The Debrief: Week One

CHAMPAIGN - IlliniPlaybook takes an in-depth look at Western Michigan.

Western Michigan Broncos
Sept. 1 – 11 a.m. – ESPNU – Champaign, Ill.
Location: Kalamazoo, Mich.
Conference: Mid-American Conference (Western Division)
Head Coach: Bill Cubit (Eighth Season) – 47-39 record at WMU
2011 Record: 7-6
Series: Illinois leads 3-1
The last time: Troy Pollard and then-freshman Donovonn Young each rushed for over 100 yards as the Illini edged the Broncos 23-20 on 2011.

Of note: Coach Tim Beckman's Toledo squad beat WMU 66-63 last season in one of the most exciting college games of the season.

"You knew right away that they were capable and we were capable of moving and scoring some points," Beckman said. "You know, we were on our heels quite a bit defensively with some new starters in there. … You knew right away that it was going to be one of those football games and you just wanted to make sure you had the ball last."

Offensive Overview

The Broncos averaged over 35 points per game last season thanks to a wide-open passing attack. The team averaged 337 passing yards per game, which ranked eighth nationally.

Key loss: Wide receiver Jordan White. Now with the New York Jets, White caught 140 passes (No, that's not a typo) for 1,911 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011.

This season, the Broncos return seven offensive starters, including…

Player to watch: Quarterback Alex Carder – Senior -

Carder put together quite a year in 2011. He completed 27 passes a game, finishing with 3,873 yards and 31 touchdowns. Now a senior, Carder returns for his third season as the starter. With 33 games played to this point in his career, Carder is the unquestioned leader of the team and offense.

What they said about Carder…

WMU coach Bill Cubit: "I think he's always been a leader," Cubit said. "I think he's more of a leader this year. I think he understands the offense. The offense really slows down, I notice, in our progression of quarterbacks in (their) last year.

"He's got a new cast of characters out there, but I love the way he's handled it. It's not all about me and you've got to give him the spot. It's all about the team. I think he's playing better then he has all of last year. I think he's doing some things that will leave you feeling, wow, that was pretty impressive. He's going to really have to play well for us to win."

Illinois coach Tim Beckman: "He's a very, very good quarterback. He can play at probably anywhere. He's a very, very, very good quarterback. We've got to control him. That's the biggest thing. We did not do that at Toledo. … He's a good football player. We're got to be able to control the underneath passing attack."

What they said about the WMU offense…

Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence: "It's tough because they pass the ball so fast. Sometimes you can't engage the line because you're already turning and running to the ball. What our corners have to do is pat the ball for about three or four seconds and give us an opportunity to flush (Carder) out of the pocket and get off our blocks. Throwing the ball 50 and 60 times is great, but it's tough on us up front.

"That's the thing, we can't start panicking. We can't start doing things we don't do. If they get a first down here and there, we've just got to get ready for the next play and move on. We can't get frustrated."

Defensive Overview

As exciting as the WMU offense was in 2011, difficulties on defense helped fuel wide open contests with scores reaching ridiculous levels. The Broncos ranked 99th in the country in total defense, allowing 434 yards and over 28 points per game.

This season the team is changing to a 3-3 stack in an attempt to use speed and depth in the secondary to it's advantage.

WMU LB Paul Hazel tackles Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase in last year's game.
Key loss: Defensive tackle Drew Nowak, who was named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.

The Broncos return nine starters on defense, including…

Player to watch: Linebacker Paul Hazel - Senior - 6-5, 218 pounds

Hazel tied a program record for games played (50) in a career during the 2011 season. He has 84 total tackles and 13.5 sacks in his career.

Player to watch: Defensive end Freddie Bishop – Senior – 6-3, 253

Bishop has a 26 career starts and has seen action in 36 games. Last season he posted 51 total tackles and 5.5 sacks.

What they said…

Illinois co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty: "They've got nine starters back… The defensive line is a strength for them. The linebackers are all pretty much back. They've got quite a few guys, and the secondary is deep.

For us it's about adjusting and adjusting to the speed to the game. We know last year was a dogfight and we know it will be this year, too."

Special Teams Overview

The Broncos were essentially a middle of the road team when it came to special teams in 2011.

Check the rankings: Punt return (44th nationally), kick return (46th), punting (55th). The team didn't score a touchdown on special teams and gave up one kickoff score.

WMU must also replace kicker John Potter, who is now with the Buffalo Bills. Potter was 16 of 22 on field goals last season.

2012 Schedule
Sept. 1 @ Illinois
Sept. 8 Eastern Illinois
Sept. 15 @ Minnesota
Sept. 22 Connecticut
Sept. 29 Toledo
Oct. 6 UMass
Oct. 13 @ Ball State
Oct. 20 @ Kent State
Oct. 27 Northern Illinois
Nov. 3 @ Central Michigan
Nov. 10 @ Buffalo
Nov. 17 Eastern Michigan

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