Expect to hear a lot of talk about Broncos coach PJ “Row the Boat” Fleck this week. Despite currently being the youngest coach in the FBS, he already has some impressive credentials.
As a former 49ers receiver and Tampa Bay Buccaneers receivers coach, Fleck is one of three men now at the helm of a college team to have also coached and played in the NFL. (The others are South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh.)
He has been an understudy to Jerry Kill, Greg Schiano, and Jim Tressel. Brian Hartline, Ted Ginn, Jr., Brian Robiskie, Roy Hall, and Anthony Gonzalez might remember Fleck as an offensive graduate assistant with the Buckeyes in 2006.
He also has some continuity when it comes to his own coaching staff. One of the Broncos most recent additions, former Michigan running back Mike Hart, is in his second year.
However, all this has yet to pay off in the win column for Western Michigan’s head man. To be fair, the team he took over in 2013 had gone 4-8 the year before. Since then, the Broncos have a record of 10-18, including a 1-11 inaugural season and a 1-2 start this year.
It was certainly expected that they would drop their opener to Michigan State, a game in which they looked more than respectable. But what followed was what Fleck called a “royal whupping” at the hands of Georgia Southern. Spurned by that 43-17 loss, they then went on to crush FCS team Murray State 52-20. (For comparison’s sake, consider Northern Illinois beat the Racers 57-26.)
Quarterback Zach Terrell is playing in his third season with the Broncos, and his completion percentage has gone from 53 percent to nearly 68 percent to over 70 percent so far during this year’s campaign. He has thrown five picks, but he’s also tenth nationally right now with 947 passing yards.
That’s partly due to the fact that Western Michigan has quite a pair of wide receivers in Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis. Already, they have four career games where both have registered 100+ yard performances.
Braverman, with 40 catches, has 17 more receptions than any other player in America at this point. It is the 6’3″ Davis who is the deep threat averaging 17.2 yards/catch.
Despite these gaudy numbers, WMU is not really a tempo team. In fact, they are 35th in time of possession, just a few ticks over 32 minutes/game.
Sophomore running back Jarvion Franklin really didn’t find his game until last week’s 161 yard-performance. Prior to that, he’d only traveled a total of 81 yards on 25 carries. Count him out at your peril, though. He’s the first ever player to win Mid American Conference Freshman of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year in the same season. He ran for 1,551 yards and 24 touchdowns to garner those honors.
The offensive line has given up 10 sacks, as much as Penn State, and more than all but 5 FBS teams.
On defense, the Broncos are giving up a total of 413 yards/game. They only stop opponents on 48 percent of their third downs. And, despite having arguably the best secondary in the MAC a year ago, they only have one interception this year. (The team’s fastest player, Darius Phillips, who also returns kicks, not surprisingly, did return that pick for touchdown.)
Safety Asantay Brown leads the team in tackles, followed by linebacker Robert Spillane. Fellow linebacker Caleb Bailey has 3 TFLs to pace the team in that category.
They have a smallish defensive line, which may be why opponents have rushed for 224 yards/contest.
But if you want storylines, look no further than the Western Michigan specialists.
Kick returner Phillips has already run one back for a score and is averaging a 30.0 yard return. Punter J. Schroeder is a Columbus, Ohio native, who played for St. Charles, volunteers at Children’s Hospital and referees youth soccer, among other community service activities. The team also has a kick off specialist, much like OSU’s Jack Willoughby. Derrick Mitchell is a Philadelphia Phillies draft pick. He graduated high school in 2005 and, at 28, is just six years younger than his head coach.
Ohio State will be playing Western Michigan for the first time this Saturday.