Even with Nevada QB Carson Strong sitting out for the NFL Draft, the 2021 Quick Lane Bowl will feature contrasting styles of football.
The Western Michigan Broncos are headed to Detroit Michigan to play the Nevada Wolf Pack in the 2021 Quick Lane Bowl. The Broncos are looking for their second bowl win in program history, while the Wolf Pack look to add an eighth post-season trophy.
The game is not played on paper, but the paper can tell you where to look or what to expect in certain situations. Nevada quarterback Carson Strong will be sitting the bowl game out and Jay Norvell is going to Colorado State, and that will change the math quite a bit from what may have been expected just a couple weeks back.
Other players are sitting out, or have transferred to other programs since the end of the season. Nevada tight end Cole Turner has also declared for the NFL Draft and is second on the team in receptions and touchdowns. Wolf Pack leader in tackles, linebacker Daiyan Henley has transferred to Washington State. A number of other players followed Norvell to Colorado State via the transfer portal.
For Western Michigan, they will be without wide receiver Jaylen Hall. He’s second on the team in passes caught, but when the Broncos line up in two wide receiver sets, it’s Skyy Moore and Jaylen Hall on the field.
Western Michigan Broncos: Winning with efficiency
The Broncos in 2021 have been extremely efficient on both sides of the ball. Their success rate on offense is 13th in the nation and 33rd on defense. Those efficiency numbers show up in other stat categories as well.
A high third-down conversion rate and a lot of first downs illustrate the Bronco offense’s ability to stay on the field.
On defense, it’s the same story. Their stuff rate is 10th in the nation. Limiting the yards gained in early downs leads to passing situations on third down, however, it probably won’t help much against an air raid offense.
The opposite of efficiency is also an issue for Western Michigan. In terms of explosiveness, the Bronco offense is 93rd in the nation and 123rd on defense. They are not an offense that takes shots downfield and the defense can be caught out of position. The defense forces a low success rate, low third-down conversion rate and high sacks, also is 89th in points allowed.
There are many contributing factors to points scored, but explosive plays have been a big problem.
Limiting the pass
The WMU defense gives up less than 200 passing yards per game and allows only a 55% completion rate. Their high defensive success rate leads to obvious passing situations. They are 23rd in passing down rate. It helps to know what’s coming.
In their passing situations, they bring the pressure and get home. The top three Bronco sack leaders are all on the defensive line. Defensive end Ali Fayad is the MAC Defensive Player of the Year and leads the team with 11.5 sacks. Fellow defensive end Marshawn Kneeland has 3.5 sacks this season and interior defensive lineman Ralph Holley picked up 5.5.
Being able to beat blockers with the defensive line allows more to drop into coverage. When the system is working for the Broncos, the defense can be suffocating.
Special teams pain
According to SP+, the WMU special teams are the worst in the nation. Parker Sampson started the season as their placekicker and made two of six field-goal attempts. After two misses at Buffalo, the punter Nick Mihalic took over the kicking duties. Mihalic finished out the year and converted 9-of-11 kicks. He had his issues with extra points. After an 11-of-14 PAT stretch, Sampson took over extra points.
There are major issues in the return game, and it shows up in their field position numbers. The offense has the 87th best average starting field position, and the defense has the 121st best average starting field position.
The Broncos have an average punt return of 2.7 yards. They have allowed two punt return touchdowns and even if you remove them from the average, they allowed more than 12 return yards per punt. Punter Nick Mihalic only averaged 42 yards per punt.
Kick returns were equally as bad. One kick was returned by Sean Tyler for a touchdown, and even with the 96-yard outlier, the average kick return for the Broncos is 16 yards.
The offense has long drives to score points and the defense has to defend short fields.
Nevada Wolf Pack: A firework in your hand
The Nevada offense is a mirror image of the WMU offense. No efficiency, all explosion. No efficiency is a bit of an overstatement, but the Wolf Pack are 20th in the nation in explosiveness. Carson Strong is not playing in the bowl game, but when he is in the game, the ball is pushed downfield.
The defense is 29th in explosiveness, and 93rd in success rate allowed. They keep the ball in front of them and allow drives to continue.
Nevada leads the nation in turnover margin. That is generally a stat that has a major influence on wins and losses, but is not a sustainable way to win. A team can play to increase the chances that a turnover occurs, but it’s much harder to convert a high rate of chances.
The Wolf Pack is top ten in fumbles lost and fumbles recovered. Their opponents have put the ball on the ground 25 times and recovered 12 of them. Where they are truly remarkable is on offense and their fumbles. They fumbled the ball 10 times and recovered nine of them. To put it plainly: the fumble luck Nevada has is simply unbelievable.
Only eight interceptions on 549 pass attempts is also an incredible accomplishment. The air raid is supposed to create high percentage throws, but there are a lot of things that can go wrong on any throw. It just hasn’t happened for Nevada.
Red zone Efficiency
The red zone is a blessing and a curse for Nevada. When they have the ball, they come away with points. When they don’t, they allow the opposition to score.
It makes sense that a horizontal passing attack that creates open receivers in space will work in the red zone.
Placekicker Brandon Talton converted 12-of-14 field goals shorter than 40 yards.
The total offensive package, low turnovers, open receivers on high percentage routes and a good field goal kicker, means when the offense gets in the red zone they will score points.
The defense issues in the red zone tie into allowing a high success rate. Allowing a team to chug along four or five yards at a time inside the 25-yard line does not leave a lot of margin for error.
Their low stuff rate doesn’t help either. Despite studs like Dom Peterson and Tristan Nichols on the defensive line, the ball moves forward on rush plays. It will not help to be missing linebacker Daiyan Henley. WMU has placekicker issues and will try to convert 4th downs into first downs or touchdowns in the red zone.
The game can be watched on ESPN on Monday, December 27, bright and early at 11:00 am ET.