7 things to know about the undefeated Western Michigan Broncos
In case you hadn’t realized yet, it’s time to take the Broncos seriously. Due to Boise State’s loss to Wyoming, Western Michigan now has the inside track to earn the New Year’s Six bowl berth given to the highest-seeded Group of Five team. P.J. Fleck’s squad remains the only undefeated team in college football besides the powerhouses of Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Washington.
If they continue to row the boat in November with the same intensity they have been doing so far, the Broncos could achieve the program’s greatest feat this season. With Western Michigan opening midweek #MACtion against Ball State tonight, here’s what you need to know about the Broncos:
1. They have the best wide receiver in the nation
If you watch college football you’ve probably already heard about Corey Davis, Western Michigan’s star wide receiver. Davis is expected to be the next great wide receiver drafted from the MAC following in the footsteps of former Central Michigan player Antonio Brown. This is not based on potential or one good season, as Davis graded among the top 10 wide receivers in college football in both 2014 and 2015. While the number of passes going his way this season reduced from last year, Davis is still tied for the second-most touchdown receptions in 2016 with 11. It is hard to put a finger on what makes Davis so special because he does so many things extremely well. He can be used as a deep target just as much as he can turn a screen pass into a large gain and can separate from nearly any defender in the nation due to his smooth route running. He’s also making a habit of putting both feet down on sideline receptions, like in the play below, preparing for the transition to the NFL.
2. Zach Terrell avoids making costly mistakes
Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell is having a spectacularly effective campaign as he is a perfect game manager for Western Michigan, in the positive sense of the term. While Terrell does not have a lot of flashy plays, he trusts his playmakers and sets them up nicely to gain yards after the catch and does just enough to move the chains. Furthermore, he has only one interception on the season. However, he’s had some interception luck this season since he’s had just as many turnover-worthy throws as big-time throws (the best passes in Pro Football Focus’ grading scale) with nine of each. He is especially lethal on intermediate throws, as he has a completion percentage of 65.4 percent on passes targeted between 10 and 19 yards from the line of scrimmage and has thrown for 10 touchdowns on these attempts without turning the ball over once.
3. The passing game consists of more than just Terrell and Davis
As much as people talk about Davis and Terrell, there are other key contributors to the passing game on the Broncos offense. Wide receivers Michael Henry and Carrington Thompson have emerged this season and prove to be perfect complements to Davis. Furthermore, Thompson seems to be carving out an even bigger role for himself as he’s had 257 receiving yards and two touchdowns in Western Michigan’s past two games and also made the Group of Five Team of the Week in Week 8. The fact that teams cannot focus on just taking away Davis makes Western Michigan’s offense even more dangerous and surely causes sleepless nights for opposing defensive coordinators.
4. Jarvion Franklin is getting hot at the right time
Franklin has quietly become one of the most consistent running backs in the month of October having rushed for more than 100 yards in all four games. The junior running back is now ranked ninth in the nation with 902 yards and has less carries than all but two players ahead of him. Franklin is able to gain extra yards further to what the offensive line provides him as exactly 50 percent of his 692 yards in October came after contact and he also broke 14 tackles in those four games. The highlight of the Broncos running back’s season came in Week 6 against Norther Illinois when he broke the school record with 278 rushing yards, averaged 3.8 yards after contact and broke seven tackles. It has been getting harder and harder to bring Franklin down and it will surely not get any easier on the cold November nights of midweek MAC games.
5. The offensive line is playing at a very high level
Western Michigan’s offensive line is among the best in the nation in both run blocking and pass protection and ranks fourth in the nation as a unit. The Broncos are seventh in the nation in pass blocking efficiency as they have allowed only 28 total pressures on 241 pass plays. While in some cases, including a few of the teams that rank ahead of them, this may be due to a quarterback getting rid of the ball quickly, Zach Terrell has only the 39th-quickest average time to throw in college football with 2.60 seconds. Consequently, in this case it is not the scheme or the quarterback that makes the offensive line look good, but the linemen themselves. In addition, the unit, anchored by the best tackle from the Group of Five in Taylor Moton, ranks sixth in the nation in run blocking grades.
6. Their defense is making plays as a unit
When you hear about Western Michigan players they probably mention Corey Davis or one of the other offensive players, despite the fact that the Broncos have allowed the fewest points in the MAC this season and surrender only 19.2 points per game. That is because while Western Michigan has only a few outstanding individual performers on the defense – including one who is highlighted below – the unit is playing disciplined football as a team and they do not have a weak link. As a result, the Broncos defense does not have a single player who played more than 100 snaps and has a lower overall grade than 60.0 on the season.
Furthermore, they are one of the most disciplined defenses in the nation, which is highlighted by the remarkable job they have been doing in tackling. Defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham’s unit averages only five missed tackles per game, which is tied with Ohio State and Florida for the fourth-best ratio in the nation behind only Michigan, Alabama and Boston College. In addition, despite playing with the lead and opponents being forced to attempt deep passes against them, the Broncos defense has been limiting the big plays very well. The unit allowed only 30 plays that went for 20 yards or more, which is tied for second in the MAC behind only Miami’s 29.
7. They have an edge rusher that can decide games
With teams passing more and more, a disruptive edge rusher is more important than ever — take only last year’s Super Bowl as proof for that. Fortunately for the Broncos, one of their outstanding defensive players is just that in edge defender Keion Adams. He had been a contributor on the Western Michigan defense in previous seasons too, but Adams has taken his game to a new level this season. As a result, he already has more total pressures than he had in 2015 and ranks eighth among edge defenders in the Group of Five in pass rushing grades. However, Adams’ October form might be a cause for concern for the Broncos as he recorded 14 of his 21 defensive stops and 15 of his 27 total pressures in September, but Western Michigan hopes he can bounce back for the final stretch of the season.