Brown & Gold game
: Noon, Saturday, April 17
: Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo
: Donation of canned goods
: Bronco Insider at WMUBroncos.com
: 5-7, 4-4 MAC West
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
1) Finding replacements — The Broncos have to find a way to replace not only record-setting quarterback Tim Hiller, who broke or tied all of Western's passing records, but his backfield mate, Brandon West, a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher. So far, it looks like sophomore Alex Carder has the leg up to replace Hiller, while Aaron Winchester is the favorite to replace West. The offense wasn't the problem for the Broncos last year, and those two — or whomever else steps in — need to keep it that way.
2) Shore up the defense — Just one year into his five-year contract extension, WMU coach Bill Cubit had to clean house on the defensive side of the ball after the Broncos ranked 101st in the country. Coordinator Steve Morrison and his staff were fired, replaced by Hofstra DC Dave Cohen, whose troops had performed admirably in a 24-10 loss to Western at Waldo last year. The all-new defensive staff also includes former Spartan DB Amp Campbell. The staff will have to craft a new defensive mentality for a group of players who were demoralized by last season's end. It should help that the Broncos welcome in their most heralded group of DB recruits since the E.J. Biggers/Louis Delmas class in 2005.
3) Find balance again — Just once in the Cubit era (2007), the Broncos failed to have a 1,000-yard rusher. West topped the plateau last year, but the coach admitted that the Broncos were a little too pass-happy last year, relying too much on the likely NFL-bound arm of Hiller. Look for the Broncos to go back to basics this year.
: Spring game
: 5 p.m., Saturday, April 17
: Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Mount Pleasant
: 12-2, 8-0 MAC West, GMAC Bowl champs, No. 23 in AP poll
: Morning Sun coverage here
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
1) Finding replacements — Dan LeFevour, Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson were three of the most accomplished offensive players in Mid-American Conference history, and all three are now gone. Of the players in line to replace LeFevour, only sophomore Ryan Radcliff has attempted a pass for CMU. Considering the Chippewas' conversion to a more pro-style offense under new coach Dan Enos, replacing the two record-setting wideouts may be a bit simpler. Kito Poblah and Cody Wilson (Rochester Adams) are the top two returning pass-catchers.
2) Adjusting to a new system — Even with a subtle tweak, going from a more pass-happy to a more option-oriented attack, the Chippewas have been primarily a spread team through their last two coaches. Players insist that the plays under Enos are largely the same — just with different terminology — but there's still the matter of making the transition to a more power run game, with linemen in three-point stances, and the quarterback under center. Tight end David Blackburn was on the field about 20 percent of the time last year, but will be on close to 80 percent of the snaps under Enos.
3) Overcoming youth on defense — With the offense in transition, it'll be up to the defense to keep the Chippewas in games. Led by star linebackers Nick Bellore and Matt Berning, the defense still has a solid core of last year's championship unit. The challenge will be mixing in the younger players on the line and in the secondary without much of a drop off. The backfield lost four key contributors, while there is just one senior and one junior among the defensive linemen.
: Spring game
: 2 p.m., Sunday, April 18
: Rynearson Stadium, Ypsilanti
: 0-12, 0-8 MAC West
: WTKA-AM (1050).
THINGS TO WATCH:
1) Getting back to competitive — The Eagles won Jeff Genyk's last game as coach two seasons ago, but dropped all 12 of their games last year, under first-year coach Ron English. There were some near-misses — like a last-second loss to Northwestern on a late field goal — but the Eagles lost seven games by more than three touchdowns, and gave up 459 points. Even English admitted that the Eagles didn't play very hard last year.
2) Shoring up the defense — The Eagles did rank tops in the nation in one statistical category — pass defense — but that was only because they couldn't stop anybody's run game, giving up 277 yards per game on the ground. Just one season into his tenure, the defensive-minded English turned over seven bodies on his staff, including most of the defensive crew. Phil Snow is the new defensive coordinator.
3) Older and wiser — The Eagles were simply undermanned at times last year, when they had to use 25 first-time players, including nine true freshmen. One of the youngsters thrown into the fire was quarterback Alex Gillett, who started three times after senior Andy Schmitt went down with a knee injury. He comes into the spring in a battle with giant-sized redshirt freshman Devontae Payne.
Labels: CMU Chippewas, Dan LeFevour, EMU Eagles, Tim Hiller, WMU Broncos