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2023 Hawkeye Football Opponent Preview: Western Michigan Broncos

The Broncos are led by first-year coach Lance Taylor

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year again: I crack open my trusty laptop which still has Yahoo! as the default search engine and begin the football previews. Up next are the Western Michigan Broncos, who are led by a first-time head coach.

5 Ws

Who: Western Michigan Broncos (Kalamazoo, MI; Mid-American Conference)
Head Coach: Lance Taylor, in his first season at Western Michigan & overall

What: Iowa’s second non-conference game

When: September 16th, 2023; 2:30p God’s Time

Where: Kinnick Stadium; Iowa City, IA

Why: because Iowa isn’t about to schedule an 11th game against a Power 5 Conference opponent

4 Stats

8: The Broncos had eight straight seasons at or above .500 prior to last year’s 5-7 outing which led to Tim Lester’s firing. After 2013, where they went 1-11 under PJ Fleck, saw them reach six bowls in eight seasons which speaks to the proliferation of bowls.

23: The Hawkeyes have made hay with non-offensive scoring, and Western Michigan has had success there as well with two interceptions returned for touchdowns, a kickoff returned for a score, and a safety. Though the Broncos experienced turnover, they retained their defensive coordinator Lou Esposito and will look to continue turning defense into offense.

49.9%: WMU completed less than half of the passes they threw last year, with both Jack Salopek & Treyson Bourget returning to compete for the starting job. Neither has separated in spring ball which is not necessarily a good thing in their quest to get a W in Iowa City.

24.1: The Broncs defense was ranked 50th in the country in points allowed & 2nd in the high-flying MAC. Their low-water mark last season was allowing 45 to cross-state rival, Eastern Michigan.

Only Keni-H Lovely returns but brings with him three additional interceptions and a forced fumble from last season.

3 Guys

Keni-H Lovely (#2, CB, R-Sr., 5’10”, 176 lbs): Only Lovely returns among those non-offensive scorers (all found homes at P5 Schools) and brings more than that: he added three interceptions & a force fumble as highlights to his 48 tackles. His four interceptions led the team and led to a third-team all conference selection. I’m not sure he’s a “cut off half the field” type of corner but he will sit in his zone and make opponents pay if they make silly throws like this:

Marshawn Kneeland (#99, DL, R-Jr., 6’3”, 275 lbs): A huge winner in WMU’s spring game was Kneeland, who came away with two sacks, including a forced fumble. The junior lineman had originally entered his name into the transfer portal, committed to Colorado, but had his offer pulled by Deion Sanders. He was able to return to the Broncos and his highlight package definitely looks like a Power 5 type of lineman.

While his ability to get into the backfield sticks out, the most impressive thing to me is actually how well he contests passes when he beats his man. He does well not to let QBs break contain and gets his hands up. He most often lines up at LDE, which puts him across Iowa’s right tackle, a position the Hawks never settled last season.

Zahir Abdus-Salaam (#10, RB, Jr., 5’9”, 195 lbs): With the two best skill position guys transferring to Minnesota, Abdus Salaam will look to build on his impressive spring outing, as his present day resume is pretty light with 190 yards over two seasons. The Broncos have had 1000 yard rushers in the last 8 full seasons and if they get one this year, it’ll likely be him.

2 Cases

Taking a look at games where Brian Ferentz was offensive coordinator to identify best and worst cases in his “Climb to 325”

Best case - 48 points: 2019’s Iowa Hawkeyes put up that total against MTSU in their third non-conference game. The Hawks entered the game ranked 14th and really had their way with them to the tune of 644 yards. The only reason it wasn’t a bigger beat down was Iowa settled for three field goals (making two). They only punted once! And here I thought punting was winning.

Worst case - 27 points: Last season’s marathon against Nevada should almost be thrown out given it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of affair. Kaleb Johnson burst onto the scene and then everyone had to get to the locker room to avoid lightning. To be honest, that game really cemented just how much it felt like the universe was stacked against Iowa’s offense but in some ways, you make your own luck.

1 Question

Where does Iowa stand after this game?

Last year, if you’ve been doing the math, is actually the worst case scenario outlined above - 38 points through 3 games or, in the case of the climb to 325... 37 points behind schedule. Pardon the hat-on-a-hat pun, but putting up those types of numbers again will simply be too steep a hill to climb in the final 9 games, as they’d need 31.9 points/game to get there.

Iowa is going to need to bank some points in these three games if Brian Ferentz is going to be reupped. One way they could do it is by running back the 2013 matchup between these two teams. But even then, the defense & return units score 28 points.