2014 CFN Preview - Western Michigan Broncos
Western Michigan QB Zach Terrell
Western Michigan QB Zach Terrell
Posted Jul 6, 2014

Preview 2014 - Was last year just the rough patch to set up for the big push going forward? It had better be. (Getty Images)

Western Michigan Broncos

Preview 2014

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-  2014 Western Michigan Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: P.J. Fleck
2nd year: 1-11
Ten Best WMU Players
1. WR Corey Davis, Soph.
2. S Justin Currie, Sr.
3. CB Donald Celiscar, Sr.
4. CB Ronald Zamort, Jr.
5. LB Austin Lewis, Soph.
6. RB Dareyon Chance, Sr.
7. QB Zach Terrell, Soph.
8. PK Andrew Haldeman, Jr.
9. OT Taylor Moton, Soph.
10. DE/LB Jarrell McKinney, Jr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Purdue
Sep. 13 at Idaho
Sep. 20 Murray State
Sep. 27 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 4 Toledo
Oct. 11 at Ball State
Oct. 18 Bowling Green
Oct. 25 Ohio
Nov. 1 at Miami Univ.
Nov. 15 Eastern Michigan
Nov. 22 at Central Michigan
Nov. 28 Northern Illinois

Was last year just the rough patch to set up for the big push going forward? It had better be.

P.J. Fleck turned 33 last year, and while he's considered a top young coaching mind, last year he and his team simply appeared to be outmatched.

Almost always a rock-solid program in the MAC chase on a yearly basis, Western Michigan needed to make a move after an ugly 4-8 2012 campaign losing five of the last six games – it was time to shake things up.

In came Fleck, and while it was a risk, it was the right time to take one with a really, really young and inexperienced team returning. The idea was to let coach, program and players to all grow together, and hope the growing pains weren't going to be that bad. But it was that bad.

The Broncos couldn't seem to do anything right, averaging just 17 points a game and scoring more than 20 just four times. The running game was nowhere to be found, the defense couldn't stop anyone's ground game, there were too many turnovers, not enough takeaways, too many penalties, too many mistakes, no third down stops, bad punting, no passing game. Poor caddying.

But a lot of that was to be expected – to a point.

2013 was supposed to be a time of transition, but instead it was a complete and utter disaster with just one win – beating lowly UMass 31-30 – with losses to Nicholls State and Eastern Michigan along the way. The highlight of the year was not getting blown away by Michigan State in the opener, and then it all went downhill.

It's not like there were a slew of close calls, either. The loss to EMU came in overtime, and there was a battle in the Central Michigan loss, but that was about it.

The defense has to work on the interior and loses several of the key tacklers in the front seven, and the offense has to come up with running back options, but the team can't be any worse, and there's a chance it could be a whole bunch better if Fleck and his staff start to find their groove. With the best recruiting class in the MAC this year, things are looking up. It just might take more time for everyone to mature.

What to watch for on offense: Can the Broncos run the ball? It's not like WMU has been Wisconsin over the years when it came to the ground attack, but generating any sort of a push up front was a problem especially when the passing game wasn't working. The Broncos failed to crack the 200-yard mark on the ground against any FBS team – and lost to Nicholls State despite rushing for a season-high 231 yards and three touchdowns – and they went an ugly eight game stretch with just three rushing scores. There wasn't any consistency and there weren't any big plays, and it killed the team's explosiveness. Four starters are back up front, and fifth-year senior Dareyon Chance is a decent back, but the coaching staff might have to get creative at times to make anyone worry about the ground attack. And on the flip side ...

What to watch for on defense: Stop … the … run. After allowing 1,862 rushing yards in 2012, the Broncos gave up 3,000 in 2013. Even with veteran tackles to clog up the interior and active linebackers with two seniors in Johnnie Simon and Mike Jones on the outside, there wasn't anything happening against anyone who tried to run the ball. The WMU run defense's best day came against UMass, allowing just 112 yards and two scores, and it just so happened to be the lone win. Northern Illinois ran at will, Toledo did whatever it wanted, and team after team rolled against a run D that allowed 200 yards or more eight times and 30 scores on the season.

The team will be far better if … the defense can find anyone who can hit a quarterback. The Broncos came up with a sad seven sacks on the season led by Travonte Boles' 1.5. Even worse, the D came up with four of those sacks in the first five games with just three in the final seven outings. This was a year after coming up with 25 sacks in a down 2012 considering the 28 the defense came up with in 2010 and 2011. The pass defense didn't really suffer stat-wise, but that was because everyone spent so much time running the ball. When passing games wanted and needed a third down conversion, it got one.

The schedule: There are the paycheck games against Purdue – but that's at home – and at Virginia Tech, but there's a chance to come away with a win at Idaho with a week off to prepare, and Murray State has to be a win. The Broncos catch a bad break by getting defending MAC champ Bowling Green from the East, along with a good Ohio team, but it's helped by facing Miami University at home. The two stars of the West – Toledo and Northern Illinois – are coming to Kalamazoo, and there's a nice run late with two home games in the last three. Overall it's a manageable schedule, but so was last year's.

Best offensive player: Sophomore WR Corey Davis. In a lost year all the way around, there was one major bright spot and hope for the future in the 6-2 sophomore who earned the honor of being the MAC Freshman of the Year. The offense has to find more playmakers to build around, and it starts with Davis after a fantastic year as the team's leading receiver. He's the unquestioned No. 1 target, and there's enough experience returning to the rest of the corps to take advantage.

Best defensive player: Senior S Justin Currie. It's a problem when the starting strong safety is leading the team in tackles, but Currie did what he needed to do for a run defense that couldn't keep anyone down in the front seven. The veteran didn't receive all-star recognition last season, but he had a better year than he did in 2012 when he earned Second Team All-MAC recognition. The secondary should be the team's biggest strength by far, and Currie its best player.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore DT Jamar Simpkins. The Broncos can't and won't be better unless the line is stronger. That means the pass rush has to start coming from the outside, and the interior has to be far, far better against the run. It starts on the nose where Travonte Boles is gone after making 60 tackles and five tackles for loss. Simpkins was the main backup last year and he brings most of the bulk up front at 277 pounds. With 21 tackles and decent quickness off the ball, it should be his middle now.

The season will be a success if … the Broncos have talent and they have a world of upside to be better in a big hurry. They also have a reasonable schedule with winnable games against Idaho, Murray State, Miami University and Eastern Michigan. If WMU can't win those four, something's wrong. They take those and come up with a win over an Ohio at home or Central Michigan on the road, and the year will be considered a huge step forward.

Key game: Nov. 22 at Central Michigan. It's one thing to have problems coming up with big wins in the MAC, but it's another for a directional Michigan school to lose to the other directional schools. Losing to Eastern Michigan last season was a problem, but this year the game is at home. Beating Central Michigan after coming close last year and winning 42-31 in 2012, especially late in the year, would be big.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: Opponents 22 for 154 yards – Western Michigan 7 for 39 yards
- Punts: Western Michigan 77 for 3,056 yards – Opponents 49 for 1,993 yards
- First Quarter Scoring: Opponents 95 – Western Michigan 19

-  2014 Western Michigan Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players