Western Michigan football let the Nevada Wolf Pack know what kind of day it was in for in the early stages of the 2021 Quick Lane Bowl.
WMU had prepared for Nevada's kickoff coverage unit in the lead up to the bowl game and spotted some potential weakness they could exploit.
It only took 13 seconds — and 100 yards to accomplish it.
After falling behind 3-0 early in the first quarter, WMU's Sean Tyler returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to give the Broncos a 7-3 lead. That return helped set the tone for a 52-24 victory for the Broncos in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field on Monday afternoon.
"On their kickoff coverage, they do a lot of slanting towards where they kick it to," Tyler, the Quick Lane Bowl MVP said. "So we knew we were gonna have leverage if I set up the kick to go vertical — bounce it outside and it would open up."
To Tyler's surprise, what they'd game planned and schemed up became an additional Christmas present for the sophomore running back.
"I was actually quite surprised once I broke through," Tyler said with a laugh. "There was nobody left so it was a nice little jog to the end zone.
For Nevada, any chance it'd get close to grabbing a slice of momentum, the Broncos made sure to not hand it over. WMU scored on five of their first six drives with the lone nonscoring drive coming on an interception from a Hail Mary to end the first half.
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On third down early in the first quarter, quarterback Kaleb Eleby had managed meager yardage to get the Broncos out from the shadow of their own goal post. Following a timeout, Eleby connected with Corey Crooms for a 74-yard touchdown to extend the Broncos lead to 14-3 with 6:31 remaining in the opening frame.
Eleby finished the day with 162 yards on 8 of 14 passing with two touchdowns and added in 23 yards and a score on the ground. Eleby wasn't alone in the all-out domination of the Wolf Pack, WMU receiver Skyy Moore added in four catches and Brett Borske caught a 20-yard touchdown pass to make the score 24-10 midway through the second quarter.
On the ground, the Wolf Pack struggled to contain the tandem of Tyler and Jaxson Kincaide. In addition to Tyler's eye-popping kickoff return, he amassed 146 yards on the ground averaging 10.4 yards per carry. Kincaide's 105 yards rushing and two touchdowns kept Nevada playing from behind and stymied any attempts at a competitive second half.
On Christmas, WMU found out that they would be without running back La'Darrius Jefferson, who was out due to COVID-19 protocols. That meant both Kincaide and Tyler would have to share the load against one of the nation's best defenses.
WMU coach Tim Lester credits the offensive line, tight ends, and good ball control that helped pile up 352 rushing yards on the afternoon.
"I thought we ran hard," Lester said. "That team (Nevada) is No. 1 in country in takeaways and a lot of them are fumbles. They hit — and they put their helmet right on the ball. I thought even Kaleb scrambled a couple of times he did a great job taking care of that thing and those guys up front, we live and die with them. They've been such an integral part in our running game — especially after the Northern (Illinois) game they were gonna give Skyy (Moore) some attention. We got some fair boxes, 6-on-6, 7-on-7 and we're gonna have a chance to move the ball on the ground, as long as we took care of it."
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Nevada's attempts to serve and volley their way into a high-scoring affair with WMU were quickly stopped as they were often forced into three-and-outs. The Broncos defense collected eight tackles for loss that totaled 40 yards. At least 10 Bronco defenders collected three tackles, linebacker Ryan Selig led the team with 10.
While the Wolf Pack offense struggled to keep pace, the Broncos had no problem converting on early downs, which presented them with few third- and fourth-down opportunities.
In the first half, the Broncos doubled the Wolf Pack in average yards per play 8.8 to 4.1. Nevada quarterback Nate Cox, filling in for NFL-draft bound Carson Strong, struggled to gain consistency and keep the Wolf Pack. Cox finished with 121 yards on 12 of 23 passing with a touchdown.
The Broncos defense was faced with a challenge since Cox had seen limited action and presented a different skill set compared to Strong. While Cox was able to move around outside of the pocket, pressure was triggered up front by the WMU defensive line.
"We knew he had legs unlike the other quarterback (Strong)," said defensive end Ali Fayad. "We also knew he was newer as a quarterback, and quarterbacks that just get in have happy feet so we knew if we got pressure to him in the beginning, he wouldn't last at the end so that's what we did"
Devonte Lee was the star on offense for Nevada as he busted out long runs of 33 and 34 yards. Lee, teaming up with fellow back Toa Taua to account for the two Nevada touchdowns on the day, both 1-yard touchdown runs.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Western Michigan tops Nevada, 52-24, in Quick Lane Bowl