Western Michigan is rowing its boat toward an undefeated football season.
The kids from Kalamazoo ran their record to 7-0 Saturday with a 41-0 win over Akron, and the Broncos and Coach P.J. Fleck are starting to gain some attention.
“The Directionals” — you know, Eastern this, Southern that — typically don’t get (or earn) much respect in college football, but Western Michigan this week cracked the national top 25 in football for the first time in school history.
The Broncos play in the Mid-American Conference, so they don’t play the toughest schedule, but they do have wins over Northwestern and Illinois, a couple of Big Ten Conference teams.
They also have a colorful leader in Fleck, who at 35 is the second-youngest head coach in major-college football.
Fleck raised eyebrows, but not expectations, when he was hired four years ago and brought his “row the boat” mantra with him.
Fleck explained the philosophy this way in an article published by MLive.com:
“There are three parts to rowing the boat. There is the oar, which is the energy behind rowing the boat. There is boat, which is the actual sacrifice, either our team or the administration or the boosters or the audience or whoever is willing to sacrifice for this program. There is also the compass. Every single person that comes in contact with our football program, fans or not, they are all going for one common goal and that is success.”
Sounded great. Until his first team finished 1-11.
But Fleck stayed the course, and his vision and enthusiasm won over the players, recruits and fans.
Two freshman starters on that first terrible Fleck team are now seniors: Quarterback Zach Terrell and receiver Corey Davis.
Terrell accounted for four touchdowns against Akron — two running and two passing. He completed 21 of 31 passes for 207 yards, and he’s completed 70.1% of his passes (122 for 174) with 17 touchdowns and no interceptions this season.
Davis, who made an acrobatic coach two weeks ago against Northern Illinois that was ESPN’s “play of the day,” had eight catches for 63 yards and two touchdowns against Akron and has 44 catches for 652 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
Final Fleck of advice
The coach explained the compass part of his “row the boat” philosophy this way during a recent interview with ESPN:
“If you surround yourself with turds, you’re headed for Turdville.”
Western Michigan hadn’t been 7-0 in football since 1941, when a team guided by Coach Mike Gary finished 8-0, with four shutouts, and outscored opponents, 183-27.
Hard to deny Gary had leadership qualities.
After that undefeated season, Gary left his post to join the United States’ wartime efforts. His position: Naval Air Force Commander.
Out of retirement
After Utah’s second game this season, running back Joe Williams retired, saying his body was too beat up to continue.
But after at least four Utah running backs were unavailable because of injuries this week, Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham asked his players what they thought about asking Williams to rejoin them.
Good call, Utes. Williams rushed for 179 yards and a touchdown as Utah defeated Oregon State, 19-14.
He carried the ball 34 times.
And he thought he was sore before.
Good call, coach
Maryland doesn’t have a top-25 team, or even an upper-echelon Big Ten team, but it looks like the Terrapins have found a principled coach.
A week ago, during a loss to Penn State, Maryland linebacker Isaiah Davis delivered a monster hit on Nittany Lions kicker Joey Julius long after the whistle blew on the kickoff to the second half.
Maryland was penalized for unsportsmanslike conduct and Davis was ejected from the game.
But that wasn’t enough for first-year Terrapins Coach D.J. Durkin, who suspended Davis, a redshirt freshman who is a special teams star, for Saturday’s game against Minnesota.
Announcing his decision, Durkin put on a clinic for how coaches can handle a sensitive situation.
First, he expressed his affection for Davis, describing him as a fine young man who made a bad decision. But Durkin also made it clear that Davis’ actions would not be tolerated, saying it wasn’t the culture of his program and explaining that he and his staff spent a lot of time talking to their players about respecting the team and being accountable to one another.
“I want to make it very clear to him and our team,” Durkin told reporters, “this is a teachable moment, and we’re going to take advantage of a teachable moment.”
Indiana mounted a game comeback against No. 10 Nebraska, rallying from a 17-0 first-quarter deficit to within two points in the fourth quarter.
But Nebraska has owned the fourth quarter this season, outscoring opponents, 88-13, the nation’s most lopsided margin. The Cornhuskers outscored Indiana, 10-7, in the fourth quarter and that was enough.
The Hoosiers were bidding for their second win over a ranked team, something they haven’t done in one season since 2004.
Rutgers surely thought it had it easier against Illinois than it had in its previous two Big Ten games, against Ohio State and Michigan, when it was outscored, 136-0. Of course it did.
Just not easy enough.
The Scarlet Knights were shut out for three more quarters by the Illini — running their scoreless quarters streak to 11 — before finally managing a touchdown on a short pass on the first play of the fourth quarter.
It was not the start of a trend. On Rutgers’ next possession, quarterback Giovanni Rescigno threw a pass that was intercepted and returned 78 yards for an Illinois touchdown.
Rutgers has two scoring plays in four conference games — one each against Iowa and Illinois — and has been outscored, 174-14.
Dede Westbrook has a hot hand, or hands.
The Oklahoma receiver caught nine passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas State, giving him 26 receptions for 574 yards and eight touchdowns in the last three games.
Five of those scoring plays have gone for at least 40 yards. His touchdowns against Kansas State covered 26, eight and 88 yards.
Tennessee has a record of 5-2 yet has been outscored, 76-17, in the first quarter. … Alabama has a streak of nine games in which units other than its offense have scored. … The Crimson Tide has scored 11 touchdowns on turnovers or punt and kickoff returns, including a 58-yard interception return by Ronnie Harrison and a 79-yard punt return by Eddie Jackson on Saturday.
Times wire services contributed information used in this report.
Follow Mike Hiserman on Twitter @MikeHiserman