Scouting Report: Western Michigan

If you're getting tired of watching Northwestern take on teams with new head coaches, that's too bad. For the third week in a row, the Wildcats will face off with a team under new leadership in the Western Michigan Broncos, a winless squad looking to rebound off a loss to a FCS team. Sylvan Lane explains what we can expect to see from WMU in this week's opponent preview.

When you lose to Nicholls State, you know you're in a little bit of trouble.

That's what Western Michigan did last week, falling 27-23 to an FCS team that's gone 1-10 for two straight years and got decimated by the Oregon Ducks 66-3. The loss is all the more puzzling after the Broncos held their own against Michigan State the week before, falling 26-13 in East Lansing.

Righting the Broncos falls on the shoulders of new head coach P.J. Fleck, who is the youngest FBS coach at 33 years old. Fleck, a wide receiver at Northern Illinois from 1999 to 2003 and the San Francisco 49ers from 2004 to 2005, coached receivers at Rutgers, NIU and most recently for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before taking the helm at WMU this season.

WMU is a hard team to pin down. The Broncos have been on the cusp of consistent relevance in the BCS picture for the past decade or so. They earned three bowl berths in 2006, 2007 and 2011, but are coming off a 4-8 (2-6 MAC) season that started with a 3-3 record and ended with 1-5 freefall.

The road to rebounding runs along the shores of Lake Michigan and up through Evanston for WMU, but that's where the road gets awfully rocky.

On offense

The Bronco offense, led by senior quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen and running backs Dareyon Chance and Brian Fields, has actually done a decent job moving the ball down the field. WMU has averaged 344.5 yards per game—2.5 yards fewer than Syracuse.

So why have they only averaged 18 points per game, especially after playing Nicholls State? Well, Van Tubbergen only completes 47.6 percent of his passes, has failed to score a touchdown and has thrown four interceptions. To put it bluntly, it takes a lot of effort to get the ball down the field, and when the Broncos do, it doesn't necessarily mean anything will happen.

Even so, the Broncos have several weapons that could pose problems for the Wildcats. Freshman receiver Corey Davis—a high school teammate of Northwestern superback Dan Vitale—has become a favorite target so far, with 16 catches for 212 yards and two touchdowns via backup quarterback Zach Terrell. Chase and Fields may also turn some heads Saturday, with the former averaging 5.1 yards per carry and the latter having scored three touchdowns.

On defense

When WMU played Michigan State, the Broncos were able to hold the highly ineffective Spartan passing attack to 116 yards and a 45.9 percent completion rate. But when WMU played Nicholls State, they allowed 225 yards through the air and a 55.6 percentage. That, coupled with the average of 201.5 yards the Broncos allow on the ground bodes well for a Northwestern offense that averages 544.5 total yards per game so far, with 206 rushing yards against a Syracuse defense that barely allowed 50 rushing yards in its first game against Penn State.

So if the Broncos have allowed an average 372 yards per game to a Big Ten team with a lackluster offense and an FCS team that's won five games in three years, something tells me Northwestern won't have much trouble exceeding that.

In summary

Western Michigan may soon find some consistent success in the MAC, but it's going to be hard to find in Evanston this weekend. Eighteen points per game isn't going to cut it against a team came within a touchdown of tripling that the week before, and the Bronco defense sure isn't going to help that cause. Northwestern should easily keep its perfect record.

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