Behind Enemy Lines – Western Michigan

College football is officially back this Saturday in Evanston when the Northwestern Wildcats play host to the Western Michigan Broncos.

walker

Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Coming off an impressive 10-3 season in 2015 but losing to Tennessee 45-6 in last years Outback Bowl, Northwestern looks to continue their success from last year heading into this season.

First things first, Northwestern has been known for playing tough out of conference games to start each season dating back to 2013 when they faced the California Golden Bears. Northwestern began the 2014 season facing the same California team and last year the Wildcats opened the season against Stanford. Going into this season, the Wildcats play Western Michigan, a team that won eight games last year and beat Middle Tennessee in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.

Western Michigan was known for their passing attack last season and their starting quarterback Zach Terrell returns for his senior year after putting up impressive numbers in his sophomore and junior years. Terrell threw for over 3,500 yards last season, along with 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions, which were all career bests for him.

Another key player on the Broncos offense who returns this season is senior wide receiver Corey Davis. Just like Terrell, Davis put up incredible numbers in his junior year. The wide out caught 90 passes along with 1,436 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Davis was not the only receiver to put up impressive receiving numbers last year. Daniel Braverman caught 108 passes for 1,367 yards and grabbed in 13 touchdowns, but the Wildcats will not have to plan for Braverman since he was recently drafted in the seventh round by the Chicago Bears.

With all eyes on the playmakers of Terrell and Davis, the Wildcats cannot forget about the Broncos running game. Sophomore running back Jamauri Bogan returns after putting up over 1,000 rushing yards in his freshman year. Bogan led all running backs on Western Michigan’s team in rushing yards and in touchdowns with 16 total. But even with Bogan as the top running back for the Broncos, Western Michigan was known last year with throwing out more than just one running back. Junior running back Jarvion Franklin is back with the Broncos after a disappointing 2015 season due to split time on the field with Bogan. Franklin rushed the ball 153 times and had 735 rushing yards.

Even though the Broncos have talent on the offensive side of the ball, Northwestern should not have a problem keeping up with the Broncos high-octane offense.

Northwestern has their two top offensive players returning this season, redshirt sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson and junior running back Justin Jackson.

Thorson had an up and down year in his first full season with the Wildcats when he threw for 1,522 yards but only had seven touchdowns to his nine interceptions. But with a full season already under his belt, look for Thorson to take a step forward this year as a leader in the huddle and on his throwing decisions on the field.

Running back Justin Jackson will look to take another step forward this season after having one of the best seasons ever by a Northwestern running back last year. Jackson carried the ball 312 times and rushed for 1,418 yards. Not to mention he caught 21 passes for 162 yards. Jackson was the main player in last years offense and it looks like that will be the same scenario that will happen this season.

Based on looking at each teams roster on paper, Western Michigan has the upside on the offensive side of the ball with their ability to pass and run the ball efficiently. But when it comes to defense, Northwestern has the upper hand. Last year the Broncos gave up 28.3 PPG and the Wildcats gave up 18.6 PPG.

I’ve always said that defense wins games and I believe that will be the case in this matchup.

My prediction to the outcome of the game:

Northwestern 24

Western Michigan 20

You can follow me on Twitter at @rnickels26