First-year Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck came out of spring ball believing his Broncos were headed in the right direction. And then they stumbled into a hornets’ nest.
Standout wide receiver Jamie Wilson suffered an ankle fracture in training camp. Injuries began to fell other starters like dominoes. It was more of the same as the Broncos went to 0-6 with Saturday’s 47-20 loss at Toledo as senior quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen rejoined the wounded list, He’s questionable for Saturday’s game against the University at Buffalo in Kalamazoo.
“He’s in a sling and he has ice on his shoulder,” Fleck said on Monday’s Mid-American Conference coaches teleconference. “That’s pretty much all I know right now. We’re going to get some tests done today and we’ll see where he is.”
There’s an unmistakeable exasperation in Fleck’s voice these days. The Broncos opened the season with a respectable showing in a 26-13 loss at Michigan State. But they came out of that game banged up, and the injury situation has grown progressively worse, as have the results. Western lost its second start to FCS Nicholls State, 27-23. That’s been followed by four straight losses of 18 points or more
“You have a team that’s coming off a 4-8 season that’s lost 15 basically starters when you kind of look at who we started and who they started from a year ago,” Fleck said. “A lot of young kids, a lot of inexperienced kids, and a lot of kids haven’t played a ton of football here. But like I said, no excuses, it just is what it is, but … the lack of depth is killing us right now.”
Western’s offense got a lift against Toledo when true freshman wide receiver Corey Davis returned from a one-game injury absence to catch five passes for 77 yards. He has 28 catches and a 14.7 average.
“He provides a wonderful spark,” Fleck said. “He’s one of the only playmakers that we have. When he was out we really sputtered on offense. Being a true freshman he’s still learning the position. He’s still learning to play at this level. But he’s doing a tremendous job and really happy have him back in the lineup.”
Van Tubbergen is backed up by redshirt freshman Zach Terrell, who was pressed into action against Michigan State and responded by throwing his first collegiate pass 15 yards for a touchdown. On the year Terrell is 24 of 47 for 325 yards and two touchdowns and three interceptions. But no matter who’s at quarterback Fleck sees UB as a tall order, especially now that running back Branden Oliver has found his stride.
“Coach Quinn, I have a ton of respect for,” Fleck said. “He’s one of the better coaches I think that’s in the league, I eally do. I think he’s a phenomenal football mind, he’s a great person, and when you look at defensive schemes he does a tremendous job of creating some type of confusion.
“Offensively, they got a heck of a tailback and a heck of a receiver and … their quarterback’s come along strong. But that little tailback, he reminds me of a Ray Rice-type guy when we were at Rutgers. He is that good. He’s explosive, he’s fast, he’s quick, he makes people miss, he can make the second level miss. But he’s very, very strong. They’ve really come on strong here in the last few weeks, put up a ton of points, and I think they’re starting to get into a rhythm.”
Change in Miami
As high-powered Baylor rolled against West Virginia Saturday night someone tweeted that the Bears had scored more points in the first half (56) than Miami (Ohio) had all (44). That helps explain why, on Sunda the RedHawks dismissed third-year coach Don Treadwell and offensive coordinator John Klacik and named Mike Bath interim head coach. Bath was quarterbacks/wide receivers coach and, like Treadwell, an alumnus of Miami.
“Within the last 27, 28 hours it’s just been a whirlwind,” Bath said Monday morning. “It’s been exciting. It’s been humbling.
“It means a lot,” Bath said. “I’d be lying to everyone on this call to say it didn’t mean anything, or it didn’t mean much. This is my alma mater and I care a lot about this place and this place has such a beautiful, great, hardened, awesome tradition, and everyone here knows that. It’s disappointing where this program is at today but it’s exciting to be the person put in charge here for the remainder of the season and to take it one day at a time and put this program back on the path where it needs to be.”
UB plays at Miami on Nov. 19.
Make it three MAC East player-of-the-week awards in eight days for UB after honors announced on Monday.
East: Offense — UB running back Branden Oliver, who went for 150 yards and two touchdowns against Eastern Michigan. Defense — Ohio University safety Thad Ingol returned a fumble for a TD and set up another score against Miami with a 34-yard interception return. Special teams — Kent speedster Dri Archer returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in a loss to Northern Illinois.
West: Offense — Northern Illinois running back Cameron Stingily rambled for 266 yards and two TDs on 37 carries against Kent. Defense — Ball State DE Jonathan Newsome had four tackles and two sacks as the Cardinals kept rolling by thwacking Virginia. Special teams — Toledo kicker Jeremiah Detmer made two field goals and seven touchbacks on nine kickoffs against Western Michigan.
UB’s Devin Campbell was named National Kickoff Returner of the Week by College Football Performance Awards. His 96-yarder against Eastern Michigan was UB’s first kick-return TD since 2008 … Lockport High grad David Fluellen of Toledo leads the MAC in rushing with 846 yards after going off for 220 and two TDs against Western Michigan. It was his fourth career 200-yard game and just off his career best of 228 set last year against UB. … Kent continues its brutal crossover schedule when it plays at Ball State Saturday. A loss and the Flashes, who dropped a crossover to Northern Illinois Saturday, are virtually out of the race despite having played just one divisional game. … Northern Illinois cracked the AP poll at No. 23 and has the nation’s longest active home winning streak at 22 games. That ties the MAC record by Marshall during the Chad Pennington-Byron Leftwich years ( 1997-2000). … Ball State’s Keith Wenning and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion are the only FBS quarterbacks to pass for 300 yards in every game this season.