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Dispatches from Blogfrica: Hustle Belt Talks Iowa-Western Michigan Football

Not another directional Michigan.

If nothing else, PJ Fleck's tie game is pretty damn impressive.
If nothing else, PJ Fleck's tie game is pretty damn impressive.
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? This week: Brandon (aka Brown and Gold) at Hustle Belt, SB Nation's excellent blog for all things #MACtion.

1) Western Michigan's had a pretty rough start to the 2013 campaign, going 0-3, including a loss to FCS Nicholls State. What's been the biggest problem for WMU In those losses? Has there been a recurring issue that opponents have been able to exploit or have there been new problems to deal with in each game? That said, WMU was also able to play Michigan State and Northwestern close for a while, keeping MSU tied in the second quarter and leading NW in the second quarter -- does that give you confidence going into a third game against a Big Ten opponent?

Well, I mean, that 0-3 start is partially due to the fact WMU has gone on the road to Michigan State and that stingy defense and Northwestern and their powerful offense. I don't think any team in the MAC could beat those two teams except maybe Ball State (only vs MSU due to the fact the Spartans offense absolutely blows chunks) and NIU because, well, they're NIU. But in each game, WMU has failed to stop the zone-read consistently if you want to count that. MSU rarely used it when Connor Cook played, and of course Northwestern has nearly perfected it.

As for the Nicholls game, it was the fact the defense couldn't stop the zone-read, and the inability of the offensive line to block. Tyler Van Tubbergen was on his ass so many times, he should've crapped artificial turf for a week (which would be cool because our field is now half-brown). However, they oddly enough looked good against better teams in Northwestern and MSU. Not great, but not bad like Cubit lines had. I still don't know what truly happened on September 7th in Waldo Stadium, but it was embarrassing.

However, with the improved play last week, and the fact the Broncos did play well against the MSU offense when Andrew Maxwell was under center, I'm cautiously optimistic of a good outing by the Broncos. Both the Maxwell MSU offense and Iowa's are similar (pro-style based on a strong power-run game) and Iowa doesn't have the defensive prowess that Michigan State has (no offense). Then again, P.J. Fleck's team could come out flat and it could be a blow-out from the get-go.

2) Statistically, it looks like Western Michigan's defense is good against the pass (17th in the nation, 160 ypg, only one passing touchdown allowed), but really struggles against the run (114th in the nation, 245 ypg, eight rushing touchdowns allowed). Is that accurate or are the stats misleading?

I'd say the passing stats are misleading, but the running ones aren't. Remember, the Broncos trailed all but 6 minutes of the Nicholls game and the Colonels rarely aired it out. But when they did, they had a lot of success (despite a few dropped passes). Michigan State couldn't pass at all but also dropped a ton of passes and ran all over the Broncos. Northwestern did Northwestern things and also realized running was probably just more efficient than passing.

I guess the pass defense is good enough to make teams want to run, but that's also due to the fact the Broncos just can't stop the run. Obviously, this raises some serious questions against the leading carries guy in the nation (Weisman). Point: the pass defense still is sketchy but isn't tested enough because the run defense blows.

3) What's Western Michigan's strength on offense? Who are their biggest threats on that side of the ball. WR Corey Davis looks pretty legit (21 receptions, 324 yards, 2 TD) -- how good is he? And who are some other names Iowa fans should be aware of before Saturday's game?

Uhhhh.......hmmmmmmm......running? Maybe? Not passing. Ugh, our offense post-Cubit is just bad. TVT looks lost after finding his rhythm late in the season before being benched for the returning senior Alex Carder. Numerous people are out with injuries or suspensions (Tevin Drake). The running game isn't bad, but sucked against MSU to the tune of 11 yards on 28 carries. I mean, Davis looks good, but WMU has produced a plethora of Wes Welker-type WRs: the "slot-guy-who-goes-and-makes-possession-catches" receiver. It could be the system? (TVT still is a Cubit product.......). I don't know. He has a lot to learn, but has the athleticism to be good, especially when Jaime Wilson returns next year. For now, the offense frustrates me.

As for other names, Brian Fields and Dareyon Chance lead the rushing attack. Fields is more power to Chance's finesse. On the other side of the ball, Justin Currie and Donald Celiscar lead that secondary no one knows much about. Johnnie Simon, a rover last year, moved to linebacker and again is racking up the tackles. Michigan transfer Mike Jones (who?) also is pretty boss.

4) What's the perception of new head coach PJ Fleck among Western Michigan fans? How much has the 0-3 start hurt that perception? How do fans feel about some of his more unusual new ideas, like the "Row the Boat" slogan or the coordinated crowd chants and hand signs?

There is just a divide. Has been ever since his signing. On one side, you have fans that (now) are utterly fed up with the whole "Row The Boat" show. I'm in that group. It has gotten old and the week of the Nicholls game, "The Video" came out (clearly you've seen it). That was a rough week, with the program an utter laughing stock.

However, there are still a ton of supporters. The students really have bought into it all and are really into all the hand signs and stuff. So, I mean, there's still that.

I'm not giving up on Fleck, but results would be nice to see. An 0-8 start would be rough, and it's entirely plausible right now.

5) Given that this season has gotten off to such a miserable start for the Broncos, a bowl game seems like it might be a difficult goal to get this year. So what would make for a successful season for Western Michigan this year?

Not to finish last in the MAC West? That'd be a start. With the MAC in a down year, 4-8 would still be nice. 5-7 would be a huge win at this point too (which would mean WMU could have to go 5-3 in the MAC). Improvement I guess would be the key thing. Maybe playing Toledo and NIU tight and winning the Michigan MAC Trophy back would be huge successes in my opinion.

6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?

WMU is oddly enough 2-0 ATS this season on the road. They are also 0-3 SU (obviously). With the power-run game, I'm not sure what to believe. MSU struggled most of the game to get their run game going but Nicholls and Northwestern ran circles in the zone-read. So what does Weisman do against the Broncos? I say WMU covers again, but drops a heart-breaker 38-27 with a late Iowa TD after a Bronco turnover to seal it.

Thanks for being a good sport, Brandon, although I still hope your team loses by 50 on Saturday. You can check out Brandon and the rest of the Hustle Belt crew at Hustle Belt. You can also follow Brandon on Twitter at @broncofitz and HB on Twitter at @HustleBelt. The Iowa-Western Michigan game is in Iowa City on Saturday, September 21, and is scheduled to start at 11:00 am CT, with television coverage from BTN.