Last Updated: 2018-12-10
Before star quarterback Joe Wassink suffered an ankle injury at the end of October, the Western Michigan Broncos were flying high. They had won six straight games, and they were looking like the favorites to win the MAC West. After Wassink went down with an injury though, everything changed. The offense couldn’t get much going under new quarterback Kaleb Eleby and they lost three of their last four games. The Broncos are heavy underdogs to the BYU Cougars in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
BYU Cougars vs. Western Michigan Broncos
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Betting Odds: BYU -12, O/U 48.5
Location: Albertson’s Stadium, Boise, Idaho
Date and Time: Friday, December 21, 2018, 4 p.m. ET
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl TV Coverage: ESPN
It looked like BYU turned the page after a disastrous 2017 campaign early this season. The Cougars went on the road and knocked off Arizona and Wisconsin in the first three weeks of the season, and the win in Camp Randall catapulted them into the AP Top 25. Then, they were hammered in back-to-back weeks and they stumbled across the finish line to end the year.
Western Michigan’s defense didn’t help Eleby over the last month of the season. The Broncos allowed 40.8 PPG in their final four games, but the young quarterback had some good moments. Eleby’s numbers ended up being not much worse than Wassink’s, although they were aided by garbage time. He led Western Michigan to an upset over Northern Illinois in the season finale that was needed to ensure a bowl bid.
Injuries and Absences
There are a number of injuries to note for BYU ahead of this game. The Cougars had three defensive starters go down to season-ending injuries over the course of the year, with linebacker Zayne Anderson, cornerback Chris Wilcox, and defensive end Corbin Kaufusi all out. Tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau is out for the season as well, and the running back situation is a bit precarious heading into this game. Squally Canada and Lopini Katoa are both questionable, and Matt Hadley has been ruled out. Those three players were the team’s three top rushers this season.
Wassink was thought to be lost for the season after undergoing surgery on his ankle, but he has not been ruled out for this game. Getting him back would be a big boost for Western Michigan, and the CFB betting line would likely fall into the single digits if he were to play, so keep an eye on that. Right tackle Mark Brooks has been out since mid-October, and he will miss this game too.
Kalani Sitake just finished up his third season as the head coach of BYU. Sitake’s seat was warm coming into the season after going 4-9 last year, but he took the Cougars back to a bowl game and that has earned him a reprieve. He is a defensive coach and his defenses have been very good during his time in Provo. The Cougars were ranked 30th in the nation in total defense according to S&P+.
Some scoffed at Western Michigan when the Broncos made the decision to hire former quarterback Tim Lester to be their head coach, but the move has kept the program from falling back into the gutter. It wasn’t going to be easy to replace a firebrand like PJ Fleck, and Lester has led the team to bowl eligibility in consecutive seasons.
Matchup to Watch
Western Michigan finished the year with a top-40 offense, and the extra time to prepare should help the team install more of the offense if Eleby plays instead of Wassink. The freshman has showed a lot of promise, and if he can complete some passes early, that will help LeVante Bellamy and Jamauri Bogan get going on the ground.
The Cougars have been able to stop teams that aren’t able to move the ball through the air all year, so the Broncos need to be able to have some success in the passing game.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Pick
This is one of a handful of cold weather bowl games, so keep an eye on the weather report prior to this game. BYU would have a decent advantage in bad weather, as Western Michigan does not have a good defense. Provided we see good weather, I like the Broncos in this one. I’m a believer in Lester, and the offense should have some extra wrinkles. The injury situation for BYU will hurt them, and Western Michigan can keep it within the number.
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