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October 12, 2012

Five keys to Ball State

As we approach Saturday's road MAC opener with Ball State, BroncoBlitz.com takes a look at five factors that will decide which way the game goes.

1. Who will catch the ball?

Western Michigan is getting extremely low on pass catchers. Jaime Wilson is still going to get his catches and Josh Schaffer is as strong as ever, but beyond that is a lot of question marks.

It looks as though Kendrick Roberts will get a lot of snaps, but his effectiveness is in question with his hand injury. Eric Monette is still banged up, and Justin Collins will miss Saturday's game entirely.

The tight ends are in slightly better shape as all four look to play Saturday, but Matt Cutler and Gabe Hughes are less than 100% leaving Blake Hammond to take on an increased role.

Expect a similar gameplan to what the Broncos brought against UMass. Short passes out of the backfield with the occasional look deep for Wilson or Schaffer should be the norm along with a continuation of the increased role for the running game.

2. How effective will the new offense be?

Building on our last key, it'll be critical this week for Tyler Van Tubbergen and the backs to have a similar amount of effectiveness as they saw last week.

Ball State provides another opportunity for success, as they haven't effectively stopped the run or the pass in the early going this year. More in question is whether they'll be able to adjust after seeing game film from UMass. The Bronco attack was not quite as explosive downfield, though it may not be any easier to stop with the newfound balance.

Looking at the Ball State defense that gives up nearly 200 yards per game on the ground, that may be an even bigger focal point for the Broncos tomorrow with a healthy backfield.

3. Can the defense get its swagger back?

Western Michigan's defense had a solid game, certainly, against UMass. Now comes a much bigger fish to fry, as the Cardinals come in averaging 492 yards per game with continued success through both the aerial and ground games.

The good news for the Bronco defense is that BSU quarterback Keith Wenning is not much of a running threat. This reduces the likelihood that WMU will see a lot of read option this week, a play that they're improved against but still not where they need to be.

Nonetheless, this game will provide a stiff test as the Broncos look to have their hands full with Jahwan Edwards and Horactio Banks out of the backfield (886 combined yards) and Wenning throwing to Willie Snead (104 yards per game, 5 TD).

Teams like Ball State simply provide a challenge that's hard to plan for. The Broncos may come out in their usual sets that are designed primarily to stop the run, and they'll be relying on the corners to have a great game. It's a tough matchup, but the defense needs to get back to where they were earlier in the year.

4. What role will special teams play?

While the Broncos have seen improvement in leaps and bounds in the kicking and punting games, Ball State comes in with a well-oiled special teams machine. Kicker Steven Schott has hit the most field goals in the MAC with 14, including two over 50 yards, while Scott Kovanda is one of the more consistent punters in the league.

Andrew Haldeman can't be expected to be Schott, but the Broncos need a solid game from him and J. Schroeder. They may also be able to derive an advantage in the return game, where Ball State's Jamill Smith has been solid but unspectacular.

In what's expected to be a close game, though, there's an advantage for the Cardinals with Schott's ability to make long and even game winning kicks, as he did at Indiana.

5. Could Paul Hazel's return help neutralize Wenning and the BSU passing game?

Paul Hazel missed the UMass game with an ankle injury, but he wasn't really needed in a 52-14 laugher. Against Ball State, putting pressure on Keith Wenning (who has only taken three sacks all year) will be key to throwing off the Cardinals' rhythm.

We may still see a lot of platooning, as Hazel may not play on a lot of likely running downs, but if he can do what the rest of the BSU opponents haven't, Wenning could finally be uncomfortable in a game. So far, he's had it too easy.

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