Heading into the season, many expected Western Michigan to be in the hunt for a Mid-American Conference West Division title along with Northern Illinois and Toledo.
In the league’s preseason media poll, the Broncos were picked third behind the Huskies and Rockets, and received four first-place votes, one less than NIU.
However, Western Michigan has had to deal with some adversity early on. Broncos senior quarterback Alex Carder, a second team All-MAC selection last year, injured his throwing hand in a Week 4 win over Connecticut, and has missed time after surgery.
Now, Western Michigan sits at 3-5, and needs to win three of its next four games just to become bowl-eligible. On Saturday against the Huskies, Western Michigan will once again be without its star quarterback.
During Monday’s MAC coaches teleconference, Broncos head coach Bill Cubit said Carder still hopes to be back at the end of the season.
“He’s still in rehab. This one was a pretty significant injury. The hand specialist mentioned it was one of the worst he’s ever seen,” Cubit said. “So, the kid’s working at it. Where he wants to get back, that’s probably a little faster than what the doctor’s are anticipating.
“You hope he can get back for a couple games at the end of the year, so he can go out there and showcase his skills.”
In the first four games of the season, Carder completed 60.2 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,049 yards. He had eight touchdown passes to five interceptions.
When Carder went down, junior Tyler Van Tubbergen took his place. On the season, Van Tubbergen has completed 58.8 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,130 yards. He’s recorded more interceptions (9) than touchdown passes (8). The Broncos are 1-3 with him as the starting quarterback.
During Monday’s teleconference, Cubit was asked if having the junior get some valuable experience was a blessing in disguise. He made it clear he wants Carder in there.
“I’d rather have [Carder]. He’s a great player,” Cubit said. “We thought he was the best player in the league coming back.”
Van Tubbergen had an injury during the spring, so he didn’t take reps in spring practice. He was also banged up in fall camp and didn’t get a ton of time there. Cubit thinks his QB has played well, but said the lack of experience with Van Tubbergen can make a big difference compared to a player in his fifth year in the program.
“We’re really a quarterback-driven offense. It’s not anything where you just take a guy and you just hand the ball off,” Cubit said. “We don’t scale it down.”
NIU’s defense, which ranks second in the conference in scoring defense (18.1 points per game), will get its shot at Van Tubbergen on Saturday. Huskies head coach Dave Doeren said one main difference between Van Tubbergen and Carder was Carder’s command of the offense.
“You could see him audibling and checking. He had great sense of the scheme. I know they ask their quarterbacks to do a lot at the line of scrimmage,” Doeren said. “Alex just had a lot of reps, a lot of game experience, a lot of coaching. Made a lot of mistakes and learned from them over time.”