Western Michigan knew it had to make some changes after last year.
The Broncos had one of the worst run defenses in the country (109th nationally) and consistently leaned on their offense to bail them out of jams. Luckily for WMU, it had one of the best offenses in the country and ranked in the top 20 in both passing and scoring. While this shootout style of football fit right in with the “MACtion” followed by other teams in the conference, something had to change if the Broncos wanted to take another trip to a bowl game.
Defensive coordinator Dave Cohen hit the road and took over as linebackers coach at Rutgers, which paved the way for Rich Nagy, his longtime assistant, to take over. Nagy revamped the defensive scheme, switching to a 3-3-5 in the spring.
So far the change has been good for the Broncos. Western Michigan has allowed 153 yards per game on the ground, good for fourth in the MAC. It has also done a nice job against opposing quarterbacks and has allowed less than 300 yards per game.
Nagy’s scheme relies on the speed and athleticism of Western Michigan’s experienced secondary, while utilizing a rover position that can either drop back into coverage, defend the run or attack on a blitz. In essence, the rover is a linebacker/safety that creates an extra layer of confusion for opposing offenses.
The Broncos will pose a different type of test for the Minutemen who, until now, have gotten used to seeing a traditional four-man front.
It difficult to put a label on Johnnie Simon.
Sometimes he’s in the backfield, chasing an opposing running back. Other times he reaching up and defending a cross route.
Regardless of the situation, Simon is making the tackle.
Such is the life of a college rover.
The 6’0, 197-pound junior is naturally a safety, but in the new-and-improved Bronco defense, Simon is asked to wear many different hats. The Florida native had done well so far. Simon leads the team with 47 tackles, one for loss. He has also defended two passes. Simon will be an interesting challenge for the Minutemen, as he will give quarterback Mike Wegzyn yet another defender to keep track of when calling audibles.
While UMass fans will surely root against Simon this weekend, they should give him a respectful clap. The kid has been through a lot.
Desmond Bozeman is the real deal at middle linebacker, and Wegzyn will likely get to know him well. The 6’0, 220-pound junior has 40 tackles and an impressive four sacks so far this season. Bozeman has also forced a fumble, blocked a kick and defended a pass.
In case you needed any more convincing about this kid’s ability, Bozeman was also named the National Defensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation after terrorizing the UConn offense.
Terry Easmon mans the weakside linebacker spot and has also done a nice job getting to the backfield. Easmon has 30 tackles this year, 3.5 for loss. He has been a consistent contributor for the Broncos and was a welcome JUCO addition last spring. He has been described as a “big kid” that can “move like a safety.”
Trevor Ishmael is another kid that can play almost anywhere, but for the purposes of organization, we’ll call him an outside linebacker. During this course of this season, Ishmael has played linebacker, safety, rover and special teams for the Broncos and has accumulated 17 tackles, 3.5 for loss.
The Broncos are solid almost everywhere in the secondary, but sophomore Donald Celiscar has proven to be the best of the bunch. Celiscar, a cornerback, already has two interceptions to go along with his 39 tackles. He has also defended 11 passes and broke up nine.
Celiscar put some points on the board last weekend when he caused a safety against Toledo.
The other cornerback spot is held down by Lewis Toler, who leads the team with three interceptions. Toler and Celiscar are a top-notch duo and will be a tough test for Wegzyn and his improving receiving corps.
Justin Currie and Garrett Smith are WMU’s safeties, and have done a nice job keeping the game in front of them. Currie, who plays free safety, is second on the team in tackles with 45, while Smith has 17. Currie is a pretty big kid (6’2, 204 pounds) for a safety and from all accounts is a pretty solid tackler.
One of the biggest challenges facing the Broncos heading into this season was replacing defensive tackle Drew Nowak, the MAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Instead of replacing him, the Broncos effectively changed the way they look at the tackle position.
With a three-man front, WMU uses a nose guard and two defensive ends to get the initial push. Travonte Boles handles the nose tackle position and has done a nice job getting into the backfield. Boles has five tackles for loss this season and does a good job maneuving his big, compact frame (5’11, 290 pounds). Side Note: Boles is from Vero Beach, Fl., the same town I grew up in.
Freddie Bishop and Deauntay Legrier hold down the defensive end spots and have combined for five tackles for loss. Both of these guys are on the small side for defensive end and could probably line up as an outside linebacker. They remind me a little bit of UMass’ Stanley Andre – athletic, fast but not overpowering in the size department.
This preview was the toughest to write – mostly because it’s hard to figure out exactly how Western Michigan attacks the ball.
I think my problem will be UMass’ as well.
Western Michigan has a lot of team speed, and its different defensive style gives opposing offenses a lot to look out for. The Broncos can bring blitzes from nearly eight different positions, and each guy behind the line of scrimmage is capable of covering a tight end or receiver.
The Minutemen will need a strong push from their offensive line and hope that that the scout team has properly prepared Wegzyn and company for what is coming their way.
Western Michigan has certainly improved defensively from last year, but it still has its problems. Teams are still finding a way to run – just last weekend, Toledo’s starting back ran for more than 200 yards.
If Wegzyn can’t get anything going against the Broncos’ secondary, expect to see Mike Cox get more carries than usual. Ever since he was given the starting position, Cox has continued to improve, and this weekend may provide him an opportunity to show off his abilities.