Grades Are In: Secondary Shuts Down Broncos' Dangerous WR-QB Combo

WMU's D'Wayne Eskridge had a career game in week one. In week two against Michigan, nada.

A week after totaling 621 yards and 42 points in a loss to Syracuse, Western Michigan was held to 208 yards and three points by the Michigan defense. This U-M defense has surrendered just six points and 277 yards of offense in its last six quarters of football, with Notre Dame and WMU averaging only 2.7 yards per play during that span.

(Scale is 1-5, 5 being the best)

Defensive Line – 5

The Wolverines’ defensive line largely made life miserable for the Broncos, recording eight of 14 total QB pressures while helping to keep WMU to 123 yards rushing (and 3.1 yards per attempt) a week after Western had 242 yards (and 8.6 yards per rush).

It’s always risking drawing parallels year to year because rosters change, but in 2017, WMU averaged 189.5 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry in two non-conference games against Power 5 conference schools USC and Michigan State.

In other words, the Broncos have had some success against Power 5 opponents in the past, but almost nil against Michigan.

Junior end Rashan Gary had a particularly strong performance with a sack among three QB rushes, and of course, there was always this.

Through two games: 4.5

Linebackers – 4

It wasn’t a perfect game again for junior Devin Bush – he’s prone to taking poor angles on passes to the flat (possibly because he thinks he can run down anything) – but he did grade out at 88.0 on our rating scale, and showcased a full arsenal, including his ability to sniff out and stuff a run all on his own.

Junior Devin Gil earned the start at weakside linebacker for the second week in a row, but sophomore Josh Ross is taking more and more reps at the spot, and had a stellar day with two tackles for loss among five stops. Throw in junior Khaleke Hudson, who had two QB pressures, and this was a unit flying to the football, and generally making life miserable for the Broncos.

They are only downgraded to a four because they allowed WMU to break containment on 15- and 25-yard runs.

Through two games: 4.0

Secondary – 5

While WMU will not be one of the best offenses Michigan faces this season, the Broncos have weapons at QB and wide receiver, and in week one, completed six passes of 20 yards or more, including four alone to receiver D’Wayne Eskridge. He went off against Syracuse with eight receptions for 240 yards on 12 targets. Against Michigan, Eskridge had just two catches on eight targets.

Quarterback Jon Wassink tried his best to take advantage of Michigan’s biggest perceived weakness – its safeties and the deep ball – attempting six passes of 25 yards or more. WMU’s success rate: 0. The Broncos did not complete a single one of those throws thanks to …

• Junior cornerback David Long and junior safety Josh Metellus (Wassink under pressure)

• Metellus and senior safety Tyree Kinnel (no pressure on the QB)

• Senior cornerback Watson and Metellus (no pressure); Watson with a pass break up

• Watson and sophomore safety Brad Hawkins (Wassink under pressure)

• Long (no pressure)

• Watson (no pressure); drop by Eskridge

Through two games: 3.5

Special Teams – 4

The hand-wringing this August over who would start at punter – and whether they could be effective with an injury to sophomore Brad Robbins – has been answered definitively by junior walk-on Will Hart, who has averaged 50.17 yards per punt in 2018 (third nationally). He was at his best against Western, with a 56.7-yard average and finished the day with a 43.7-yard net punting average.

Michigan also had 25 yards on two punt returns while surrendering nine yards on a lone return and 12 yards on a single kickoff return. Thanks in part to special teams, U-M had a net-18-yard positive on average field position – the Wolverines beginning 12 drives, on average, at their own 39-yard line and the Broncos beginning 12 at their own 21.

The only negative was a 40-yard field goal that redshirt sophomore Quinn Nordin pulled to the left. It was Nordin’s first miss of the year but his fourth in his last 10 tries.

Through two games: 4.5

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