Western Michigan’s trip to the 2018 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl marks the
Broncos’ ninth bowl game in program history and the fourth bowl appearance
in the last five seasons. WMU finished the regular season second in the
Mid-American Conference West Division standings after going 7-5 overall
and 5-3 in conference play under second-year head coach Tim Lester.
Western Michigan features one of the most prolific offenses in the nation as the Broncos
have scored 40 or more points in five games and average over 33 points per game. WMU racked
up over 500 yards of total offense in six of the 12 games this year including a season-high 621
yards in the season opener against ACC opponent Syracuse.
WMU averages 447.2 yards of total offense with 204.6 of that coming on the ground. Through
the air WMU is second in the MAC in passing offense (242.6 ypg) and passing efficiency (144.2). The
Broncos rank ninth in the nation in time of possession, controlling the clock for 33:27 per game.
Western Michigan had 19 scoring drives of 10 plays or more this season, resulting in 14
touchdowns and five field goals. WMU also had nine scoring drives of three plays or less, all
resulting in TDs. The Broncos lead the MAC with 18 fourth-down conversions.
WMU has one game with two 100-yard receivers and a 100-yard rusher (Syracuse), as well
as a game with two 100-yard rushers and one 100-yard receiver (Georgia State). Running backs
LeVante Bellamy and Jamauri Bogan have both ran for 100-plus yards in the same game twice
this season (at Georgia State & at Ball State).
After opening 2018 with losses against Power Five opponents Syracuse and Michigan, the
Brown & Gold reeled off six straight victories and began MAC play with a 4-0 record. The
Broncos hit a hard stretch with three straight losses, including one in overtime, but bounced
back to end the regular season with a 28-21 victory over MAC champion Northern Illinois on
Nov. 20. The Broncos have finished either first or second in the West Division in three of the
past four seasons.
WMU regained possession of two rivalry trophies this season. With a 35-10 victory at Central
Michigan on Oct. 20, the Broncos claimed the rights to the Michigan MAC Trophy and the Battle
for the Cannon Trophy. Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan compete
annually for the Michigan MAC Trophy, which is presented to the program with the best
head-to-head record between the three teams. WMU went 2-0 against its in-state directional
counterparts, also defeating Eastern Michigan, 27-24, on Oct. 6. The Battle of the Cannon Trophy
is awarded to the winner of the Western Michigan versus Central Michigan game each season.
A Closer Look at the Broncos
The Broncos saw six players earn a total of seven all-conference recognitions with junior
running back LeVante Bellamy and junior right guard Luke Juriga being named First Team
All-MAC. Senior center John Keenoy and freshman wide receiver Jayden “Bird” Reed were voted
to the Second Team while senior running back Jamauri Bogan and junior tight end Giovanni
Ricci landed on the Third Team.
One of the most dynamic freshman in the nation, Reed picked up two all-conference nods, as
he was also named to the Second Team as a punt returner. WMU was the only team to produce
two All-MAC running backs in Bellamy and Bogan. Throughout the year, Western Michigan
had six MAC Player of the Week recognitions.
The 1-2 punch of Bellamy and Bogan provided the offensive spark for the Broncos in 2018.
The duo combined for 1,874 rushing yards and 22 total touchdowns. Bellamy was the workhorse
for the Broncos leading the MAC in rushing yards (1,172), rushing yards per game (97.7) and
all-purpose yards (1,567).
Bellamy had six rushing touchdowns and recorded five games with over 100 yards on the
ground, including a career-high (and MAC season-high) 213 yards at Ball State on Nov. 13. Both
his rushing yards and all-purpose yards through the end of the regular season ranked 17th in
the nation. It is his first 1,000-yard season of his career.
Bogan has 702 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns this season, which leads all touchdown
scorers in the MAC (rushing and receiving) and ranks 15th most in the nation. Bogan is second
all-time in school history with 42 career rushing TDs and sixth with 3,265 career rushing yards.
He recorded a touchdown in each of the final seven MAC games and ran for four touchdowns
at Bowling Green on Oct. 13. This is Bogan’s second all-conference season, he was also named
MAC Freshman of the Year in 2015.
Paving the way for the WMU rushing attack are All-MAC offensive line selections Juriga
and Keenoy. WMU ranks 32nd in the nation in rushing yards per game (204.6) and 25th in
sacks allowed with just 17. Keenoy has accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine
game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Jan. 19, 2019.
Through the air, Reed and junior D’Wayne Eskridge are the Broncos’ most electrifying
receivers. Reed has eight touchdown receptions, four 100-yard receiving games and a 93-yard
punt return for a TD. In the first conference game of his career, Reed tied Super Bowl XLV
champion and WMU Athletics Hall of Famer Greg Jennings’ school record with four receiving
touchdowns at Miami (OH) on Sept. 29. He finished the game with 137 yards on seven receptions.
Eskridge started the year with a career-high 240 yards and two touchdowns against Syracuse
in the season opener. The 240 receiving yards tied for the 12th most in a single-game in MAC
history and stands as a conference high this season. Eskridge enters the Famous Idaho Potato
Bowl ranked 10th in the nation for yards per reception at 19.86.
Ricci is in his first season as a tight end after switching from wide receiver during spring
camp. He totaled 392 yards on 35 receptions and had three touchdowns, earning Third Team
Junior quarterback Jon Wassink started the season under center for the Broncos and led the
team to a 6-2 record through the first eight games, before suffering a season-ending right foot
injury in game nine versus Toledo on Oct. 25. It is the second-straight year Wassink has been
sidelined early by injury. In 2017 his season ended in game eight with a broken collarbone at
Eastern Michigan. At the time of this year’s injury Wassink ranked first in the MAC averaging
247.5 yards passing per game, second with 1,980 total yards (14th nationally) and second in
points responsible for per game with 16.5 (15th nationally).
True freshman Kaleb Eleby took over quarterback duties for Wassink, making his first career
appearance in the Toledo game. He finished the contest with 293 yards and two touchdowns on
23 of 28 passing. Through four games this season, Eleby has completed 72 of 111 pass attempts
for 917 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has two rushing TDs.
On the opposite side of the ball, junior linebackers Drake Spears and Alex Grace headline
the Bronco defense. Spears has a team-high 82 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, one
interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Grace has 80 tackles, 10 tackles for a
loss, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery.
Sophomores Ali Fayad and Ralph Holley have emerged as key stoppers on the defensive line.
Fayad has 10.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and five quarterback hurries,
all of which are team highs. His four forced fumbles rank eighth most in the nation. Holley has
registered 9.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
As a team, Western Michigan ranks 32nd in the country averaging 7.0 tackles for a loss a
game. The Broncos have forced 16 fumbles collectively and have nine interceptions.
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl will be the second game for the Bronco defense under Lou
Esposito, who was promoted to Interim Defensive Coordinator after a coaching change prior
to the Broncos’ final regular season matchup against Northern Illinois on Nov. 20.
Western Michigan’s roster features just nine active seniors, making the Broncos one of
the youngest teams in the nation. WMU is one of just two FBS schools that have played a true
freshman long snapper (Bryce Bouwens), holder (Nick Mahalic), kicker (Gavin Peddie) and punter
(Nick Mahalic). Mahalic and fellow freshman Cameron Braaten have also handled kickoff duties.
Heading into the season the Broncos were picked to finish third in the MAC West by both
the coaches and media. Western Michigan was coming off a 2017 season which saw 21 players
go down with season-ending injuries.
Western Michigan 42, Syracuse 55
Aug. 31 // Kalamazoo, Mich. // Waldo Stadium
SECOND HALF SURGE NOT ENOUGH AS WMU FALLS TO SYRACUSE
It was a tale of two halves in Western Michigan’s season opener, as the Broncos hosted
ACC opponent Syracuse for the first time in school history. WMU trailed 34-7 at halftime and
outscored the Orange 35-21 in the second half before falling, 55-42.
SEASON IN REVIEW
D’Wayne Eskridge’s 240 yards receiving against Syracuse are the seventh most in an FBS
game this season.
44 FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL | DECEMBER 21, 2018