iowa trounced Western 59-3, while Northern Illinois clinched an undefeated regulars season with a 33-14 win.
Western Michigan Offense
Both teams were horribawful on offense last year. Neither could run the ball against anyone or score points. Western was 112th nationally in rushing at 116.2 yards per game while Purdue was 122nd at 67.1. Western scored only 17.2 points per game, but only got shut out once and scored at least 13 points in 10 of 12 games. That is scoring at the rate of Oregon compared to Purdue, who was 122nd nationally in scoring at 14.9 points per game, was shutout twice, held under 10 four times, and famously went three straight games without reaching the red zone.
Yes, this game could cause our eyes to melt as we watch two very bad offenses flail around, but it is a chance for a Purdue victory.
While Purdue has sophomore Danny Etling returning, Western also has a true sophomore running the show at quarterback. Zach Terrell wasn't great, but he split time with Tyler Van Tubbergen and led the team with 1,602 yards passing, 8 TDs, and 8 INTs. He only completed 53% of his passes and was sacked 17 times, so efficiency was not his strong suit. He took over as the starter in game 6 when Van Tubbergen injured his shoulder and appears to be the leader to start for three more seasons.
That starting position may be challenged by Chance Stewart, who was a four-star recruit that backed away from Wisconsin and is a highly regarded player.
The running game was bad, and stands to actually get worse with the loss of Dareyon Chance and Brian Fields. Both combined for over 1,200 yards rushing, which is far more than Purdue's 805 yards as a team. Terrell is the only player that returns with significant rushing experience and he had 118 yards on 25 carries. Western could go with freshman Jarvion Franklin immediately or sophomore Austin Guido. It really is a crapshoot.
At receiver there is a ton of promise, as the last two MAC Freshmen of the Year played for the Broncos. Corey Davis was an excellent freshman receiver with 67 catches for 941 yards and seven TDs. Jaime Wilson, 2012 Freshman of the Year, transferred out, however. Freshmen Javonte Seabury and Lonnie Johnson are also expected to start immediately. Timmy Keith and Kendrick Roberts each bring experience as former starters and each had over 20 receptionslast year.
The offensive line returns four starters, but is undersized by Big Ten standards. This should allow for a big day from Ra'Zahn Howard and Ryan Russell if they are going to have a big day. The lack of a proven running game also puts pressure on their pass protection. Willie Beavers is a decent 6'4" 309 pound left tackle that has 14 career starts, the same number as left guard James Kristof. Their continuity should help, and they weren't awful last year even with a lot of youth.
Western Michigan Defense
If Purdue cannot get Raheem Mostert, Keyante Green, Akeem Hunt, and Brandon Cottom going on the ground against WMU it is going to be another very long season. WMU had one of the worst rushing defenses in America last season, but Purdue played two awful run defenses in Illinois and Indiana to finish last year and still couldn't run the ball. Western lost all three of its starting linebackers and six of its top 10 defensive linemen. There was no pass rush (Travonte Boles led the team with 1.5 sacks) and the team ranked 120th nationally against the run.
Here is what Bill Connelly had to say about the front seven:
As with the offensive skill positions, playing time was a major sell for freshmen like tackle Ken Finley and linebacker Robert Spillane. WMU redshirted a couple of three-star freshmen up front as well, so the depth of interesting young talent is pretty solid. But it's all really, really young. This could become something pretty exciting in about 2016, but there will be epic growing pains in 2014.
Simply put, we have got to be able to run the ball against these guys. Last year, when Purdue struggled so mightily in short yardage against Indiana State, I knew we were in deep trouble. The same can be said if Purdue can't run against WMU. This is a defense with very little experience and not a lot of raw talent. Many guys will be playing in their first collegiate game. WE have to take advantage.
The secondary is at least decent. Ronald Zamort and Donald Celiscar each had three interceptions last season and free safety Justin Currie led the team with 86.5 tackles. As we know, however, it is never a good sign when your safety leads the team in tackles, because it usually means he is making them 10-20 yards downfield.
Western Michigan Special Teams
The top specialists are both juniors with J. Schroeder averaging about 40 yards per punt and Andrew Halderman handling placekicking duties very well by going 16 of 20 on kicks. He can give them points, but the return coverage units can give them right back.
Purdue has the fastest man in the Big Ten returning kicks and Western Michigan regularly got burned on returns last season. Don't be surprised if Mostert takes one to the house possibly on his first attempt of the season.
Purdue's MACtion last season was possibly the best MAC team ever and Purdue was one of the worst Big Ten teams ever. The Boilers should improve in 2014, mostly because it is hard to get much worse. Western is a good matchup to begin the season because they were not very good last year and they lack any kind of definite experience. Their one legitimate threat, Cory Davis, might have a big day if we continue to not cover the middle of the field, but this is a game Purdue can and probably should win.
Let's put it this way: If Purdue does manage to lose to Western Michigan the 2014 season is going to be very unforgiving, because the Broncos might be the worst opponent on the schedule. This includes FCS Southern Illinois. The Boilers need to beat someone, anyone, just to gain some confidence. Western has to be that team. Prediction: Purdue 27, Western Michigan 13