Missing in Action

Saturday afternoon the Western Michigan University Broncos extended their losing streak to 6 games with their 38-59 loss to the Northern Illinois University Huskies. The loss marked the third time this season the Broncos have given up more than 50 points in a game.

Looking at the Broncos stats, first someone would tend to believe the Broncos came out on top. Considering the Broncos finished with 494 total yards (290 passing, 204 rushing), 5 touchdowns and an edge in time of possession (33:38 to 26:32) it's hard to believe they would not be victorious.

However, since there are two sides in football, glancing at the Huskies stats makes it all too apparent who won the game. Two weeks ago the Toledo Rockets put up 649 total yards against the Broncos which at that time was a school record for Western Michigan to surrender. The Broncos broke that record by allowing the Huskies to gain 652 total yards (265 rushing, 387 passing). Also the 8 touchdowns (2 rushing, 6 passing) and Chris Nendick's 28 yard field goal late in the fourth quarter gave the Huskies the most points they have ever scored against the Broncos.

If there was any indication on how the game was going to go it would have to be the first play of the game. Following Nate Meyer's kickoff for the Broncos the Huskies scored on that first play when Garrett Wolfe broke through the Broncos defense and found himself in the end zone 78 yards later. Wolfe would finish the game with 191 yards rushing to lead all rushers. He averaged 9.3 yards per carry on just 20 carries.

Quarterbacks Josh Haldi and Phil Horvath combined to complete 17 passes on 25 attempts for 387 yards. Haldi threw for 333 yards. Two of his targets, Dan Sheldon and Brad Cieslack combined to catch 10 passes for 324 yards. Sheldon alone caught 6 passes for 213 yards and 3 touchdowns.

The one common denominator amongst the Huskies rushing and passing game was the Broncos defense's inability to stop the Huskies. In 1999 and 2000 the Broncos defense was one of the best in the country. 5 years later the Broncos heading into Saturday's game ranked 103 in total defense. Not including the 652 yards they gave up to the Huskies the Broncos have given up 2,616 yards at an average of 6.2 yards per play. The 30 touchdowns surrendered before Saturday's game was just 7 away from being the most given up in the country.

What has happened to the Broncos defense? That is the one common question that is being asked. Could it be the fact that they have gone no more than 3 years without having a new defensive coordinator? First year coordinator J.C. Harper has seen his defense go from shutting out Tennessee-Martin to allowing scores of 63, 30, 41, 59, 35 and 59. That totals up to 287 points given up this season. In the Broncos 6 losses they are giving up an average of 47.83 points per game.

Could the problem lie in recruiting in the 2001 and 2002 recruiting seasons? It seems as if the Broncos have been stuck with playing underclassmen to offset the loss of some of the best defensemen the school has seen in a long time. With the departure of Jason Babin this season, Jack Gitler automatically took on the role of anchoring the Broncos defensive line. In Saturday's game Gitler recorded only two tackles. Freshman Scooter McIntosh led all Bronco defensemen with 11 tackles.

The Broncos defense recorded no sacks and no turnovers on Saturday. But, despite the problems on defense the team has not given up and on Saturday afternoon they continued to fight but came up short and with the loss to the Huskies they were guaranteed their fourth straight losing season. The last time the Broncos had a winning season was when they had one of the best defenses in the country and competed for their second consecutive season in the MAC Championship.

Next week the Broncos (1-6-0, 0-4 MAC) seek to end their current losing streak against the Central Michigan University Chippewas (2-5-0, 1-3 MAC). The challenge for the Broncos is to create a winning streak at Kelly Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant. Two seasons ago the Broncos won in Mt. Pleasant for the first time since the early seventies a win on Saturday will give them a two game winning streak after an almost 30 game losing streak.

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