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July 18, 2013

Opponent Breakdown: Nicholls







As the 2013 season approaches, BroncoBlitz.com will break down each opponent, in an order of what we feel will be the most anticipated games. We've determined that the 12th most anticipated matchup will occur early in the schedule, against FCS opponent Nicholls.

Nicholls Colonels

2012 in review

1-10 overall (0-7 Southland)

Postseason: None

It doesn't take more than a glance at the record to understand that last season was a disaster for Nicholls. Not a historically strong Southland Conference program, the Colonels may have hit rock-bottom last year, not only losing every game save for NAIA breather Evangel, but losing by an average of 28.7 points.

Sure, that total includes margins of 50 and 74 against Tulsa and Oregon, respectively, but the fact is that this was not a particularly competitive team.

The high points of the season (the term being used somewhat loosely) were the win over Evangel, and a surprisingly competitive opening game loss to newly minted FBS program South Alabama.

Coaching


Despite the Colonels' struggles last season, the program retains fourth-year head coach Charlie Stubbs.

Stubbs has a quite impressive pedigree as a big-time assistant coach through the years, including stops at Louisville, Alabama and Oregon State, and has a generally well-regarded offensive mind. And it's not as if Nicholls is an easy place to win.

Nicholls did win a conference title in 2005, but even then the Colonels were only 6-5. You have to go all the way back to the early 1980's to find a coach (Sonny Jackson) that put up a winning record in his tenure in Thibodaux. The program's all-time winning percentage is just .412.

Despite all this, it's hard to imagine that Stubbs isn't feeling the heat right now. After posting a respectable 4-7 record in his inaugural year of 2010, including 3-4 in the conference, Stubbs is 2-20 in the past two seasons and 0-14 in Southland play.

WMU and Nicholls met in Stubbs' first two years (2010 and 2011), with the Broncos taking both meetings by a combined score of 87-21. They are the only two meetings between the schools.

Passing Game

Key departures: WR Jesse Turner (448 yd, 2 TD), WR Josh Hanberry (308 yd),

Key returnees: TE Nick Scelfo (300 yd, 2 TD)

There wasn't a ton to be impressed with about last season's passing attack for the Colonels. At first glance, their 222-yard average doesn't seem so bad, but when you take into account the fact that they were coming from behind so much, it doesn't look so hot. Add in the ten touchdowns against 16 interceptions, and it was not a recipe for offensive explosions.

Worse yet, four of the ten touchdowns thrown by Colonel quarterbacks were in their 73-17 rout of NAIA program Evangel, so against competition FCS or higher, the Colonels only managed six touchdowns in ten games. For a team run by a coach that is not afraid to put the ball in the air (Stubbs once wrote a book titled "Wide Open Football"), that is not going to do the job.

There is good news and bad news heading into 2013. The bad news is that the team loses their two most productive targets on the outside-- although for a team with already weak production, that may not be back-breaking. Nonetheless, Turner and Hanberry were their top wideouts, and they are gone.

Who steps into these spots is up in the air. The leading returning receiver is senior Erik Buchanan (283 yards, 1 TD).

The top target may end up being the aforementioned Scelfo, a tight end who had a good spring and was named to the preseason All-Southland team.

Making matters worse, leading passer Landry Klann is out for the season with a shoulder injury which will require surgery. Klann didn't light the world on fire in 2012, but surely the Colonels were hoping for a step forward from the 6-foot-3, 210 pounder in his senior season.

With all this bad news, it's hard to imagine a silver lining, but Nicholls got just that with a very recent addition. Just Thursday night, the program announced that Tulsa quarterback Kalen Henderson would transfer to the program and be eligible immediately.

Henderson will add a dual-threat dimension to the Nicholls offense. While his playing time was not extensive at Tulsa, he will bring FBS experience to the Colonels and undoubtedly have a great shot to win the starting job out of fall camp.

Running game

Key departures: None

Key returnee: Marcus Washington (598 yd, 5.2 ypc, 6 TD)

Marcus Washington is the most talented player on this Colonel offense, and as a senior, you can expect the offense to run around the 5-foot-11, 214 pound back. Washington was one of three Colonels named to the preseason All-Southland Conference team.


"Marcus Washington is by far our most productive offensive player," Stubbs said after spring camp wrapped up. "We played him sparingly in the spring, but he did excel when he received the ball. In the last scrimmage, he wasn't in on many plays but he still scored a touchdown and made some big plays."

A running back's production heavily depends on his offensive line, of course. Nicholls returns plenty of experience at the position, with seven upperclassmen among their 16 linemen on the roster.

6-foot-5, 290 pound senior Abasi Salimu, who started his career at San Jose State, anchors the unit at left tackle. With this being one of their deeper positions, and Washington looking for a big final year, you can expect Nicholls to shade towards the run in 2013.

Run Defense

The last couple of times these teams met, WMU didn't put up amazingly high rushing totals, though this WMU team with their senior depth at running back may put together a better attack. They'll get their chance against a Nicholls unit that gave up 4.8 yards per attempt and 193 yards per game in 2012.

Linebacker Jordan Piper was the tackling machine on this Colonel defense last season, racking up 107 total stops to lead the team by more than 40. He is gone, however, along with two other starting linebackers. Perhaps just as importantly, Rashar Knight, who led the team in sacks with four and tackles for loss with ten, is gone to graduation.

Returner Chris Bermond (64 tackles) will try to anchor that group, though he was not exactly a dynamic force in 2012.


The defensive front looks to be in better shape, though they struggled mightily last season. While the production was low last year, 327-pound Edet Udoh returns from a season-long injury in the middle after starting 11 games as a junior, and Houston transfer Keithen English could be a big help.

Pass Defense

The pass defense may be the single strongest unit on this Colonels team, returning nearly everyone meaningful from a group that was somewhat respectable in 2012. While the 7.6 yards given up per attempt and 25 touchdowns certainly don't jump off the page at you, the backs did produce 11 interceptions and were not exactly helped out by a lackluster pass rush.

T.J. Lumar (43 tackles, 2 INT, 2 FF) and Siegan Vergenal (50 tackles, 1 INT, 3 FF) make up a solid playmaking safety duo. Brian Lewis and Toren Joseph make a strong, experienced tandem at corner.

If Nicholls was going to shock WMU in any way, this unit would have to find a lot of turnovers, but with the pass rush unlikely to be great, it's still probably wishful thinking.

Special Teams

While Nicholls lacks explosiveness on special teams, they should once again boast solid coverage teams and a kicking game that will be among the best in the conference.

Andrew Dolan had a solid 2012 season placekicking and as a result was named to the preseason All-Southland Conference team. He hit on 10-of-14 field goals with a long of 48 yards, and over his final eight attempts missed only one, from 52 yards away.

Louisiana-Monroe transfer Conner Fryaux will likely handle the punting duties after averaging 36.4 yards per boot over 17 punts in his two years with the Warhawks.

Overall Outlook

WMU continues to make a habit of scheduling an FCS opponent early in the season as a MAC tune-up. It should be expected that the Broncos would find success in these games, although they haven't been guaranteed wins for every MAC team in recent years.

There shouldn't be a problem for WMU in this one, as Nicholls is not a particularly frightening FCS opponent. The Colonels look to be an improved defensive team, and it will be interesting to see what dimension Kalen Henderson adds to the offense. Barring Charlie Stubbs pulling a rabbit out of his hat, though, this is not likely to be more than a three or four win team. Needless to say, it's a game that P.J. Fleck and WMU should have no trouble with (and may very well be Fleck's first win as a head coach).

Bold Prediction

It's way too early to even begin to predict specific results for games, but BroncoBlitz.com will, almost as ridiculously, predict certain events in each game this fall.

With WMU comfortably ahead midway through the third quarter, redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Terrell will enter the game and lead the Broncos to another scoring drive, throwing his first career touchdown pass in the process.

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