It's homecoming at Virginia Tech this weekend and the Hokies are looking to get back in the win column after dropping two straight. Brandon Fitzsimons is here from SB Nation's Hustle Belt to give us some insight on the state of the Western Michigan program.
GC: P.J. Fleck had a big rebuilding job when he arrived, how have the fans and players responded to him?
BF: After the 1-11 season, fans were, and still mostly are, somewhat skeptical on Fleck's abilities as a coach. Don't get me wrong, the man can recruit, but he lost to a low-end FCS school and barely beat UMass to avoid the first winless season in WMU history. Flash-forward to this season, and the team looks better. The run defense looks somewhat improved, the run game is vastly improved, the pass game is in a more comfortable position because of it and the team is 2-1 (despite three weaker opponents to start the season).
Players have loved him. Last season saw a slight disconnect between some of the Fleck supporters and the remaining Cubit players, but with most graduating this appears to be a team that is buying into the Fleck dream, and it's looking like the whole thing might work. We'll see more come conference season, but a 2-1 start is about as good as some could hope given the struggles last season.
GC: Recruiting seems to have improved quite a bit under Fleck. Is he taking the lead there or does he lean on a strong staff?
BF: A little bit of both. If you spend any amount of time with Fleck, you see why recruits are drawn to him. He is exuberant and energetic, and it's non-stop (almost to the point of annoyance if you aren't tuned into it). He knows what to say to these kids and they really buy in. Obviously, he can't do it all, but he really seems to be the closer in any recruiting pitch.
GC: The Bronco offense has put up a ton of yards but the defense seems to be giving yardage up just as easily. What are the weak points on defense?
BF: The defensive box. Coming into this season, the secondary was supposed to be the most talented and most experienced unit the Broncos had period. However, they've looked shaky at best stopping Purdue and Idaho, raising some red flags early on. The defensive box is still a very young, very inexperienced group with some size. They're also trying to change the notion that WMU cannot stop the run, as has been the case for many, many years. Running generally is how teams beat Western Michigan, and the defensive box is why.
GC: Tech has struggled a bit in pass coverage the last two weeks. Are the Bronco receivers good enough to challenge the Hokies consistently?
BF: Hah, about that... The Bronco receiving corps are led by Corey Davis (last year's MAC Freshman of the Year) and Daniel Braverman, a very fast slot man who has 4.3-4.4 speed. Think of them like you would a Reggie Wayne/T.Y. Hilton combo in Indianapolis. Davis is the first look for catches, but generally is covered while Braverman blows by people for his catches. After that, the talent drops a bit to Kendrick Roberts and Darrius Phillips, but they still can produce a couple catches. It all depends on if Zach Terrell has time to see the field and make his throws.
GC: Did tailback Jarvion Franklin catch people by surprise or was he expected to play a lot as a freshman?
BF: It caught some people by surprise, but to people who followed the preseason practices, Franklin's emergence was foreseen. Maybe not on the scale that it has been (he leads the nation in rushing TDs and is 3rd in rushing yards/game), but he was going to take over at starter sooner or later for the pure fact that he can lower the boom and run over people, something Dareyon Chance and his small frame cannot do. As long as he's in the game, the Broncos have a physical run game and that's something that's been much needed in recent years.
GC: Who are three players to watch for other than Franklin?
BF: On offense, you have Braverman and Davis. I'll couple them as Thunder and Lightning of the receiving corps. For two other players, look to the secondary for Justin Currie at safety and Donald Celiscar at cornerback. Currie is a ball-hawk and makes plays despite not having the blinding speed you'd like. However, he hits hard and generally makes the tackle rather than missing it. Conversely, Celiscar is the play-maker who just finished his first full game last week after knocking himself out at Purdue (do NOT watch the play, it's scary) and then getting ejected doing the same thing he got hurt doing at Purdue (targeting). However, if the Broncos want to win, they'll need their shut-down corner to, you know, actually shut down receivers.
GC: What's your prediction for the game Saturday?
BF: Everyone knows the Hokies are pretty frustrated with the past two weeks, and I fully expect them to take out those frustrations on the Broncos. Franklin and the wideouts might keep the ball in the Broncos' hands, but unless Zach Terrell has a marvelous game all-around, Virginia Tech is just too powerful to defeat right now. Maybe in two years this would be a Bronco win, with the young studs actually having experience then, but for now I'm calling it:
Virginia Tech 38, Western Michigan 17