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Syracuse vs. Western Michigan football preview: Q&A with Hustle Belt

We meet again, Broncos.

Syracuse v Western Michigan Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange (1-2, 0-1) could use a win this weekend after two straight defeats to Power Five opponents. But will the MAC’s Western Michigan Broncos (2-1, 0-0) oblige? Syracuse won last year’s matchup on the road, but it got plenty interesting in the second half. Tommy DeVito was also the quarterback for SU while the Broncos mounted their comeback.

Since we’re (thankfully) not WMU fans, we went ahead and asked one what to expect in this game. Hustle Belt’s Steve Helwick (who you can follow on Twitter) joins us to share more about the Broncos. We also answer some questions over there, which you can check out.

While the first two games probably went as expected for WMU, blowing out Georgia State probably registered as a little bit of a surprise. What went so right there?

Everything went right, and that’s what showed on the scoreboard. LeVante Bellamy emerged as the premier runner we all knew he was with 192 yards after two previous rough weeks in the backfield. Jon Wassink completed 75% of his passes and found success on his down field throws. Also, the defense finally flipped the switch, making third down stops and forcing turnovers to prevent Georgia State from gaining momentum. Overall, I’d say it was the best performance in the Tim Lester era.

On the one hand, letting up 51 points to an offensively-challenged team like Michigan State is not great. On the other, scoring 17 on them is impressive. How does that game prepare Western Michigan for this one?

What Western Michigan can learn from the brutal loss in East Lansing is how NOT to play going forward. Every great facet mentioned in the Georgia State game went disastrously wrong for the Broncos against the Spartans. Michigan State’s inept offense posted 582 yards on the Bronco defense and kept ripping off big play after big play, both through the air and on the ground. It seems like the improvements are already in place as the coverage exponentially improved against Georgia State and the Broncos were winning more battles at the line of scrimmage.

The Broncos had a pretty beleaguered defense last year, and return a lot of those players. Are you seeing improvement from 2018 so far?

Overall improvement, not really. But week-to-week, yes. Western Michigan allowed 42 points or more in all six of its losses last year, which resulted in a late-season firing of its defensive coordinator. This year, under DC Lou Esposito, allowing 51 to Michigan State plants a giant red flag on the unit. But considering Georgia State brutalized Tennessee and was averaging 43 points per contest heading into Kalamazoo, the Broncos are already on an upswing after limiting the Panthers to 10 points and 126 passing yards in Week 3.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Western Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Last year’s Syracuse vs. Western Michigan game was a wild one for a bit when the Orange pulled Eric Dungey. Any lasting bitterness about that result?

It’s simple enough to say, if Western Michigan redoes the first half which it lost 34-7, the Broncos have a fair shot at winning. Going into the game, Syracuse looked bound to improve under Dino Babers but I wasn’t expecting a 10-3 team with a Top 15 finish. To think a better defensive performance by the Broncos could have spearheaded that great of an upset seems like a lost opportunity. Eric Dungey played a phenomenal game, as did Jamal Custis, and it was definitely a beauty to watch. It felt like an Oklahoma-Texas Tech game, where Syracuse played the role of the Sooners, and Western Michigan responded by scoring a barrage of points without making stops, a la Texas Tech.

Speaking of, assuming you guys are glad not to see Dungey again. What specifically concerns you about Tommy DeVito?

Tommy DeVito seems destined to break out for a career game. He had a couple reps in last year’s game at Waldo Stadium and showed flashes of potential in the 2018 Florida State and 2019 Maryland outings. Considering what Western Michigan allowed Brian Lewerke to do to its secondary, any quarterback is eligible for a career-day versus the Broncos if the defense performs in a similar manner. DeVito won’t run for 200 yards like Dungey did, so there’s a big difference in QB versatility which should make him easier to defend than Dungey.

Have any WMU fans purchased Tim Lester’s XFL trading card? Related: Has anyone referred to him as “Submarine” in public yet?

I remember you mentioning the card prior to last year’s matchup, and I think I’m going to start referring to him as “The Submarine” from the Hustle Belt Twitter account. In the words of the print on the back of the card, Lester (as a coach now) will “go deep on you in a hurry” — which is proven by Wassink’s 11th highest passing average in the country.

Who’s one unsung Western Michigan player we should keep an eye on?

Offensively, Sean Tyler. The freshman running back emerged to a rising star just three games into the season with 138 yards and two touchdowns on just six attempts against Georgia State. He’ll take the load off Bellamy and operate as a reliable secondary halfback going forward. Defensively, Treshaun Hayward. Hayward led all Bronco defenders with 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks last week, and he’ll be a key cog in stopping Moe Neal and the Orange rushing game.

If there’s a single player or position group that concerns you most on the Syracuse side, which is it?

Free safety Andre Cisco poses a threat to Western Michigan. Cisco intercepted Wassink early on in last year’s game and already has two picks and a handful of tackles this year. He seems to be one of the more dangerous safeties in college football, and if Lester elects to “go deep in a hurry,” Cisco’s presence in deep zone coverage is something Western Michigan should not want to test.

Prediction time: Who wins this one and how?

This matchup results in a high-scoring shootout for the second-straight year. Syracuse prevails 45-41 behind a 300+ yard performance from DeVito. Bellamy has another prolific performance on the ground, but Western Michigan’s defense won’t record the stops necessary in order to emerge with a victory. The Orange defense won’t be too bright either after struggling to contain Maryland and Clemson, but the team’s offense should do enough work to produce its first win this season at “The Dome formerly known as the Carrier Dome.”

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Thanks again to Steve for taking the time here. Be sure to check out Hustle Belt for everything Western Michigan/MAC, and follow the site on Twitter, too.