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Northwestern vs. Western Michigan: Q-and-A with Hustle Belt

Western Michigan's writer from Hustle Belt comes over to give the most lopsided opponent prediction in the history of opponent predictions.

Just two days until Northwestern plays WMU, and now that we're done with discussing beer and the Miley Cyrus of the coaching world, want to talk football? (And maybe beer and the Miley Cyrus of the coaching world?) We asked Brandon Fitzsimons, the Western Michigan writer for SB Nation's awesome #MACTION blog Hustle Belt about all things going on in the 'Zoo, and he was happy to oblige us with answers to our dumb questions. (I also guested over there.)

Take it away, Bronco!

1.  So, um, Nicholls State, huh? Did that game come out as a surprise, and did the right team win?

Surprise would be an understatement.  But from the opening snap, you could tell who had the better team that night.  I'm not sure if it was the preparation, the heart, the talent (very doubtful), or all of the above, but Nicholls had "it" and WMU didn't.  WMU couldn't stop a 3rd string, then a 4th string QB on the zone-read all night.  And that's very concerning since half of the MAC runs the spread/zone-read offense, including damn near all of the Broncos' schedule.  Did the "right" team win that game on that night?  You bet your ass they did.  And it could've been a lot, lot worse (dropped passes, a fumbled TD out of the endzone).  WMU did not deserve that win, plain and simple.

2.  What are the impressive things about WMU so far? It seems the rushing game has come out nicely, like Corey Davis is a standout WR, and, hey, you basically kept Michigan State off the board if it wasn't for the whole turnovers thing!

After the Michigan State game I would've said defense.  After last weekend's game?  No.  Just no.  Michigan State's offense truly is horrid (only 21 points on a USF team that lost to McNeese State).  The zone read is frightening right now and it sets up huge passing plays that our secondary is hit-and-miss on.  As for offense, Corey Davis has been ok, but mostly due to the system.  Jordan White, Jaime Wilson, and now Corey Davis have all done well as the Wes Welker "slot-guy-who-catches-nice-possession-balls" receiver.  He didn't cut strong though late on Saturday and the result was an INT.

The running game isn't even a bright spot after a pair of Broncos ran for 100+ yards last weekend.  Why?  11 yards on 28 carries vs MSU.  Brian Fields and Dareyon Chance are good, but the line is just too young and soft to do anything against good teams.  It's also the reason why Tyler VanTubbergen (TVT) has needed a body bag to get out of both games (literally concussed out of the 1st).  He was rocked all night against Nicholls too, with a line that Colonels coach Charlie Stubbs said "was hurting depth-wise".  Oof.

3. 2013 aside, how do WMU fans feel about PJ Fleck? Is there a sense of excitement around the team and the fanbase? Is the "Row the Boat" thing doing anything for you, or is that coming off as dumb?

There is a lot of support for Fleck.  He has done an excellent job recruiting and breathing life into the fanbase in the offseason.  Now last week?  Bad, bad week.  I'm sure you've seen "The Video"(  Then "The Game".  It's been a rough one.  There are still a ton of fans behind him, but the fans who, like me, hated some of the gimmicky stuff like "Row The Boat" are livid.

There are fans calling for Fleck's job (I'm not going that far) and some that are saying we're headed for the dark ages (I am worried).  Saying the loss Saturday set our program back 10 years is a bit much (you can find that quote on message boards), but a 1-11 or worse season?  10 years would be about right.  This one man holds WMU football in the palm of his hand right now.  If he pulls a Rob Ianello and just tanks 2 seasons and leaves the program in a horrible shape, not even a Terry Bowden, who didn't do bad at Auburn, will be able to save the program for a few years.  It's full on panic mode, and the gimmicks have quickly gotten old.  Come MAC time, it's put-up or shut-up.

4. What's your favorite thing about Kalamazoo? Is it the Bell's Brewery? I bet it's Bell's Brewery. For me it would be Bell's Brewery. I like Bell's Brewery.

Are you asking me to bring Bell's Beer?  I wont have enough to share!  Never been to the Brewery oddly enough.  I've been to SO many other great Kalamazoo bars though.  I personally love the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange.  Imagine a stock exchange, but beer as stocks.  Every 15 minutes prices change.  And if you're lucky (really lucky on the weekends), the market "crashes" and suddenly that $4 or $5 ale you've been eyein' is $2.  You buy bulk.  So much fun drinking without bingeing.  Plus the food is pretty decent.  Also, check out Shakespears (pub), Burdicks (restaurant/sports bar), and the Entertainment District (club-ish bars) if that's your thing.

I've never been to the Air Zoo either, which probably upsets all of my aviation friends (WMU has a top 3 aviation program!).  Obviously, the campus is pretty nice on the right day, and WMU hockey games are the most fun you'll have at a hockey game (yes, I know most of you are Blackhawks fans).  Kalamazoo is also about equal distance between Detroit, where most people are from and are huge Red Wings/Tigers(/Lions?) fans and Chicago, where a few Illinois students are from and are usually White Sox fans.  I'm a Cubs fan personally, so any time I can hit up Wrigley, I go.  Kalamazoo is perfectly between the two.

5. WMU's now former coach, Bill Cubit, is now the offensive coordinator at Illinois, Northwestern's hypothetical rival, and in his first two games, the offense there has been gangbusters. Does that surprise you, considering his tenure? Do you think Cubit's scheme can change Illinois, and, I dunno, keep Illinois within 30 of Northwestern this year? How do WMU fans feel about his tenure, the decision to move on, and are people pulling for him in his post-Broncos career?

Not at all.  The Illini offense has had the weapons to succeed, and the fact that Beckman struggled without Cubit is surprising.  Cubit is an offensive genius, just wasn't a good motivator or defensive coach.  He is a legit AQ offensive coordinator.  Just ever a head coach.  And if I were a Northwestern fan, I'd be very scared to play Illinois.

Remember, the last time Beckman and Cubit were on the field together as MAC coaches, the final score was 66-63. That score could be surpassed by the two spread teams this year.

As for his departure, there is still a lot of fans unable to accept the firing.  You have to remember how well he did in his first 4 seasons, the fact he has 3 of the program's 5 bowl appearances, and countless NFL players.  He was a good recruiter, and graduated his kids.  A good coach off the field, and a great offensive coach.  But in my 4 years at WMU, he struggled mightily.  His lone >.500 season was 2011, and that Pizza Bowl will burn in my memory forever (Alex Carder threw 4 INTs and fumbled twice in Jordan White's final game).  The loss to Ball State my first year here in 2009 on ESPN2 will always hurt (WMU could've gotten to .500 against a BSU team that was 1-10 coming into the game).  A combined 22-27 record (16-16 in the MAC) in 4 years was just too much.  Couldn't beat the upper level teams, got an occasional AQ win, but stunk against our rivals.  Playing Alex Carder over VanTubbergen, after TVT had a monster 4th quarter on the road against Central Michigan to win our first game in Mt. Pleasant in 10 years, is still beyond me.  Carder threw 4 INTs that game against Buffalo and the loss to lowly EMU for the Michigan MAC Trophy (best record between the directionals, last year's winner retains if all 3 teams go 1-1) was just too much.

Oh, and CMU got to a bowl game against EMU, Miami (just as bad as Buffalo), and UMass.  WMU lost their last two games.  Missed out on a bowl game.  That still stings.

6. As you noted in our Q-and-A, Saturday's game isn't expected to be particularly close. Is there any reason to expect a surprise? What do you think will happen on Saturday?

I mean, if you want to play the whole "Northwestern is laughing because WMU lost to a God Awful FCS team and the Broncos come out for blood" slant, sure there might be a surprise.  But I just don't see the Bronco defense magically being able to stop the zone-read/spread offense in a week.  They struggled against Connor Cook, and Nicholls just exposed the kryptonite to the whole season.  If anyone saw the first half of the Eagles-Redskins gameMonday, this game will look like that, only worse.  Northwestern hangs a 60 spot on the Broncos and I cry myself to sleep on the car ride home.  NU 63, WMU 14

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