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November 14, 2013

Behind Enemy Lines: Western Michigan

In preparation for Saturday's Central Michigan-Western Michigan game in Kalamazoo, ChippewaCountry caught up with David James, Publisher of BroncoBlitz, our sister site that covers Western Michigan athletics. Here are his answers to the seven questions we asked about this year's edition of the CMU-WMU rivalry.

P.J. Fleck seemed to make a lot of noise before the season began, but the Broncos have really struggled this season, going 1-9 and 1-5 in the conference. What has the reaction of the WMU fan base been to this season?

Obviously the fan base is a bit restless and, as any MAC follower knows if they've been through a bad season, it's pretty apathetic. There's a segment of WMU fans that are calling for Fleck's head already, but it's more of the vocal message board type of crowd and probably not an accurate cross-section that I'd put any stock into. In any case, the season is what it is and I'd imagine that a win in a big rivalry game would take a lot of the edge off for the fan base at large.

Is Fleck already on the hot seat? If not, what does he have to do in his last two games of this season, the offseason and next year to avoid putting himself under more pressure?

Fleck can certainly put this season way in the rear-view mirror if he goes out and wins in year two and beyond, as hard as that might be for some to envision. I highly doubt he's on any kind of hot seat in year one. It's pretty easy, and probably not entirely inaccurate, to chalk a lot of this team's struggles up to youth and inexperience. Now if the Broncos are still making lots of mental errors and losing games left and right one year from now, we'll revisit the subject.

What is Tyler Van Tubbergen's status for Saturday? Is Zach Terrell the starting quarterback even if Van Tubbergen is healthy?

It's not entirely clear whether Van Tubbergen's shoulder is completely healthy, but my guess is he'd be playing right now if he were the more effective of the two quarterbacks. The fact of the matter is that Terrell has performed better and put up significantly better stats. Now, he's had a couple of weaker defenses in recent weeks, but remember that Terrell's numbers do include about half of the Michigan State and Iowa games as well as a game against a top MAC defense in Buffalo. Van Tubbergen also got the Nicholls game, so it's not entirely quality of competition.

That said, it wouldn't surprise me to see Van Tubbergen make an appearance considering Saturday is WMU's Senior Day. Expect Terrell to get a large majority of snaps though.

How much of surprise has Corey Davis been to the coaches and the media? Was there any kind of preseason hype surrounding Davis?

He obviously didn't have a lot of hype surrounding his recruitment, as I'm sure you guys are aware. If you'd have told me last February that he'd be far and away the best receiver on the team all year, I'd have said you were nuts. But then, that should have included Jaime Wilson.

Davis didn't come completely out of nowhere, though, as Fleck was quick to point out to the media throughout fall camp that he was the most impressive wideout on the team. He got rewarded from the start with the number one spot going into the MSU game, and the rest is history.

What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of this WMU team?

Probably the single biggest strength is the talent and, to some degree, depth in the secondary, although it's still a struggle sometimes as WMU has such a lack of a pass rush that they can still be exploited at times through the air. There are some playmakers at the skill positions, too. Both [dDareyon Chance[/db] and Brian Fields are shifty backs and obviously Terrell and Davis have built a rapport in the passing game.

Much like the defense though, the offensive line's struggles have mostly overshadowed what good things the Broncos can put together on offense. Whether it's poorly timed holding penalties or simply a lack of room to maneuver for the backs, the line is not consistently doing its job. They say games are won in the trenches, and that idea has held up on both sides of the ball for WMU.

Both teams have struggled this season. Has that dimmed the excitement for this game in Kalamazoo?

Yes, undoubtedly, but it's not easy for me to gauge exactly how much. I'm actually kind of anxious to see what kind of student crowd shows up, because history tells us that the students turn out for this game regardless of the context surrounding it. So while it's hard to imagine them getting too fired up for a 1-9 team even against CMU, I also hardly expect a ghost town at least on that side of the stadium.

I don't think you have to look too much further than last year's game in Mount Pleasant to get an idea of what the atmosphere will be. The students turn out for the rivalry and there's a larger-than-normal traveling group for an away MAC game, but the general public's attendance will likely be lackluster. It'll still be a charged atmosphere, but not what we're used to in this game when both teams are playing well.

What's your early prediction for the game?

I honestly haven't come up with a score yet. At this point I'm expecting a close game simply because that's what we've seen in this series almost no matter what, and while CMU is certainly the better team, they're not good enough to be an overwhelming favorite.

I have to lean towards Central winning at this point simply because their running game is competent enough to keep pounding away at WMU's defensive line, and the lack of skilled depth in that unit has been the Broncos' achilles heel all season.

Stick to ChippewaCountry for the latest in CMU athletics and recruiting

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