The blogger interviews are back! MACtion takes the nation by storm each fall and SB Nation is blessed with a blogged solely dedicated to MACtion in The Hustle Belt. Brandon Fitzsimons handles all things Western Michigan for them, and he was kind enough to talk with me about the Broncos.
T-Mill: Was this really a bowl game just three years ago? How has Western fallen from that respectable perch and what do they need to do to get back?
Brandon: What happened, in order: slow start to 2012, Carder gets hurt in garbage time, back-up has game-time nerves and has to face a brutal schedule coming into replacing him, back-up starts to get hot, Cubit puts a rusty Carder in the last two games (both losses), Cubit is fired, Fleck is hired with no prior coordinator experience, injuries and poor play plague 2013. So yeah, it's been better.
Put some of the blame on the injuries, some other on Fleck's lack of experience, and some on just players not caring in this new system. Fleck has a plan and sometimes you have players that don't play ball. It happens. Now, Fleck has his system and brought in a stellar recruiting class. The question is: Can they play? We'll see in time, until then, it's just a "trust in the process" for a potential rise to glory.
T-Mill: Based on Bill C's excellent preview it looks like Western is extremely young. Is that an asset, since there is more talent, or a detriment?
Brandon: Depends on your view of things honestly. On one hand, all of this talent will push the returning players to their limits, hopefully pushing development among the leaders. On the other, they have no college experience, so their play will be spotty at best early on. In the long run, one just has to hope they develop into stars, but it's highly unlikely that happens out of the gate. So for now, the answer is hurts more than helps.
T-Mill: On the surface Western has to be excited that they have a winnable Big Ten game, but what needs to happen to pull it off?
Brandon: Obviously, WMU has to use their defense to shut down any potential Purdue attack. The Boilers ran all over the Broncos in the Pizza Bowl a few years back, and with both teams regressed down to the cellars, Western has to take advantage of weaker lines, while still having no depth in the box. After that, it's on the offense, which will have a circus of QBs to possibly start, let alone lead.
I want to hope that the secondary steps up, and the rushing damage is minimal enough to allow the offense to maybe put on a show (have you heard of Corey Davis?). However, this is a team that barely beat UMass for their lone win last season and limped to the barn after close losses to EMU and CMU, so I'm not counting on it.
T-Mill: Neither team ran the ball well at all last season. Who has the advantage there?
Brandon: See above for answer. It has to be Purdue. B1G line, Hazell schemes, shotty WMU defense. The Broncos have a returning senior in Dareyon Chance, but the Western running game has been poor in recent years. Any WMU opponent wins this until proven otherwise.
T-Mill: Zach Terrell was promising last season, but does a guy like Chance Stewart take the starting job from him?
Brandon: Not off the bat. Terrell should start after a solid spring game and finish last season. He grew as a leader and will have the starting job against Purdue. For how long will depend on his play.
Chance is a solid player, but will not have a single lick of college ball until he hits fall camp. Redshirt freshman Cam Thomas could also come into play, as he showed his arm and his legs in April, but was shaky early on. Still, if Terrell developed an arm, he'd look like Matt Johnson from BGSU out on the field. He has some mobility, but just needs the arm to help open up space when needed.
T-Mill: What, if anything, is a defensive strength?
Brandon: The secondary. The depth there is solid. All of the starters will be upperclassmen, including senior cornerback Donald Celiscar. He made his mark in the Illinois opener that 2012 season, and has been really consistent for the most part at keeping receivers at bay. Justin Currie provides a nice hard-hitting safety with decent coverage skills as well, and Fleck took Justin Ferguson, a 4-star transfer from Notre Dame, and moved him as a back-up safety.
Outside of them, nothing really. Adding Michigan grad transfer Richard Ash in the middle of the line will help, but he's the only senior on that line, and one of two upperclassmen. That's rough. The Broncos also lost all of their starting linebacker corps to graduation, but had decent depth before injuries at the start of the 2013 campaign, so depth this season will be the issue.