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Western Michigan’s imperfect victory spells trouble for the MAC

Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire

The ‘Fleck Effect’ should be patented.

Western Michigan stormed into Evanston for the “body clock” opener on Saturday versus Northwestern — the 11 a.m. local-time start that ambushed the Stanford Cardinal in 2015. Looking back on it, head coach David Shaw’s Week 1 cross-country defeat at the hands of the Wildcats perhaps served as the difference between a Rose Bowl bid and a College Football Playoff invitation last season.

This time around, a new opponent was ready for the Wildcats. Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern crumbled and lost by a final score of 22-21.

Rehashing the Broncos’ play on Saturday, the team wasn’t totally in sync. Turnovers and penalties were kept relatively tidy, but head coach P.J. Fleck and the Broncos reigned victorious despite a paucity of huge plays from their high-powered offense.

Senior quarterback Zach Terrell threw for only 218 yards on 26 completions. The last time Terrell threw for fewer than Saturday’s clip was Week 7 of the 2015 season (137), when Western Michigan trounced Ohio by 35 points, capping the win with 430 yards on the ground.

Terrell has averaged 9.2 yards per pass attempt the past two seasons. He was partially handcuffed by the Wildcats’ secondary, and on numerous occasions, had to revert to the intermediate passing game — Terrell finished the day with a 6.1 yards per pass clip. If we can take anything away from the offense, it’s that slot receiver Daniel Braverman’s presence was severely missed.

3 September 2016: Western Michigan Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell (11) eludes a tackle by Northwestern Wildcats defensive lineman Alex Miller (95) during an NCAA football game between the Western Michigan Broncos and the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field in Evanston, IL. Western Michigan won 22-21. (Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire)

3 September 2016: Western Michigan Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell (11) eludes a tackle by Northwestern Wildcats defensive lineman Alex Miller (95) during an NCAA football game between the Western Michigan Broncos and the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field in Evanston, IL. Western Michigan won 22-21. (Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire)

Wide receiver Corey Davis was kept in check as well. Western Michigan’s go-to wide receiver notched a respectable 70 yards on seven receptions, but the nation didn’t exactly see the best of the rising senior. He entered Saturday having topped the century mark in his last seven games. In a very un-Corey Davis-like manner, he let a surefire touchdown slip through his hands on a deep ball by Terrell in the first quarter. Instead of six points, the Broncos’ drive went for naught with a punt.

The supposed formula for a Western Michigan win on the road versus the Big Ten was scoring X amount of points. The defense instead stepped up and kept Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson on a short leash.

Crisis was averted late in the fourth when Broncos cornerback Davontae Ginwright — about to step out of the end zone in possession of the ball, which would have meant a game-saving touchback for his team — tossed a recovered fumble back into the field of play before it was ruled that he had stepped out of bounds prior to releasing the ball. Ginwright nearly gave the Wildcats another crack at the go-ahead score on the goal line.

All Fleck could do was shrug. All Fitzgerald could do was shake his head.

Despite an average offensive performance and some mental errors, Western Michigan still squeaked out a win versus a Power Five opponent on the road. Now, what happens when the Broncos really start to mesh? Hell, Northwestern’s most likely the toughest team on the docket and the largest task has already been checked off.

Week 1 tends to trigger the channel in the brain where overreacting becomes second nature. Albeit with a lack of material to analyze — given that only one game has been played — this win probably cements Western Michigan as the MAC favorite and potential winners of 10 consecutive games — seriously.

The Broncos will find themselves in a similar scenario come Week 3, once they take care of North Carolina Central on September 10: They’ll travel back to the state of Illinois to take on the Fighting Illini, having the knowledge that the Big Ten is surely beatable. Shortly thereafter, the Broncos are slated to take on Georgia Southern to seek a little revenge from last season.

Conference play is favorable with Northern Illinois coming to Kalamazoo. Should Western Michigan come out unscathed in MACtion, the stakes potentially get a lot higher when the club greets the Toledo Rockets the final week of the season.

The Broncos weren’t perfect in their opener, and that’s some scary news for the rest of the MAC.

Western Michigan’s imperfect victory spells trouble for the MAC

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