This week, I had the pleasure to exchange some UB Football knowledge with Patrick Nothaft at the Kalamazoo Gazette for some info on Western Michigan, this week’s opponent.
How would you evaluate the transition from PJ Fleck to Tim Lester so far? What has impressed you most about him as a coach?
Despite the 18-point margin of defeat to USC in Week 1, WMU got off to a great start and was tied with the Trojans with 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Failing to score an offensive touchdown against Michigan State was a big disappointment, but an 0-2 start to the Tim Lester era was a very real possibility. It was a bit of a bummer coming off Fleck's 13-0 2016 regular season, but the thing that has impressed me is the improvement each week since MSU.
The passing game was abysmal against USC, MSU and for much of the Idaho game, but it's coming along nicely. Throughout fall camp and the early season, Lester talked about bringing the passing game along slowly, and the recent success instills a confidence in his methods.
What's the number one thing that UB needs to have a chance at beating Western Michigan?
The teams that have shut down WMU's offense have stopped the Broncos' running game, particularly up the middle. MSU and Idaho both had massive defensive tackles that clogged up the middle and forced third-and-long situations, which the offense wasn't comfortable with at the time.
The passing game is better, but I still think the offense will struggle if it gets behind the chains.
Also, the Broncos linebackers are very fast, but undersized, so the defense is vulnerable to power run games. Starting safety Justin Tranquill tore his ACL in Week 2 against MSU, and he was the team's top run stopper in the secondary.
What does Western Michigan still need to improve on this year?
The safeties are still inexperienced, and they tend to give up some big plays in the run game, but that should improve as the season goes along.
While the passing game has been better of late, this is just the sixth start for QB Jon Wassink, and most of his receivers are in their first season. I think the timing and chemistry between the QB and WRs has a lot of room to grow.
Buffalo probably isn't changing much from their game plan on offense against Kent State. How effective are the Broncos at stopping a run-first attack?
Defending the pass is definitely the defense's strength, and it is vulnerable to a power run game that puts the WMU linebackers on their heels. If Buffalo can run the ball like it did last week, the Broncos defense will spend a lot of time on the field, and ultimately, I think the Bulls will have to do that to get a win.
Anthony Johnson seems like a good player, but WMU's Darius Phillips will be in the NFL next year and is the MAC's top cover corner.
Jon Wassink will be one of the better quarterbacks the Bulls have faced so far this season. What does he do best and what can the Bulls do to contain him?
Wassink struggled mightily in Weeks 1 and 2, and it was his running ability more than his passing that led WMU to a Week 3 win over Idaho. That said, his arm has shown dramatic improvement over the past two games, as the coaching staff has opened up the playbook more.
He has shown good command of the offense, and running a no-huddle scheme helps him because he's able to read the defense and change a play without worrying about the play clock.
The Broncos like to run a lot of short routes to get the quarterback and receivers in a rhythm, and if Buffalo has the personnel to play press coverage, that could give WMU some trouble.