Wassink is highly fun for a pocket guy [Bryan Fuller]
[Author Note: Prior to his leave of absence Ace and I agreed I could take over his weekly film breakdown of the upcoming opponents feature with the jejune name so he could refocus on basketball. So now it's mine and no more author notes.]
The film: This was not an ideal game for this. Syracuse's defense plays soft, bend-and-usually-break Tampa 2 and gets most of its pressure from the DTs. Also WMU went down 34-7 before the 2nd quarter was half-way over, then exploded in the 3rd quarter, getting back within 6 points. Then WMU quarterback Jon Wassink threw an interception to begin the 4th quarter, Syracuse scored again, and the rest was fireworks in garbage time.
That's a little more useful than it might otherwise be, however, because Western Michigan still has that P.J. Fleck bomb-it mentality, which was on full display for the comeback. Wassink was a little back-footed to start the game but by the final drive he was flinging dimes into Hornibrook windows.
Personnel: My diagram that's sure to start arguments about Michigan's stars and shields despite those being unchanged from last year:
So many Broncos were hurt last year if OSHA wasn't the NCAA of regulatory agencies they would have been all over Tim Lester's program. Among the reanimated zombies are QB John Wassink, and X receiver Drake Harris, meaning I get to bring out my X-Files poster one last time. The running backs are not returning starters--WMU graduated the school's all-time leading rusher Jarvion Franklin--but they're experienced: RB Levante Bellamy is the tiny-ass playmaker on the team. RB Jamauri Bogan has averaged 5.7 YPC and notched 27 TDs in 459 carries since 2015, and is best described as Mike Hart but Slow. Freshman RB Chase Brown has been siphoning snaps and is hard to bring down.
The defining feature of the Broncos offense is—prepare to sigh—the best offensive line in the MAC, especially C John Keenoy and RG Luke Juriga, both of whom are likely to be drafted eventually, though Juriga plays a bit light in the run game. Syracuse didn't have much pass rush but RS sophomore LT Jaylen Moore, who replaces third-rounder Chukwuma Okorafor, is the same kind of athletic tight end convert Frey might have turned up. He'd probably start for half of the Big Ten; that's not saying much. The other side is a half-by-half rotation between RS soph RT Mark Brooks, who is tackle-shaped, guard-stiff, and "crafty" (IE dude gets away with more blatant holding and cheap shots than anyone not named Allen in East Lansing) and a multi-year starter, RT Zach Novoselsky, who got exposed a few times but did play most of that second half when WMU was trying to bomb its way back into a blowout.
The tight ends are a pair of extremes. Starting H-Back Odell Miller is more of a 270-pound fullback and lines up in the backfield. "Y" (inline) TE Giovanni Ricci is a recent wide receiver convert who's still shaped like a receiver, and blocks like one, but can't catch: he dropped all three targets that hit him on the hands and picked himself instead of his coverage a Mesh route that was thrown where he should have been.
Outside, Harris is the same guy you saw at Michigan—fades in his direction tended to fall out of his reach. The rest of their receivers are Maryland-ish, IE tiny but effective. Z receiver D'Wayne Eskridge had a career day against Syracuse's stiff, soft, Cover 2 secondary—they like to put him in the twins slot on two-TE drives where he's a dangerous slot fade merchant, but he runs good routes underneath too. Lavert Hill is going to be a whole new kind of test. Slot receiver Jayden Reed is a true freshman but already possesses a sweet nickname—"Bird"—and passed 2017 starter Keishawn Watson to such a degree that Watson, who had 374 yards and 7 TDs last year, didn't get on the field last week.
[After THE JUMP: I want to believe]