San Jose State Football: First Look At The Western Michigan Broncos
The Spartans will look to get even against the MAC’s Broncos when they visit CEFCU Stadium in late September.
Two teams looking to stay in the mix.
San Jose State Football: First Look at 2022 Non-Conference Opponents
The San Jose State Spartans hope to exact a measure of revenge against the Western Michigan Broncos when they visit the South Bay in Week 4.
Not a lot went right for the Spartans in last year’s matchup, but the Broncos didn’t really reach their ceiling, either, and now must start again without some of last year’s major contributors on offense. With both teams in relatively the same position headed into 2022, how different could WMU look this fall?
Location: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Series History: Western Michigan leads the all-time series, 1-0.
2021 Record: 8-5 (4-4 MAC)
Head Coach: Tim Lester (sixth year at Western Michigan; 32-25 with Broncos, 62-48 overall). The highlight of WMU’s season was a road upset of eventual ACC champion Pitt, but you’d be forgiven if you had a sense the Broncos left something on the table overall. Their only MAC West division win was, oddly enough, against conference champion Northern Illinois and their Quick Lane Bowl victory over Nevada was watered down by the Wolf Pack’s mass exodus in the days before kickoff.
Sean Tyler, RB
WMU’s passing game got a lot of attention in 2021, but Tyler had a convincing case as the offense’s most important player. He finished fourth in the MAC with 1,150 rushing yards and his 6.46 yards per attempt ranked third, while he accounted for 13 total touchdowns as a rusher, pass catcher, and kick returner.
SEAN TYLER 101 YARDS TO THE 🏠
Western Michigan (-7) takes the lead!pic.twitter.com/5isFqsksmc
— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) December 27, 2021
Dorian Jackson, CB
Jackson played as actively as any defensive back in the MAC last year, breaking up 12 passes while pulling down two interceptions and adding 25 total tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. If San Jose State looks to re-establishing its aerial bonafides, he’s the most likely candidate to gum up those plans on gameday.
Corvin Moment, LB
Moment will be key as the Broncos look to replace a great deal of last year’s defensive havoc. He earned a third-team all-MAC nod in 2021 after collecting 68 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles, but what’s most telling about his value is a Pro Football Focus overall grade of 72.4 that was second among all linebackers in the conference.
— Vero Beach Football (@VBFootball) October 8, 2021
Corey Crooms, WR
Now that Skyy Moore is in the NFL, could Crooms be next? Last year, he snagged 44 catches for 768 yards and six touchdowns, his 17.45 yards per catch good enough to finish third among MAC pass catchers. It’s also noteworthy that Crooms had more 30-yard receptions (seven) than both Moore and Jaylen Hall (six).
Jack Salopek, QB
After serving as Kaleb Eleby’s understudy last season, 2022 is Salopek’s time to shine. He only threw five passes in mop-up duty in 2021, but he’s also a former three-star recruit who set numerous high school football records in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.
As is often the case among good to great MAC teams, Western Michigan knew how to move the ball in 2021. The Broncos finished in a tie for 28th among all FBS teams by averaging 6.34 yards per play, neck-and-neck with Michigan State and just ahead of Fresno State, and they were 24th by points per drive and 13th in available yards percentage earned per drive. The task now for new offensive coordinator Jeff Thorne, who arrives in Kalamazoo after a very successful stint at Division III North Central College, is replicating that production while navigating substantial turnover.
Salopek’s development will be key, but the running back tandem of Tyler and La’Darius Jefferson (185 carries, 836 yards, ten touchdowns) is probably the most talented in the MAC. Having Crooms down the field to generate big plays will also help, but he’s the only wide receiver or tight end who had even ten receptions a year ago. Big things will be expected of former three-star recruits like Kaevion Mack and Henry Wilson Jr.
The same is mostly true of the offensive line, which returns just two starters in center Jacob Gideon and guard Dylan Deatherage from 2021. Bringing in a seasoned veteran like Eleasah Anderson, who started 25 games at Sam Houston State, will help, but the unit might skew younger overall as new faces step up into more prominent roles. WMU has one of the nation’s best stuff rates on offense last season at just 11.6%, but that might be tough to duplicate.
While the offense cooked, the defense ended up being more lukewarm despite some standout individual performances. The Broncos finished 90th nationally in yards per play allowed, 78th in points per drive allowed, and 66th in available yards percentage allowed per drive. What they did well was create havoc, finishing third in the country with a 10.8% sack rate and sixth with a 23.8% stuff rate, but that was with Ralph Holley and Ali Fayad, both of whom are now gone.
There are more than a few candidates to replace their production, though, not just Moment but also linebacker Zaire Barnes (68 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) and defensive linemen Braden Fiske (eight TFLs, four sacks) and Marshaun Kneeland (eight TFLs, 4.5 sacks). One other area they’ll look for improvement within is in creating turnovers since their 13 takeaways was the fewest in a full season since at least 2009, and much of that came down to a secondary which paced the MAC with a 55.1% opponents’ completion rate but had just four interceptions.
To that end, Jackson’s production could go a long way but transfers like Delano Ware (Illinois) and Therran Coleman (Pitt), as well as returns to form from returning Broncos like Bricen Garner, could lead to a rebound.
Both San Jose State and Western Michigan head into 2022 in relatively similar positions as fringe conference title contenders, so the team that comes out on top here will be able to solidify that perception. The biggest question is whether the Spartans offense can rediscover its mojo against a Broncos defense that has talent but can be pushed, so while it’s likely to be a back-and-forth affair, expect that the home team should be able to gut out a close win.
San Jose State 37, Western Michigan 31