Location: Waldo Stadium - Kalamazoo, Michigan
Date/Time: Saturday, September 25th @ 11 AM PST
Radio: KTRB (860 AM, San Francisco)
After San Jose State’s successful business trip to Hawaii, the Spartans faced a condensed week of preparations readying for a Western Michigan Broncos team that just beat a Power 5 Pitt team.
As the Spartans travel 2,300 miles to Kalamazoo to face the Broncos from the mid-American conference (MAC), SJS head coach Brent Brennan wouldn’t allow the worry of extended travel and body clock adjustments to be an issue.
“If we talk about it all the time, it becomes some kind of distraction and potentially some kind of excuse and I don’t want that to even be part of the conversation,” said Brennan. “We’ve addressed it. The players know it’s coming and now we gotta do the work that gives us a chance to play some good football against a really good team this Saturday.”
Anything with the words Michigan and football
The two words together usually conjures up zealot followers and football lifers. When the Spartans visit the Broncos, it will be a night and day difference from last week with a stadium full of fans and a MAC team that’s giving off the aura of a Power 5 one.
The Broncos are favored by less than a field goal with a 63 over/under (that favors the under).
The analytical expectation also says the game will have potential fireworks with two good offenses and two good quarterbacks in Nick Starkel and Broncos QB Kaleb Eleby.
Starkel’s 145.4 passer rating based on 702 yards and four touchdowns (3 INTs) in three games is central to the Spartans 400+ total yards, 6+ yards per play and 23-point game averages.
Eleby’s stats nearly mirror Starkel over three games: 143.5 passer rating, 702 yards passing and five TD tosses, but zero interceptions. The Broncos average 415 offensive yards and 28.7 points per game.
The Spartans are still improving
With recent flash bang performances from Fresno and San Diego State, the Spartans look to be quietly still improving. Areas such as the running and receiving game are still finding its legs.
Starkel’s distribution rate among multiple receivers makes having go-to receivers a bit more of a moot point. The Spartan’s passing attack is 18th in the nation (behind the other rising MWCers Nevada, Boise, Fresno and Utah State).
Currently, the running game is serviceable. With feature running back Tyler Nevens out vs. Hawaii, his availability is still unknown. Kairee Robinson and Shamar Garett have been the fill-ins. Expect to see some creativity to open more of the run and short game up and out.
“I feel great about our Oline and I feel great about our running game.” said Brennan. “It’s going to have to obviously be something we need to do to win good games. We definitely need to run the ball better and we want to run the ball more effectively and a lot of that will depend on how teams play us.”
The Spartan D to the O
Three games in, the Spartan defense is taking the baton from 2020.
Holding steady and keeping the Spartans in every game, the Derrick Odum defense is allowing 19 points and 345 yards average against.
If the Spartan defense is true to form and the offense finds even more of itself, things can swing a field goal difference their way.
DEs Junior Fehoko and Cade Hall have been quiet on the sack front, but have still been making their presence felt in the overall scheme.
With TEs Derrick Deese Jr. and Sam Olsen also potentially out, that’s less passing game beef up the hash marks, but the Starkel distribution plan should help neutralize that as well.
OC Kevin McGiven has also given the Broncos something else to think about with QB/WR combinations from Nick Nash last week.
Relatively speaking, it is challenging to gauge who all these teams are until they actually play each other and assuming they continue their trajectories.
The parity is good and getting better overall, and yet the relative performances can vary much, such as the way Wyoming easily handled Ball State last week. Ball State, as Sparta should recall, man-handled the short-handed Spartans in the Arizona Bowl.
The intangibles are against the Spartans this week: the extended travel and shorter week of preparation, the Kalamazoo home crowd, and the Broncos carrying over the high from a big Pitt win can be enough to make the difference.
Though one would always love to be wrong and eat crow, we’ll go with the number crunchers and the Spartans as the 2.5-point underdogs in the away loss.