Western Michigan understands that it has a very good shot to start the season 8-0 on Saturday when it takes on in-state foe Eastern Michigan. That isn’t stopping head coach P.J. Fleck from dispensing his weekly credit to a team that isn’t nearly as good as the Broncos.
“I think it’s always won in the trenches, period,” head coach P.J. Fleck told Michigan’s MLive. “(Eastern has) an incredible defensive line. They rotate guys in there and they always stay healthy, they always stay fresh.
“They’ve got one of the best players in our conference, (Pat) O’Connor at defensive end, who is playing better than he ever has.”
If you’ve ever read a column titled “Cliché Quote Converter” from yours truly, you’re well aware that Fleck is spewing hogwash. The Broncos will row the boat and sink the Eagles with ease, despite the recent surge from Eastern Michigan.
If anyone’s patiently waiting for a team to give the Broncos fits, it’s not in Week 8. Eastern Michigan is just another team standing tall in front of the freight train that is the Western Michigan Broncos. Under Fleck, expectations have risen from reaching the .500 record benchmark, to a conference championship, all the way to a New Year’s Six bid.
The train isn’t slowing down.
There’s a reason Fleck is one of the hottest coaching names in football. A nation that will bow at the feet of Houston’s Tom Herman should take a gander over yonder to Kalamazoo. P.J. Fleck could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves.
On to the battle of the Michigans, where Fleck can give as much credit to the Eagles as he pleases. He’s not fooling anyone. Playing at home and coasting through the schedule, the Broncos are in prime position to continue rolling.
Eastern Michigan has lucked out by having to visit Charlotte, Bowling Green, and Ohio — two putrid teams and one that’s so-so. The other road game came against the Missouri Tigers, a game in which the Eagles’ defense was gashed all evening and allowed 61 points. Quarterback Drew Luck chucked five touchdowns in the win, which should have Broncos quarterback Zack Terrell licking his chops to face off against a porous Eastern Michigan secondary.
Terrell hasn’t really had the huge numbers in 2016 that he posted a season ago. Only once has the senior thrown for over 300 yards. Delving a bit deeper, he’s been proficient with 13 touchdowns to zero interceptions; and when you have two running backs that can go the distance on any given carry, Western Michigan will be the most complete offense the Eagles will encounter (sorry, Toledo and Mizzou).
There have surely been hiccups by Western Michigan’s defense — sporadic hiccups to some flat-out weird teams. The Broncos kept both Illinois and Northwestern at bay but squandered 31 points to Georgia Southern and 30 to Northern Illinois. If there was any reason to believe that Western Michigan was trending downward on the defensive side of the ball, blanking the Akron Zips 41-0 in Week 7 was a clear-cut reason to believe otherwise.
“This game is an incredible credit to our coaching staff and to our players,” Fleck told MLive following the Akron game. “They played possessed and executed the game plan perfectly.“We knew we had to play a certain style to keep them in front of us and I thought we executed that to perfection.”
Eastern Michigan deserves all the credit in the world. To head into Week 8 and have the best record for a Michigan team with green jerseys (hello, East Lansing) this season is — and has been — a victory for the Eagles.
On Saturday, they’re just another chore on the Western Michigan to-do list. Feel free to check this one off before the football’s kicked off the tee.