2015 CFB Preview – Western Michigan

    Western Michigan BroncosGo to Team Page BroncosGo to Selection Page           If nothing else, Western Michigan has turned into

    April 3, 2019

    Western Michigan
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    If nothing else, Western Michigan has turned into the MAC’s fun team.

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    The program might still be building back to the level of consistent excellence in the late 1990s, but under P.J. Fleck, there seems to be something special brewing.

    The Broncos were okay in 2011 with a bowl appearance, and struggled late in the 2012 season losing four of the last five games in a 4-8 campaign, and then it became time for a change. With Northern Illinois rocking, Central Michigan not all that far removed from a dominant run, and Toledo consistently good, something had to change. WMU went radical, and it appears to be working.

    The 2013 team was a horrific disaster, doing absolutely nothing right in a 1-11 season that was one point away from being winless, but there was a reason. WMU went young, really young.

    Fleck is going to turn 35 this year, and when he was hired, he was a bright mind with boundless energy and a new fire brought to the football program. The Broncos had to take a big step back to try taking a giant leap forward, and after suffering through the growing pains of playing a slew of young players, the payoff started to come last year. All of a sudden, Fleck didn’t seem like the not-ready-for-primetime guy who wasn’t ready for the job – he looked like the type who can build Western Michigan into something great while being pegged as one of the hot young head coaches in the business.

    The offense turned into something special, with RB Jarvion Franklin running wild behind a tough line. Corey Davis became one of the nation’s top young receivers, and all of a sudden, Zach Terrell started to look the part of a decent quarterback to work around.

    Meanwhile, the defense that couldn’t stop anyone became solid against the run and stingy against the better passing teams. With eight starters back including several key parts, the results should be even better.

    WMU and Fleck are going to be part of the must-watch aspects of the MAC this season, and it could result in something very, very big. With this team and this talent both in the coaching staff and on the field, the ride is going to be fun.

    What You Need To Know About The Offense: It took a year, and then the offense took off with one of the nation’s most efficient passing games and a ground attack that went wild at times. There’s a chance for even bigger things if two starters up front can be replaced. RB Jarvion Franklin will be a true sophomore after coming up with his breakout campaign, and QB Zach Terrell returns along with Corey Davis, Daniel Braverman and every receiver or tight end who caught a pass.

    What You Need To Know About The Defense: The defense struggled at the beginning of the season and in the final two games, but overall it was a stronger group that allowed 21 points or fewer seven times. However, three of the top tacklers are gone from the secondary, and it’s going to be tested early on. The defensive backfield might have to reload, but it has a good one to build around in FS Rontavious Atkins. Leading tackler Grant DePalma is back at middle linebacker, and everyone returns on the line except for big NT Richard Ash.

    What to watch for on offense: The running game has to start gearing it up again. The WMU ground game didn’t exactly wear down, but it stopped working over the second half of the season after destroying Purdue, Idaho and Murray State to kick things off. Teams started to load up against Jarvion Franklin – who went from being a weekly sure-thing 100-yard back to getting beaten up enough to slow down over the final month, failing to hit the 100-yard mark over the final four games – and the results weren’t pretty. Two starters are gone off the line, but Franklin is back. The coaching staff needs to put him on a carry count to he’ll be just as effective in November as he will be in September.

    What to watch for on defense: Stop the run. With five starters back on the front seven, and a good rotation in the interior, the Broncos should be even tougher against the run and should be more aggressive into the backfield. The run defense was excellent for the most part last year, but bad things happened when things broke down. WMU allowed 19 rushing touchdowns on the season with 12 of them coming in the five losses. On the year, the five worst days by the run defense – allowing 196 yards or more against Purdue, Virginia Tech, Toledo, Northern Illinois and Air Force – losing all five. The Broncos went 8-0 against everyone else.

    The team will be far better if … the rushing game works. The passing attack was consistent throughout the season, and it ripped through Purdue for 213 yards and three touchdowns in the opening season loss. However, it didn’t hit the 100-yard mark four times on the season, and those turned out to be four other losses, getting held to 19 yards against Virginia Tech, 62 yards to Toledo, 91 yards to NIU and 79 to Air Force.

    The schedule: Just how good are the Rockets? They’ll get a few key chances to show it early on with a date at Arkansas and home games against Iowa State and against an Arkansas State team good enough to win the Sun Belt.
    – The week off couldn’t come at a better time after some relatively light games against Kent State, Eastern Michigan and UMass and just before the Northern Illinois showdown.
    – Even if the Rockets get by NIU, back-to-back road games against Central Michigan and Bowling Green, and a regular season-ender against Western Michigan, makes it a rough November.
    – After the trip to Arkansas on September 12th, Toledo leaves the state of Ohio just twice the rest of the way.
    – WATCH OUT FOR … the road trip to Ball State. If Toledo is who it’s supposed to be, it shouldn’t have a problem getting at least five wins before getting to November. However, a win over Ball State should make the Rockets 6-2 – at worst – before dealing with NIU.

    Best offensive player: Sophomore RB Jarvion Franklin. Western Michigan’s running game went nowhere in 2013, coming up with just 1,394 yards and ten scores, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. P.J. Fleck came up with a find of a true freshman out of the Chicago area, and he ended up cranking out 1,551 rushing yards all by himself. Built for the position, he’s got the compact build to be a workhorse, and as long as he’s not overworked like he was at the beginning of last year, he should be in for another massive season.

    Best defensive player: Senior CB Ronald Zamort. The rail-thin 5-10, 157-pounder out of Florida is tough for his size, making 52 tackles last season while also serving as the main playmaker against the pass. While he didn’t pick off any passes, he broke up a whopping 18 passes and turned into one of the MAC’s best defenders. Safety Justin Currie might end up being the star of the secondary, but it’ll be Zamort who’ll be the one to avoid.

    Key player to a successful season: Junior C Jackson Day – or whoever takes over the center position. The 6-3, 279-pound Day has mostly worked as a long snapper, but he was also the main backup inside behind Jon Hoffing. The O line has to replace Mario Rodriguez at right guard and Hoffing in the middle, and while tackles Willie Beavers and Taylor Moton will be strong, the line needs a consistent producer in the middle.

    The season will be a success if … Western Michigan wins the MAC title. It’ll be tough just to get out of the West with the showdowns against Northern Illinois and Toledo on the road, but the Broncos should be good enough to get through the rest of the MAC schedule, including the road game at Ohio and the home date against Bowling Green. With the experience and talent returning, it’s okay to think big, even though the ceiling this year might be another winning season and a bowl appearance – that’s not too bad.

    Key game: No. 18 at Northern Illinois. If the Broncos can beat the Huskies, then the key game quickly becomes the road trip to Toledo nine days later. First things first, beating the defending MAC champion for the first time since 2008 – losing six straight – is a must.

    2014 Fun Stats:
    – Punt Return Average: Opponents 8.5 yards – Western Michigan 1.7 yards
    – Time of Possession: Western Michigan 32:47 – Opponents 27:13
    – First Half Scoring: Western Michigan 270 – 177

    Players You Need To Know

    1. RB Jarvion Franklin, Soph.
    A 6-0 and 220-pound true freshman, he was a tremendous recruit for WMU with a great combination of speed and power. The coaching staff didn’t waste any time getting its talented young back the ball, feeding him 306 times for 1,551 yards and 24 touchdowns, to go along with 14 catches for 163 yards and a score, earning MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors. While he was stuffed by Air Force in the bowl loss, and he wore down a bit late in the season – failing to hit the 100-yard mark in any of the last four games – when he was the workhorse, he was unstoppable carrying it 30 time or more in four games and dominating the end zone with three rushing touchdowns in six of his first nine games. The coaches have to figure out how to give him more of a break, and he needs to cut his carries down to about 250, but when he’s 100%, he might be the best player in the MAC.

    2. WR Corey Davis, Jr.
    2013 was an utter disaster for Western Michigan, but Davis was one of the few bright spots, catching 67 passes for 941 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, and with dangerous deep speed, he showed off a little of his potential, and then it all came together last year making 78 grabs for 1,408 yards and 15 touchdowns – averaging over 18 yards per catch – in an unstoppable campaign. He missed the Virginia Tech game, but outside of that he caught a touchdown pass in every game but one, and went for 100 yards or more in every game but four, going for 99 in the win over Murray State. With great weapons around him, and a veteran quarterback in Zach Terrell getting him the ball, he should be one of the nation’s most productive targets again.

    3. QB Zach Terrell, Jr.
    Terrell took his lumps in 2013, thrown into the mix early on in a somewhat ugly year, throwing for 1,602 yards and eight touchdowns with eight picks. But the time spent figuring out what he was doing paid off in a huge way last season, taking more command of the offense – helped by a running game that took the pressure off – and completing 68% of his throws for 3,443 yards and 26 touchdowns with ten picks. The 6-1, 210-pounder isn’t going to run much by design, but he can move, taking off for 264 yards and three touchdowns. Interceptions were an issue at times, throwing two in three different games over the second half of the season, but he was steady throughout cranking up 200 yards or more in every game but the win over Bowling Green – he threw two touchdown passes and didn’t throw any picks, though. When he was on, he was deadly, going through an amazing stretch of four straight games connecting on 75% of his passes or more including a 17-of-19, 357-yard, four score target practice day against Eastern Michigan.

    4. OT Willie Beavers, Sr.
    The star of the line, he combines with James Kristof on the left side to pave the way for the running game, but he’s solid in pass protection, too. At 6-4 and 309 pounds he has decent size with a good frame, and now he has more than enough experience going into his third year as a starter. The left tackle and former star recruit earned Second Team All-MAC honors last season.

    5. CB Ronald Zamort, Sr.
    The wire-thin 5-10, 157-pound veteran plays extremely big on the field, taking over the starting corner job in 2013 and making 52 tackles with a whopping 18 broken up passes. Interceptions were a problem, though – he didn’t come up with any. Last year he didn’t make as many stops – coming up with 28 – but he was still a ball-hawker with 17 broken up passes and four picks, doing even more to attack the ball. He’s not afraid to throw his body around, but for a secondary that was hit-of-miss, his worth is as a top corner.

    6. OG James Kristof, Sr.
    The 6-3, 296-pound Third Team All-MAC selection was a decent get for the program, and he’s turning into one of its steadiest blockers. While he’s not massive, he moves well and does a great job for the ground game with good leverage and a nice blast off the ball. Purely a guard, he might have the build of a tackle, but he’s perfect on the left side in the interior.

    7. WR Daniel Braverman, Jr.
    The team’s No. 2 target, the Florida native made 86 catches for 997 yards and six touchdown, while rushing 58 yards and a score, too. Only 164 pounds on his 5-10 frame, he’s not going to outphysical anyone, but he has a knack for getting open and making plays inside or out, coming up with ten catches against both Purdue and Ball State, and topping out with 117 yards against Central Michigan. While he has the speed to get deep, he’s mostly a midrange receiver who’s scores come in bunches, getting into the end zone twice against Idaho, Ball State and Eastern Michigan.

    8. WR/KR Darius Phillips, Soph.
    The 5-10, 179-pound receiver came up with a good season for the passing game, catching 32 passes for 479 yards and two touchdowns, but he made his mark as a kickoff returner, averaging 26.4 yards per try and highlighted by a kick-six against Eastern Michigan. Extremely quick and with decent hands, he showed what he could do for the offense against Toledo, making ten grabs for 121 yards and a touchdowns, but mostly he’s been a complementary receiver – he needs the ball in his hands more.

    9. LB Grant DePalma, Sr.
    Very small for a tough linebacker, but very active, the 5-9, 218-pound senior came up with 101 tackles on the year with 2.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. A walk-on, he’s too small, not quite athletic enough, and doesn’t look the part, but he’s a terror when it comes to coming up with a stop, making ten tackles in three of his first four games, and coming up with 12 against Ohio. Smart, he’s excellent at getting around the ball.

    10. P.J. Schroeder, Sr.

    The veteran kicker might be the best in the MAC this year if he can improve just a wee bit more on his average. As is, he’s not bad coming up with 42.8 yards per kick with 20 of his 58 boots put inside the 20 with a mere two touchbacks. He doesn’t have a huge leg, but he’s rock-solid and consistent.

    Head Coach: P.J. Fleck
    3rd year: 9-16
    Schedule
    Sept. 4 Michigan State
    Sept. 12 at Ga Southern
    Sept. 19 Murray State
    Sept. 26 at Ohio State
    Oct. 3 OPEN DATE
    Oct. 10 Central Michigan
    Oct. 17 at Ohio
    Oct. 24 Miami Univ.
    Oct. 29 at Eastern Mich
    Nov. 5 Ball State
    Nov. 11 Bowling Green
    Nov. 18 at No Illinois
    Nov. 27 at Toledo
    Ten Best WMU Players
    1. RB Jarvion Franklin, Soph.
    2. WR Corey Davis, Jr.
    3. QB Zach Terrell, Jr.
    4. OT Willie Beavers, Sr.
    5. CB Ronald Zamort, Sr.
    6. OG James Kristof, Sr.
    7. WR Daniel Braverman, Jr.
    8. WR/KR Darius Phillips, Soph.
    9. LB Grant DePalma, Sr.
    10. P.J. Schroeder, Sr.

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