Early bye week bad timing for Western football

Head+coach+Charlie+Fisher+has+been+a+master+of+preparation+this+season.

Jake Thompson

Head coach Charlie Fisher has been a master of preparation this season.

Adam Feiner

Often times, bye weeks in college football come midway through or late in the regular season. However, after just two weeks, the Western Illinois football team will enjoy their bye this weekend. The Leathernecks and the Missouri State Bears are the only two teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference to have the rare Week 3 bye.

The thing that I’m worried about is Western losing all the positive momentum gained during the first two weeks of play. The Leathernecks took care of business in their season opener against Eastern Illinois. It wasn’t the cleanest game on both sides of the ball for Western, but they couldn’t really complain about a road win by double-digits against an in-state rival.

Last Saturday, Western returned home to Hanson Field with a statement win over nationally-ranked Northern Arizona. The passing game improved dramatically, with quarterback Sean McGuire completing 71 percent of his passes (22-for-31) for 336 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore running back Steve McShane continued to find running lanes behind an offensive line that is completely in-sync. Wide receiver Lance Lenoir became the best to ever play the position for the Leathernecks. In the Week 2 win over the Lumberjacks, Lenoir passed the 200 career catches milestone, became the all-time leader in Western history with 22 career touchdowns and finished the game with the fourth-most yards in a single game with 231. Altogether the Leathernecks compiled 539 yards of total offense in Week 2.

“I wish we could keep playing,” McShane said. “But as far as the bye week goes, we’ll still be going hard in practice.”

Head coach Charlie Fisher was pleased with how well his offense has adapted to a new system. With the playbook down pat, Fisher is now hoping the Leathernecks can clean up some of the little things he noticed during the Northern Arizona game that could decide future conference matchups.

“I still think our operation on offense can get better,” Fisher said. “We had to burn two timeouts in the first quarter. That can’t happen. Those timeouts are like golden nuggets; you have to keep them. We had a delay of game as well. We have to correct that.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Western will try to figure out answers for starting fast in the first and third quarters. Eastern Illinois scored all 21 of their points in the first and third. Northern Arizona also scored all of their points in the first and third, with 13 in the first and 7 in the second.

These are stats that could prove costly against conference foes with dynamic offenses like North Dakota State, Northern Iowa and South Dakota State.

“We need to work on finding ways to come up with stops in the first quarter instead of playing from behind,” said sophomore cornerback Xavier Rowe. “I’m looking forward to this bye week. It’s just another week for us to get better as a team by working on our fundamentals and technique.”

So, do I think the bye week hurts or helps the Leathernecks? Well of course it helps them. Look what extra preparation time has allowed for so far this season. Western had all spring and fall practice to get ready for Eastern on a Thursday night. The weeknight game meant that the Leathernecks had 10 days to scheme against a high-flying Northern Arizona team. Plus, it allows an injured player, like safety Aaron Diggs, to heal.

Still, I would say the early bye week hurts the Leathernecks more. I am a firm believer in momentum, whether it is during a game or during consecutive weeks in which a team is playing. Western was on a roll heading into the bye. The general consensus I got from the team was that they wanted to keep playing. Who wouldn’t want to keep playing when everything looked to be in-sync last Saturday?

In the end, Western must face the bye week whether they want to or not. Their record might not show a win or loss this weekend. However, whether the Leathernecks won or lost the bye week will be determined by how they play against FBS and in-state foe Northern Illinois next Saturday in DeKalb.