MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder has been trying to develop a rapport with a receiving corps that's been in flux all season long. Carder and the Broncos flourished last week against FCS opponent Eastern Illinois. But facing a Big Ten team is a different story.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder has been trying to develop a rapport with a receiving corps that's been in flux all season long.
Carder and the Broncos flourished last week against FCS opponent Eastern Illinois. But facing a Big Ten team is a different story.
Carder was 24 of 44 for 209 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception as the Broncos lost 28-23 to Minnesota on Saturday. Max Shortell replaced an injured MarQueis Gray and passed for 188 yards and three touchdowns for the Gophers (3-0).
"I thought their second-string kid came in, their quarterback came in and he was probably the difference," WMU coach Bill Cubit said. "He gave them a real big spark there."
Dareyon Chance rushed 29 times for a career-high 144 yards and a touchdown for the Broncos (1-2), who lost 24-7 at Illinois in the season's first week, but responded with a big 52-21 win against FCS school Eastern Illinois last week with Carder throwing for 364 yards and five touchdowns.
However, the fifth-year senior had a number of overthrows Saturday, including missing wide-open tight end Blake Hammond late in the third quarter for an almost sure touchdown, trailing 28-17 at the time.
"Overthrowing a wide-open guy for a touchdown is something that eats at me, especially because there's so few opportunities you have to score and to put your team in a position to win a football game," Carder said.
Carder had thrown three interceptions in the loss to Illinois with WMU believing it let two games against Big Ten opponents slip away. The missed throw to Hammond was magnified after Andrew Haldeman missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt two plays later.
"I'm sure if Alex would have one throw back, it's probably the one he had him," Cubit said. "But Alex is a great player and a tough kid, and those things happen. Unfortunately it happened when we probably could have gone in there and probably stole one."
Coming into the season, WMU was adjusting to the departure of its top receivers from last season — Jordan White, Chleb Revenell and Robert Arnheim. A starter for this year, Timmy Keith, was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered on the season's opening kickoff. Eric Monette, the Broncos' leading returning receiver, missed Saturday's game with an ankle injury and Josh Schaffer has been bothered by groin and shoulder injuries since spring practice.
Jaime Wilson, a true freshman, stepped in against Eastern Illinois with 11 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He added 10 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Gophers. Meanwhile, Chance, whose previous career high was 58 yards rushing last week, will be relied on while Carder and the receivers get on the same page.
"I think he proved it," Cubit said of Chance. "I think it's his job now to lose. I think he went out there, and everybody says he's too small, too this. ... that's not a bad day. For him, he was a competitive guy."
Gray hurt his left leg late in the second quarter with the Gophers trailing, but Shortell steered a six-play, 78-yard march for the go-ahead score that A.J. Barker capped with his second of three touchdown receptions. The Broncos went three and out, and Shortell found Barker open on the sideline for a 53-yard catch-and-run to make it 21-10 with 30 seconds left before halftime.
"Just a lot of be ready for the pass," WMU cornerback Lewis Toler said of the change from Gray to Shortell. "Get our cover guys out there on the field and make sure we get hands on those receivers to slow their routes down and mess up the timing."
Toler intercepted Shortell early in the fourth quarter setting up a close finish.
The Gophers went for it on fourth-and-15 at the WMU 34 with a little less than 6 minutes left in the game, and Shortell's pass for Marcus Jones was overthrown. Carder's 10-yard touchdown pass to Wilson capped a 66-yard cruise in barely 1½ minutes, pulling the Broncos with 28-23 after the 2-point conversion failed.
They got the ball back for a last chance, with no timeouts and 92 seconds remaining at their own 28-yard line, but Carder took a sack and his fourth-and-18 completion to Wilson was short of the marker.
This was the first meeting between these programs since 1977. The Broncos have beaten Big Ten teams before, twice in coach Bill Cubit's eight seasons, against Illinois in 2008 and at Iowa in 2007. But he dropped to 2-11 against the Mid-American Conference's big brother, and WMU fell to 6-34 all-time against the Big Ten.
The Broncos played in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl last year, losing to Purdue, and Carder threw for 31 touchdowns and averaged 322.8 yards passing in 12 games. With Wilson, an elusive 5-foot-11 freshman from the Miami area, emerging as his go-to receiver and an offensive line comprising four seniors and a junior, the Broncos have the potential to put up some high scores this season. They never punted last week against Eastern Illinois.