The Broncos suffered a disappointing 55-42 loss at home to Syracuse to open the 2018 season. From the beginning Syracuse was in control and didn’t really look back, even after allowing WMU to come back within seven points. Here are my brief takeaways from the game. All stats via WMU.
One of the things that stood out to me was the lack of discipline for WMU. Eric Dungey and the Syracuse offense picked WMU apart with read option runs to gain chunks of yards. While it’s not easy to stop a dynamic dual threat like Dungey, you’ve got to play to your assignments to try and limit big plays. This is something that can improve as the season goes on, and we have to be patient with the front seven as there are new starters and young players playing big minutes.
Syracuse came out right away and scored on their first possession with ease. They were very physical up front and did whatever they wanted, jumping out to a 24-7 lead.
On the other side, WMU struggled in their first three drives on offense. They didn’t have the ball for very long, they turned the ball over on the second possession, and they just didn’t look very sharp in the first half. That has to change because getting into a hole and coming back isn’t sustainable.
In the second half, WMU had a much better start. Down 34-7, the defense forced and recovered a fumble. WMU’s offense then scored in 40 seconds to start the comeback. They ended up scoring 28 points in the third quarter to make it a seven point game heading to the fourth. That kind of start and energy is what WMU needs to bring to their game against Michigan, and for the rest of the season.
This game was chalk full of big plays. Dungey was unstoppable for Syracuse. When he wasn’t running for a big gain, he was throwing it to Justin Custis who had a big day (6 rec for 168 yds and 2 TDs).
WMU also showed they’ve got some big guns on offense, which is very encouraging for the rest of the season. Dee Eskridge hauled in a touchdown catch for 84 yards and another reception of 59 yards. Levante Bellamy had a big game including a 64 yard touchdown run. Jamauri Bogan had a 59 yard run.
Each team grabbed multiple plays of 20 yards or more, with both teams benefitting from strong offensive line play.
My point here is it’s great that WMU’s offense seems to have taken a step in finding big plays through the passing game. It’s just not as good that they gave up big plays as well.
When the bright lights are on…
This game had a lot of star power. Eric Dungey was incredible. He’s definitely someone to watch for, a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. He had over 200 yards rushing and went 7-17 for 184 and 2 TDs passing.
Along with Dungey 6’6″ receiver Justin Custis was a problem for WMU. He easily caught a TD over Justin Tranquill on Syracuse’s first drive and was a difficult matchup throughout.
Jon Wassink played well in his return to the starting role. Jon went 19-36 for 379 yards (career high) with three TDs and two interceptions, one of which wasn’t the best pass (but still catchable) and the other caused by being hit as he threw. He looked comfortable, threw some very nice balls and lead the team back in the second half.
Dee Eskridge had a career day with 8 receptions for 240 yards and two touchdowns. Dee stepped up like many Bronco fans wanted him to last year. He used his speed to get behind the defense for big plays and now leads the FBS in receiving yards. He was named MAC West Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
LeVante Bellamy had some big runs and was the feature back for WMU. I look forward to seeing how he’ll be used throughout the year. I think he could split out to the slot and cause matchup problems. There’s a lot of talent at the skill positions, which is a great problem for WMU to have.
Jayden Reed showed up for his first college game, grabbing seven catches for 121 yards and a TD.
And last but certainly not least, both teams’ offensive lines played very well. Syracuse moved the ball well and at will when Dungey was in. WMU used their ground game effectively and gave Wassink time to throw down the field.
While this was a disappointing loss for WMU, the upsides were very good. Obviously, they need to avoid being down big early. I think with one game under their belt they will have gained confidence because they’ve seen they can score points and threaten opponents through the air.
The offensive line was great as they have been and running backs Bellamy and Bogan both played well and were able to run for big gains. Even freshman Chase Brown got snaps and carries, so keep an eye on him.
The defense had guys like Najee Clayton, Ali Fayad, AJ Thomas and Alex Grace show as big contributors. This is a unit that will collectively get better as the season progresses. They face a big test and opportunity against Michigan.
Special teams weren’t that special. Josh Grant missed a 24 yard field goal before halftime which could have changed the game. I don’t think new punter Nick Mihalic had his best day, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as he was trying to keep the ball away from Syracuse’s return man. Speaking of keep away, WMU opted to squib kick most or all kickoffs. I didn’t love the strategy because it gave Syracuse too good of field position.
I think that little things held the team back in this opening game. Those are good coaching opportunities, and while the game against Michigan may not be the best barometer for how the team is progressing, we will see over the next few weeks if the team can tighten up and execute on all levels like we as fans know they can.
Did you watch the game? Do you plan on watching WMU play Michigan or are you going to be in Ann Arbor this week? Let me know, and let me know what you thought of the game, this article, etc. Thanks for reading.