It was the first career start for redshirt freshman Chester Stewart, but he was neither impressive through the air (60 yards in 20 pass attempts) nor on the ground (38 yards on 12 carries).
On top of that, the Owls’ young signal-caller consistently overthrew and simply missed open receivers, looking flustered and uncomfortable in the pocket all day.
About the only credit he deserves is not turning the ball over.
Redshirt freshman Joe Jones appears to have the starting job all to himself, as he carried the ball 15 times for 50 yards.
Additionally, freshman James Nixon totaled 58 yards on just three attempts, with a long touchdown run negated due to a holding penalty on senior wide receiver Travis Shelton.
Jones and company deserve credit for their performance, considering there was no passing game to speak of.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Once again, there’s not a whole lot this unit could have done.
Senior Bruce Francis led the way with four receptions for 27 yards, but chances to haul in receptions for this group were limited because of Stewart’s inaccuracy.
The likes of Shelton and Francis are the playmakers for the Owls, and when they can’t the get the ball in their hands, the offensive struggle that was Saturday happens.
Once again, the penalties were killer.
The group did a decent job opening holes for Jones and protecting Stewart, who was sacked just once.
Coach Al Golden began changing up his lineup, playing freshmen like Pat and Sean Boyle more often when his veterans weren’t getting the job done.
Junior defensive end Junior Galette led the charge with the Owls’ lone sack and two and a half tackles for losses in the contest.
This group also held Western Michigan junior running back Brandon West to just 44 yards on the ground, as the Broncos averaged just 1.4 yards per carry as a team.
They were also constantly getting pressure on junior quarterback Tim Hiller, making his day just as uncomfortable as West’s.
Junior Alex Joseph led the team in tackles with seven, including two for a loss. They also did an improved job in the short passing game, something that killed them against Buffalo.
In that game, the battle for the middle of the field wasn’t even close. That wasn’t the case Saturday, as this unit has made strides over the last few weeks.
Aside from the game’s lone touchdown, where Broncos’ sophomore wide receiver Juan Nunez beat Owls’ sophomore defensive back Jaiquawn Jarrett on a double move, this group was terrific.
Sophomore cornerback Jamal Schulters led the way with six tackles, a forced fumble and an interception, while senior cornerback Evan Cooper Jr. pitched in with seven tackles and two pass-breakups.
On the whole, they kept Hiller in check and were making plays all over the field.
The Broncos simply did not kick to Shelton, instead popping up the ball and settling with allowing the Owls to start around their own 40-yard line.
In the kicking game, sophomore punter Jeff Wathne had several booming punts, including four inside the 20-yard line, which is key in a field-position battle.
But redshirt junior kicker Jake Brownell missed two field goals, one from 39 yards and the other from 28 yards.
That’s not the reason they lost the game, but it certainly didn’t help.
Golden had a great defensive game plan, but offensively he coached a lot more conservatively than normal considering who was under center.
But with how poorly Stewart played, many were probably wondering why Golden didn’t go to junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton, who played well last year when redshirt senior quarterback Adam DiMichele suffered a broken leg against Miami (Ohio).
It seems that Golden is committed to redshirting Charlton this year so he can start the next two years, and while that may help the Owls down the line, this season is quickly getting away from them.
What else can go wrong for the Owls?
First, they lose in overtime, then on a last second Hail Mary, then their starting quarterback gets injured, and then they fall to 0-2 in the Mid-American Conference and lose the Homecoming game 7-3 to a team they’re better than.
Now they have two tough road games coming up against Miami (Ohio) and Central Michigan, and certainly won’t have DiMichele back for either.
Not to mention, Stewart’s confidence can’t be all that high after Saturday’s performance.
This could get real bad, real fast, if it hasn’t already reached that point yet.
Grade: When does basketball season start?
Todd Orodenker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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