In anticipation of the Bahamas Bowl between the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders and the Western Michigan Broncos, we asked Brandon Fitzsimons of the Hustle Belt five questions about the game.
1. Injuries, especially to Jarvion Franklin, really hurt the team in 2015. How healthy is the team as a whole heading into the Bahamas Bowl?
Well, Jarvion was never really "hurt". I know it seems silly that the reigning MAC Player of the Year could finish with just 699 yards and 5 scores without being injured, but it's true. His lack of agility combined with fumble concerns sorta put him in the doghouse. Combine that with the emergence of a shifty Jamauri Bogan and a speedy LeVante Bellamy, and you have a third string power back.
As for the rest of the team, season ending injuries to players like James Kristof and Justin Tranquil have hurt depth on both sides of the ball. That said, the offense is much better off than the defense, but not by much. The defense is still working on being retooled after years of incompetence during the Cubit Years, and still is prone to young mistakes. However, with time off the rest, the linebacking corps should be healthy and ready to go after dealing with nagging injuries all year long.
2. The pair of receivers, Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis, are among the best in the nation with both breaking 1,200 yards on the year. What is something about the outstanding duo that many people do not know?
Where do I start? They're both fast, with Braverman having more agility to Davis' size. They're also both deemed juniors, with Braverman redshirting after his freshman year due to injury. If Davis doesn't declare for the draft (there are rumors about where he would go and if he goes after his brother had an injury plagued senior season at CMU), then you have Zach Terrell back at QB with Braverman and Davis as his targets for a third straight year, which is just bad news for the rest of the MAC (and the non-conference opponents WMU is set to face). At this point, I'm not sure what more could be said other than they're really good and compliment each other like lamb and tuna fish (or spaghetti and meatballs, whatever).
3. The defense has struggled this season at stopping the explosive plays. What has been the biggest reason for the giving up so many plays of that variety this season?
Youth, mostly. As stated above, the linebackers have seen a slew of injuries forcing inexperienced players to get more reps than Fleck may have wanted, and the line is almost a pick-and-choose between a few players. As for the secondary, injuries have hurt depth, and players like Asantay Brown and Darius Phillips are having their ups and downs. However, when your secondary has a "down" play like Phillips getting burned deep or Brown missing a tackle, you have big plays. Phillips is in his first year as a cornerback and has shown flashes of solid play. However, he has been picked on constantly in MAC play and his inexperience is showing. That said, overall this is one of the better defenses the Broncos have fielded in years, and is one teams should fear next year with more depth.
4. P.J. Fleck's name has been thrown around quite a bit with job openings lately. How dedicated is Fleck to staying long term at Western Michigan?
I honestly think Fleck is in for the long haul. The key will be whether he stays or goes next year should he win a MAC Championship. I don't think anything less than a trip to Detroit gets him out of Kalamazoo, as he still has a career losing record (16-21) and is a disappointing 3-9 in non-conference play (Murray State twice and Idaho, so not even a good win there). I do see why he's a commodity. He's a great recruiter and has WMU on the upswing. Cubit did that as well, albeit mostly on the offensive side of the ball, and we all know where that lead to. If Fleck has a 10-win year next year, he's gone. However, I could see him possibly pulling a Chris Petersen and staying a bit longer to build up a resume and get to pick his choice of job versus trying to land a Kansas or Rutgers type of job.
5. Both teams are offensively oriented and can put up points at will. How do you see this game going? Could this game be as wild as the CMU-WKU Bahamas Bowl of 2014 or will they surprise us and play a low scoring game?
Well, WMU has some history working against them. They have the 2nd worst bowl record ever at 0-6, only a game behind fellow MAC team Ball State. That said, I honestly think this is the best match-up the Broncos have had in their 7 bowl games. When you look at their losses, it's nothing to scoff at: #3 MSU, #6 OSU, MAC Champ BGSU, MAC West Champ NIU, and Georgia Southern in Statesboro. Conversely, they have their first win over an AP Top 25 team in Toledo, soundly beat a solid Ohio team (you know, the one who gave Toledo a chance at the West title), and knocked off a solid CMU team this year as well. The rest of their games? Complete domination of lesser opponents.
The Broncos will put up points, but what I'm more intrigued to see is if Fleck can continue to use his ground game to control the clock. In that CMU game, his offense got the ball back with 8:20 to go, up 2. Central Michigan didn't get the ball back. Against Ohio, they racked up 400 yards on the ground........in the 2nd half. When the run game is clicking, this team is unstoppable because the defense is getting rest and the game is shortened. I don't think we see the pure explosion of last year's game, but I think we still crack 70 in this one (over/under is 63). Davis has three scores while Bogan goes for 100 and two more. Hopefully the defense does their part.