"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
This is a personnel-oriented look at the season's opponents. The game-week previews will be more matchup based. Last year's stats are presented with projected starters in bold and departed players in italics.
|Western Michigan Offense 2010|
|Yards Per Game||411.67||34|
|Points Per Game||32.33||37|
|Yards Per Play||5.74||46|
|Yards Per Pass||7.22||49|
|Yards Per Rush||3.92||83|
|Playcall Distribution||1.23 Pass:Rush|
The Broncos ran a pass-heavy spread offense last year, putting the majority of the focus on QB Alex Carder and his stable of receivers. Part of the apparent balance in playcalling is a mirage, as the Broncos were one of the most-sacked teams in America, with Alex Carder and Tyler VanTubbergen going down 30 times on the year. Adjusting the playcall distribution to account for that, they're 1.42 passes per run. Their playcalling makes sense given that they were a decent team on a yards-per-pass basis, and god awful at running the rock.
Ever since Bill Cubit has been at Western Michigan, they've been a pass-heavy team, regardless of talent. Expect that to continue into 2011.
Alex Carder returns for his second season as a starter, though he's been in the program for four years (redshirted in 2008, backup in '09). It's fair to expect a bit of improvement going forward. One thing that could hinder that development? one of his top targets from last year, Juan Nunez, is out the door. He's also been hit plenty of times recently, as one of the most-sacked QBs in the nation (more about that in the OL section).
His backup, Tyler VanTubbergen, also returns. He got limited action in his redshirt freshman year. The third-stringer will be someone who has yet to throw a collegiate pass, be it a true freshman or a sophomore who hasn't seen any game action.
|Western Michigan QBs 2010|
|Western Michigan QBs Rushing 2010|
Grade: 3/5. It's fair to expect Carder to be a little better this year than he was last year, but with a depleted receiving corps, that may not show up in the box scores. He was also the team's most oft-deployed runner as well, and though he didn't put up good numbers (thanks in part to being sacked 2.5 times per game), he did lead the team in rushing TDs. He's Phil Steele's 2nd-Team All-MAC QB.
Tevin Drake was the team's leading rusher last year, despite being fifth(!) on the team in carries behind several guys who didn't get nearly his YPC. He did get enough reps that his high YPC is probably not a statistical anomaly, though his big games came against some of the worst competition on the schedule.
Aaron Winchester was the team's wholly-underwhelming workhorse last year, and it's odd to see that he got so many more carries than the other guys, considering he performed considerably worse. There could be some situational-use explanations for that, but if the offensive line was bad, it was bad for everyone, and he didn't even perform well against the dregs of the schedule.
|Western Michigan RBs 2010|
|WMU RBs Receiving 2010|
Grade: 2/5. Since everybody returns from last year, it's fair to assume this unit will perform better. I'd also imagine that the coaching staff will wise up and reduce the reps for Winchester while increasing them for Drake and Fields, who are no longer freshmen. That means more explosiveness and less... uh... ineffective player. Winchester didn't get it done last year, but kept getting the ball. The dude got 3.3 ypc against Nicholls State, for God's sake. He didn't account for a single touchdown all year! I think Fields is more built to take every-down pounding, and Drake may be more effective as a situational player (Phil Steele has pegged him as 2nd-Team all-MAC).
Last year's most prolific wide receiver will be a 6th-year senior, thanks to a medical redshirt way back in 2008. He was a Biletnikoff semifinalist last year, so Jordan White is the Real Deal. The problem is that the team's second-best receiver (immediately before a cavernous gaping hole to #2), Juan Nunez, has shuffled off after what seemed like an interminable career at WMU.
Robert Arnheim and Ansel Ponder will have to take much bigger roles in 2011, and since three tight ends with game experience are returning, might we see a bit more use of those guys?
|Western Michigan WRs 2010|
|Blake Hammond (TE)||9||113||12.56||3|
|Clark Mussman (TE)||7||98||14.00||0|
|Dallas Walker (TE)||9||58||6.44||2|
|WMU WRs Rushing 2010|
|James O'Neill (TE)||3||11||3.67||0|
|Dallas Walker (TE)||1||-2||-2.00||0|
Grade: 4/5. Jordan White was by far the team's most consistent deep threat last year, and the question becomes whether he can reprise that role without Nunez forcing the defense to respect the whole field. If Arnheim or Ponder can become consistent threats, it will open things up for the whole offense. On the other hand, neither has shown the explosiveness that Nunez brought, so it will be a tall task to fill his role. I do, howveer, expect improvement from the tight ends - maybe even enough to show off more two-tites packages. White is on Phil Steele's 1st-Team All-MAC squad, while Arnheim is on his 4th Team.
The Broncos lose three starters from last year's line, and we've already discussed its struggles from last year: couldn't run the ball and couldn't protect the passer. One of the returning players should be familiar to Michigan fans, as erstwhile Wolverine Dann O'Neill is a starter at right tackle. Left guard Anthony Parker was All-MAC in 2009, and is the other returner. The final three positions are serious question marks. JuCo transfer Tim Maka (a 25-year old who served on a Mormon mission) is expected to start at left tackle, while right guard should be manned by redshirt sophomore Terry Davisson, and Kevin Galeher should be the starting center.
Grade: 1/5. As mentioned above, the Bronco line was pitiful last year. Losing three starters isn't going to make it a whole lot better, especially when one of those losses is an All-MAC payer in left guard Phillip Swanson. Dann O'Neill and Anthony Parker are the only players on Phil Steele's All-MAC projections, a 2nd- and 3rd-teamer, respectively.
|Western Michigan Defense 2009|
|Yards Per Game||387.83||73|
|Points Per Game||23.83||52|
|Yards Per Play||5.72||74|
|Pass Yards Per Game||221.25||62|
|Yards Per Pass||7.52||88|
|Sacks Per Game||2.33||34|
|Rush Yards Per Game||166.58||76|
|Yards Per Rush||4.34||71|
Despite playing a pretty poor schedule last year, the Broncos defense didn't do a whole lot to instill fear in anyone. In fact, they were below average in just about everything except getting to the quarterback. With their top backfield demon (linebacker Dex Jones) gone, it remains to be seen whether the rest of the lineup can pick up the slack.
The other thing that Western was OK in was points per game, a product of a positive turnover margin - +0.25 per game, despite their awful O-line doing no favors on the other side - and some plain luck.
The Broncos return their top 7 contributors from last season, and these guys have plenty of experience. Edge-rusher Paul Hazel is the headliner of the bunch, but Deauntay Legrier's production could have been even better if he hadn't missed a couple games with injury. Drew Nowak holds down the middle, joined by Travonte Boles.
|Western Michigan Defensive Line 2010|
Grade: 4/5. By all expectations, this should be a solid unit, if they remain healthy. The only player lost is a role guy who only got in a handful of times last season. The Broncos were in the nation's top third in sacks and close to that in tackles for loss, and though all that production didn't come from the D-line, they were certainly an important part of it. Nowak is a 2nd-Team All-conference projection by Phil Steele, while Boles and Hazel are 3rd-teamers.
So, the Broncos play a 4-2-5 defense, given the extremely low numbers of players who accrued stats from the position last season. Mitch Zajac is a multi-year returning starter, and the obvious headliner of the group. That leaves Chris Prom and Desmond Bozeman to fight it out for the weakside spot. I'll give the nod to Prom, as he accomplished a whole lot more last year. However, Bozeman is getting a little bit of press this summer, and could pass Prom on the depth chart.
|WMU Linebackers 2010|
|Waymon Ross (DE)||2||0.5||0.5|
Grade: 2/5. It's tough to grade these guys on the same scale as LB units with three players. This unit had one obvious standout, who returns, and a ton of roleplayers. As long as Zajac (on Phil Steele's conference 2nd team) remains healthy, the cast of characters at the other spot can probably rotate without much dropoff. Losing Jones's ability to get into the backfield, however, is a huge question mark.
Western played tons of defensive backs, and these guys built up the lion's share of the stats in the 4-2-5 scheme. They lose the top two tacklers in hybrid Jamail Berry and strong safety Mario Armstrong, along with corner Damond Smith, who was a starter before getting kicked off the team. Louis Toler at corner and Doug Wiggins at one of the safety positions are the only sure starters, with sophomore Demetrius Pettway or Keith Dixson getting one of the other safety positions. By my estimation, Raheam Buxton and Johnnie Simon will be the other two starters, at corner and rover, respectively. There is only going to be one backup on the roster with any significant game experience, so this unit is light on depth.
|WMU Defensive Backs 2010|
|Louis Toler (CB)||59||1.5||0||5|
|Doug Wiggins (FS)||55||1||0||0|
|Raheam Buxton (CB)||25||0||0||1|
|Johnnie Simon (Rov)||25||0.5||0||0|
|Keith Dixson (SS)||22||0.5||0||1|
Grade: 2/5. There are a couple accomplished players returning, but when a secondary loses the top two players from a defense that couldn't stop anyone from passing last season, it's unlikely that they'll be particularly good. With limited depth, they're also an injury or two from being in deep trouble, unless there are some unknowns ready to step up.
Both of Western's starters return from last year, and both were quite good. John Potter resumes kicking duties, and Ben Armer is back as the punter.
|Western Michigan Kickers 2010|
|Western Michigan Punting 2010|
Grade: 4/5. Both specialists were good last year, and it's fair to expect more of the same in 2011, or even some improvement. They're both 2nd-team All-MAC projections by Phil Steele.