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Behind Enemy Lines: Western Michigan football beat writer Seth Berry discusses CMU game

Western Michigan quarterback Jon Wassink gets ready to receive the football from his center Sept. 7 against Michigan State at Spartan Stadium. (Photo: WMU Athletics)

Central Michigan Life's Evan Petzold spoke with Western Michigan beat writer Seth Berry from The Western Herald to preview Central Michigan's noon Sept. 28 game against the Broncos at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo.

Western Michigan has started the season 2-2, defeating Monmouth (48-13) and Georgia State (57-10) while losing to Michigan State (51-17) and Syracuse (52-33).

In 2018, the Broncos finished 7-6 overall and 5-3 in the Mid-American Conference, capped off by a 49-18 loss to BYU in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Berry discusses Western Michigan quarterback Jon Wassink, running back LeVante Bellamy, third-year coach Tim Lester and much more on both sides of the ball in this exclusive Q&A.

Central Michigan Life: What is there to know about Western Michigan entering Week 5?

Seth Berry: In terms of the record, they are right where everyone thought they would be. With the Power Five games on the road, those are always tough to win. They took care of business in the two home games against Monmouth and Georgia State, and they showed some good things. Offense is where they're really explosive with Jon Wassink healthy. The receiving corp, which was a question coming into the year, has been good. DaShon Bussell, just a redshirt freshman, is having a solid year. Skky Moore, a true freshman, is having a good year. On the ground game, senior running back LeVante Bellamy is explosive.

On the defensive side of the ball, that's where they struggle a little bit – especially in the secondary. It doesn't help losing D'Wayne Eskridge, who converted over there and was going to play both ways. They struggle against dynamic offenses, so we will see where they can go from here.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Broncos?

Offensively, there aren't a ton of weaknesses. They've got an experienced offensive line. Center Luke Juriga is an NFL prospect. Along the whole line, there's experience, and those guys give Wassink a ton of time to throw. Against Syracuse and Michigan State, it was tough, but they did a good job against MSU's defensive line to get the ball out quick. Syracuse pressured (Wassink) a little more, so there was a balance in that game between the run and pass game. I think a lot of teams in the country would have trouble stopping that offense.

Defensively, it's inconsistent across the board. The defensive line can rotate a lot of guys in, but they aren't outstanding pass rushers. Defensive coordinator Lou Esposito loves to bring the blitz, create pressure and confuse teams in their pass protection. Linebacker Treshaun Hayward had a career game – 15 tackles, two sacks – against Georgia State a few weeks ago. They have athletes, but they've had communication issues in a couple of games where they've given up 50-plus points. Getting on the same page with everyone is the main weakness.

What's the state of the program in coach Tim Lester's third year?

He's always upbeat and positive, no matter what. Even after a loss, he never seems to be in a terrible mood. That puts everyone at ease. He had a couple of young teams to start, especially his second year. Last year, they were one of the youngest teams in the country. This year, there's a bunch of experience. This is the year that they're expected to make a jump. There were big shoes to fill after P.J. Fleck left after the Cotton Bowl in 2016. I think he's on track. They have big games this year against Toledo on the road and Ohio on the road. People will be keeping an eye out to see if Lester can take the program to the next level.

Two-way player D'Wayne Eskridge is out for the season. How much does that hurt Western Michigan?

That definitely hurts, especially considering that he's one of their best players. Being able to convert him to a defensive back says a lot about him – the type of player and athlete he is. But, if you have to do that, what does it say about your depth at corner? Not very good.

You have Patrick Lupro who came in for him against Syracuse, and the Orange attacked him down the field. He got burned a couple of times. They might have to do some reshuffling there, but it'll be hard to replace (Eskridge) since they aren't comfortable with the depth there. I mean, Lupro is only a sophomore, so he can get better and step up. The safeties are good with Stefan Claiborne and Justin Tranquill, but Eskridge is a big loss on defense.

What are your thoughts on WMU opening as an 18-point favorite?

That seems about right to me, just considering that Western Michigan is an explosive offensive team. I could see it being a close game, and I wouldn't count Central Michigan out as a team that could go in there and pull off an upset. If Central can take advantage of some down-field throwing and be able to pass on Western, I could see it being a close game. But if Western can have its way and find a groove, it's really tough to stop. That's why they are favorited by that much.

You can't count anything out, though, especially in a rivalry game.

What does Central Michigan have to do to win?

It starts with getting pressure on Wassink. If he has time to throw, he'll pick you apart. Central Michigan has some pass rushers and slowed down Miami's offense. I watched (Miami) play its first game, and they didn't too bad against Florida. Obviously, Central has some momentum going on the defensive side of the ball. If you can pressure Wassink, you can get him to make a few mistakes. You saw Michigan State do it. Most of the decisions he makes are spot-on, but he can make a mistake here and there. If they can't slow down Western's offense, they'll have to keep up. That's tough to do.

Score prediction?

Western Michigan 38, Central Michigan 24