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September 20, 2012

Five keys to UConn

As we approach Saturday's home matchup with the Big East's Connecticut, BroncoBlitz.com takes a look at five factors that will decide which way the game goes.

1. Can the Broncos find a reliable second target?

With the various injuries to the wide receiving corps, Western Michigan is looking quite thin at the position. Eric Monette won't play for a second straight game, Josh Schaffer is still battling a shoulder injury and not practicing at full strength, and now Justin Collins is limited and questionable with a hamstring injury.

Throw in Timmy Keith's season-ending ACL tear, and there's a rapidly diminishing group at wideout. Saturday was the Jaime Wilson show as he led the Broncos with 117 yards on ten catches. Josh Schaffer did have his best game of the year against Minnesota with four catches for 42 yards, but it remains to be seen if he can be relied on play in and play out as a second option.

Matt Cutler may also be out on Saturday, so Blake Hammond should be the featured tight end and perhaps Daniel Braverman, who had just one catch for five yards against the Gophers, will see more snaps at home against UConn. It's doubtful coach Bill Cubit cares who steps to the plate, just that somebody does.

2. Will Blidi Wreh-Wilson be back at full strength?

The above isn't meant to take anything away from Wilson's ability to be productive. Certainly the Huskies are going to pay him a lot of attention this Saturday, but can they do so with their full secondary arsenal?

Fans may remember that last year, the Broncos were aided in their 38-31 win in East Hartford by a knee injury to UConn's top cornerback, Blidi Wreh-Wilson. WMU picked apart the weakened secondary en route to 479 passing yards. Fast-forwarding to now, Wreh-Wilson is bothered with another injury that kept him out of the Maryland game and may limit him against WMU.

This will further the importance of finding a second option, as last year three different wideouts went for at least a hundred yards in the matchup. Even so, if Wreh-Wilson is limited in the number of plays he can go, that could spring Wilson for some more big gains.

3. Can UConn score enough to keep pace?

This may at first glance seem to be a strange question. After all, the Broncos' prolific offense of last year doesn't seem to be quite up to the standard this fall, and the run defense for UConn is stronger than what was seen at Minnesota.

But if Western Michigan's passing game gets it going at all, and it might on their home turf, the Huskies could be in some real trouble. Their offensive numbers are anemic this year, and it's not as if the Broncos can't play a little defense.

Junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer was touted as a more talented replacement for last year's starter, Johnny McIntee, and perhaps the talent is there. The results, though, are lacking. While Whitmer's 7.2 yards per attempt average is solid, he's averaging just 164 yards per game and has yet to throw a touchdown against five interceptions.

The running game is not significantly more productive, averaging only 2.9 yards per carry to rank last in the Big East and managing only 112 yards per contest, though they do have all five of the offense's touchdowns. While Scott McCummings often steps in and runs a different look with the Wildcat formation, the Bronco defense has stopped that type of attack a lot more effectively so far in 2012 than they did a year ago.

UConn's defense has shown an ability to shut down the opposition, but they haven't faced an offense with the potential of WMU's. There's no guarantee that the Broncos light up the scoreboard, but a shootout would be very favorable for Western Michigan.

4. Was this game circled on the calendar for the Huskies?

There have been a couple of games this year that we talked about a motivation edge for the Broncos. Normally going into a game against a BCS team, the mid-major has the chip on their shoulder and the BCS squad is liable to be caught sleepwalking. Combine that with what should be a solid crowd at Waldo Stadium, and Saturday should be no exception, right?

Well, maybe. It remains to be seen what effect the loss last year has on the Huskies' returnees. The talk in the media has been that UConn had this game circled on the calendar as a time to get revenge, particularly the defense. Suffice it to say we should see a UConn team that's ready to go. The effect that has remains to be seen, but the Broncos can't expect to catch them napping, and there may even be an advantage swung the Huskies' way.

5. Will the running game show up again?

The Broncos may have found their feature back, and it was probably the last man fans would have expected. 5-foot-5 Dareyon Chance, who (partially due to injury) had played the least of the Broncos' four junior running backs in the past two years, got the bulk of the workload against Minnesota and took full advantage.

In the end, Chance went for 144 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries, and there's hope once again in Kalamazoo that Western Michigan might have a running game. Now in steps UConn, who sports a physical defense that completely shut down the Bronco ground game a year ago. Teams have run for only 51 yards on average on the Huskies through three games, so it will be a huge test for a unit that suddenly has expectations.

I don't think it's going too far out on a limb to say that if, and it's a big if, Western Michigan (even as a team) goes for a hundred yards rushing again this Saturday, it's hard to see them losing.

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