Broncos & Rockets; Winner to the MAC Championship

Our Tom Mauter takes a look at the upcoming showdown in Kalamazoo. Win and you're in the MAC Championship, lose and you're going home waiting for your Bowl game. The Broncos will look to remain undefeated on Friday against the Rockets.

Showdown in Kalamazoo

MAC West Title on the Line

Tom Mauter, staff writer, Rocket Digest, tjmauter@comcast.net

November 21, 2016

Two teams, each with a sack on the table, will be playing for all the marbles in those sacks this Friday.

Western Michigan is living the dream at 11-0, 7-0 has visions of the Cotton Bowl while the Toledo Rockets, 9-2, 6-1 have their eyes fixed on playing in the MACC game.

I know the players say last year’s game doesn’t mean anything for Friday’s contest, but I think it’s a good place to start examining how evenly matched these teams have been over the last two seasons.

Last year’s game was a 35-30 win for the Broncos on Nov. 27th played in the rain at the Glass Bowl. The Rockets out gained Western 481 to 416 yards in total offense. The Broncos rushed for 148 yards, led by Tom Flacco with 60 yards on five carries. Jarvion Franklin had seven rushes for 31 yards with Jamauri Bogan netting two yards on seven rushes and a TD.  The Rockets ran for 201 yards led by Kareen Hunt’s 139 yards on 20 carries.

Corey Davis caught half a dozen passes for 139 yards and two TDs with Daniel Braverman collecting 78 yards on four pass receptions.

BroncosTom Flacco ran for a two-point conversion on their first TD and they converted two field goals. The Rockets converted on their one field goal opportunity and missed a two-point conversion following a late fourth period TD accounting for the five point deficit.

Three other factors: a muffed punt give away near mid-field, a needless personal foul penalty derailing a drive turning a fourth and one at the WMU 41 into a third and 16 at UT’s own 44, and the immanent departure of HC Campbell. Not sure the effect of the latter, but the first two factors were huge.

Last year’s game was played in the rain. As of now, the game day forecast is cloudy with a 10% to 56% chance of, maybe snow rain in the morning, with the wind at 10 mph and gusts of 15 mph out of the South-West. Temperatures will be dropping into the mid-30s during the game. Humidity will feel like the upper 20s.

I am dollars to day old donuts sure that WMU HC PJ Fleck with have his full attention on Friday’s game.  

Broncos on Offense

The Broncos offense has been outstanding this season, tied for 11th in the nation, racking up nearly 510 yards per game. The Rockets are fifth nationally with 536.5 yards per game. That makes these two squads one and two in the MAC offensively.

The Broncos are currently number two in the country completing .711 percent of their 210 passes – Tom Flacco is zero for one passing. The Rockets sit at number five nationally with a pass completion of .697% of their 260 throws. The Rockets are second in the MAC and 15th nationally with 14.31 yards per completion. Western is fourth in the league and 25th in the country with an average of 13.83 yards per catch.

The Broncos are scoring at an average clip of 43.5 points per game, tied for fifth in the country and first in the MAC. Toledo is 16th nationally and second in league play, averaging 39.2 points a contest.

The WMU offense is very balanced gaining 2849 yards on the ground and 2890 through the air. The Rockets, by contrast, have totaled 2181 yards rushing compared with 3720 passing yardage.

Quarterback Zach Terrell is having an All-MAC season pending how Logan Woodside’s performances are viewed in toto. Logan has an edge in passing yardage and TD passes while Zach gets the nod in percent of passes completed, 71.33%, and in rushing with six touchdowns. He picks his spots to run and, while limited, has been effective. Logan has a net minus 18 running and zero touchdowns but has completed 70.1% Zach is third in the nation in pass percentage while Logan is fourth.

Terrell has a stellar cast to run and catch the ball.

Jarvion Franklin (5.5 ypr) and Jamauri Bogan (5.6 ypr) have been the best one-two punch rushing the ball in the MAC. They both run hard and fast and are difficult to bring down. They have been doing this all season.

Franklin, with a 5.5 ypr, leads the MAC with 1228 total yards and is tied for second with 10 rushing TDs. Kareem Hunt is third in the MAC with 1155 yards.

Jamauri Bogan has been nicked up a bit this year including sustaining a leg injury against Kent State. He was held out for the Nov. 19th Buffalo game. RB Davon Tucker played well as Bogan’s substitute against the Bulls picking up 45 yards on five carries. Bogan may see the field against the Rockets although he is currently listed as questionable for Friday.

The bulk of the running, even with Bogan being cleared for action, will be in the capable hands and legs of Jarvion Franklin. Franklin is the hardest running back in the MAC.

The WMU receiving corps is lead by All-MAC Corey Davis, and until recently, a top contender for the Biletnikoff Award. Davis has more touch down pass receptions (16) than any of the three finalists. He also has more pass reception yardage (1202) than finalist Austin Carr of Northwestern. Only Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook has more yards per catch than Corey. Wonder if he’ll have an oar chip on his shoulder Friday?

If you wondered how the Broncos would deal with Daniel Braverman opting for the NFL last year, look no further than Michael Henry (57 receptions, four TDs) and Carrington Thompson (29 catches, four touchdowns). Henry, in particular, runs excellent crossing patterns like Braverman did in his day.

A bonus for the receiving unit has been Jarvion Franklin with 18 catches and an average of more than 12.5 yards per catch. Notice that Kareem Hunt has been more involved in the Rockets offensive plans as a receiver?

For the Rockets, Cody Thompson is second in the MAC with 10 touchdown catches and 1126 yards on 56 receptions. Cody leads the MAC with 20.11 yards per catch, good for ninth in the nation. Jon’Vea Johnson is right behind, tenth in the country and second in the MAC, with 19.76 yards a reception. Tops in yards per catch for WMU is Carrington Thompson, averaging 17.17 yards a grab followed by Davis with an average of 16.03 yards.

The Broncos OL has allowed just a dozen sacks compared to ten for the Rockets. This unit has played as well as any OL in the MAC. Comprised of two seniors, a junior and two sophomores, they are large up front at the tackle positions. Top lineman is RT Taylor Moton (6’5”, 328#). The left side tackle is Chukwuma Okorafor (6’6”, 333#) and together they anchor the OL.

With all that is on the line for this game, one would expect a full variety of plays to be at the ready. Here’s what HC PJ Fleck had to say on the topic of trick plays:

 “I think every coach is different. It’s not here or there for us. If we find things that are going to be trick plays for us and we want to put them in, we’ll put them in.”

Okay then – guess that would be an elite comment.

What could be called elite are the halftime adjustments of Fleck, his staff and players. They have outscored opponents 107 to 40 in the third quarter and 116 to 42 in the fourth. If not elite adaptations, then certainly they are excellent and consistent corrections.

Broncos on Defense 

On the defensive side, the Broncos are statically 27th in the country and second in the MAC behind the surging RedHawks of Miami, allowing about 353 yards a contest. Toledo is giving up a bit more than 390 yards per game, sixth in the MAC. 

The Broncos have tallied 23 sacks compared to Toledo’s 20. Toledo leads in TTFL with 65 contrasted with Western’s 60.

WMU is tied for the national lead in turnover margin at plus-15. The Rockets are at minus-one.  Ball control will be vital for the Rockets’ success.

Another measure of the Broncos ability to hang onto the ball is their lack of penalties. They are second in the MAC and tied for 12th nationally with just over 4.5 flags a game. The Rockets are close to seven penalties per contest. Toledo had just four penalties against Ball State but eight in the previous game in Chicago against NIU. The Broncos has just three flags in their last outing against Buffalo.

The Broncos are ninth in the nation and first in the MAC allowing 17.7 points per game. Toledo is second in the MAC giving up 22.5 points a contest.

WMU is giving up a tad more than 198 yards per game via the pass with 13 TDs. Toledo has given up twice as many TD passes while allowing opponents to throw for an average of a bit more than 232 yards.

Against the run, the Broncos have given up 13 touchdowns and an average of just under 155 yards a game. Toledo is allowing a bit more than 158 yards on the ground and 15 rushing TDs.

Western’s line backing corps is very solid. Weak side linebacker Robert Spillane leads the Broncos in total tackles and is second in TFLs. Asantay Brown, strong side LB, is second in total tackles and has 5.5 TFL. Middle linebacker Caleb Bailey is fourth on the team in total tackles and also has 5.5 TFL.

Creating havoc on the front four is left DE Keion Adams (6’2”, 245#), a lock for All-MAC first team honors. He is sixth in total tackles, but more impressive, he leads the MAC with 15.0 TFL – John Stepic is second with 13.0 – to go with 5.5 sacks, nine QB hurries and a pair of forced fumbles.

WMU’s secondary with a senior, junior, sophomore and RS freshman, has played well too. Junior CB Darius Phillips (5’10”) leads in interceptions with three and pass breakups with eight. The freshman SS Justin Tranquill (5’11”) is third on the team in total tackles. Free safety Justin Ferguson (6’1”) is fifth in tackles and also has three INTs. Sophomore CB Sam Beal (6’1”) has seven pass break ups. Another freshman, Stefan Claiborne (6’2”), rotates in at safety.

Special Teams

WMU has a net yards punting of 40.5 yards, third in the MAC. The Broncos have allowed just 33 return yards on 34 punts. Toledo is fifth with a net average of 37.21 yards. Opponents have 86 total return yards on the Rockets’ 43 punts.

The Broncos platoon punters using both senior James Coleman (41.74 ypp) and sophomore Derrick Mitchell (41.13 ypp). Mitchell has kicked off 37 times with 13 touchbacks and three out-of-bounds kicks.

WMU kickoff return team is averaging 21.5 yards per return with one TD. UT has struggled, averaging just 18.71 yards a return on kickoffs.

Place kicker Butch Hampton has made 11 of 16 field goal attempts including five of his last six.

Return specialist Darius Phillips has a 100 -yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 66-yard punt return for six this season. He is averaging 23.2 yards on kick off returns and 11.14 yards returning punts.

Phillips is even more dangerous picking off passes as he is averaging 76.67 yards per interception, scoring a TD on each of his three INTs scoring a total of 30 points on returns and INTs.

Players To Watch:

#4 Darius Phillips both in the secondary and on special teams; when he gets his hands on the ball, the Broncos tend to get points

#1 Keion Adams left defensive end; Rockets need to keep him away from making Logan Woodside’s life miserable

#11 Zach Terrell and how he handles pressure from the Rockets defense; while he has thrown just one INT this season, he has thrown into coverage several times where the ball bounced off of defenders hands

#23 Austin Guido, on Western’s special teams coverage

What to Look For: 

  • ·      Rockets punt return game to be limited by the Broncos special team coverage
  • ·      Broncos to have the advantage in field-position when starting offensive drives
  • ·      Franklin vs Hunt in both rushing and passing yardage; should be a battle royal
  • ·      Terrell to go deep to Davis on the first offensive series
  • ·      The UT offensive line blocking schemes employed against WMU left DE #1
  • ·      WMU utilizing mostly their line backers on blitz packages
  • ·      Broncos to employ mainly man-to-man coverage on Rocket receivers
  • ·      Both quarter backs to be sacked
  • ·      Hard hitting on kick coverage from both teams
  • ·      Rockets to employee two game plans, one for each half, to counter Western’s ability to change schemes at half time
  • ·      Rockets special teams to have #4 Phillips in their sights at all times

 

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Game Broadcast: ESPN2 with kickoff Friday at 5:00 PM (ET)

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