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September 5, 2013

Five keys to Nicholls







Western Michigan fans are getting quite familiar with Nicholls. An FCS team out of Thibodaux, La., Nicholls has met WMU on the football field only twice, but they were in 2010 and 2011 making this the third game in four years between the teams.

WMU has won both meetings with the Colonels handily, to the tune of 49-14 in 2010 and 38-7 in 2011. This year's edition of Nicholls football isn't expected to be much better, although the 66-3 loss to an elite team in Oregon can only tell us so much.

What does WMU have to do on Saturday to avoid a big upset? BroncoBlitz.com examines that question below.

1. Establish the run early

There are formulas for an upset, then there are formulas for Nicholls beating Western Michigan. WMU isn't an amazingly strong team this year, but with as much as the Colonels have struggled of late (and they're expected to continue), it's going to take a lot more than usual to see a surprise win.

Most importantly, there would have to be multiple turnovers from the WMU side. Whether forced or unforced, Nicholls is going to need to get stops and field position.

This makes the running game, particularly early on, important as WMU tries to put away the Colonels. Keeping it on the ground reduces the chance of an early momentum-changing turnover, particularly if freshman Zach Terrell gets early reps.


2. Don't let them believe

This ties in with the last key, but it's important that WMU gets the early lead. If this game is close or the Colonels lead approaching halftime, they'll gather confidence that they can pull the upset.

To a degree, this was on display in East Lansing at WMU's opener against Michigan State last Friday night. If the Spartans had punched in for touchdowns on their first drive or two (where they were moving the ball), it would likely have been a completely different game.

Instead, the Broncos came up with stops and eventually managed to flip field position, helping ensure that they'd be in the game for a long time. Give the same opportunity to Nicholls, and don't be surprised if it's the same result.


3. Can Nicholls get stops?

Again, whenever talking about the Nicholls defensive performance last Saturday, it must be qualified. Oregon is one of the best offensive teams in the country year in and year out, and a lower-level FCS team simply couldn't be expected to hang.

Still, 500 rushing yards is hardly an excusable total to give up against any opponent. So the question remains, what evidence is there that the Colonels will be able to stop WMU at all this weekend?

It's hard to say right now. Before the season started, I posited that the Nicholls defensive line might be among the most improved position units on the team. With 327 pound Edet Umoh and Houston transfer Keithen English shoring up the front four, it appeared Nicholls might be in decent shape.

If Oregon is any indication, I may have jumped the gun on that idea. We'll get a better idea with the step down in competition, but don't expect the WMU offensive line to struggle mightily.


4. Don't let Washington get rolling

"Marcus Washington is by far our most productive offensive player. 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."

Colonels head coach Charlie Stubbs offered that quote about his running back to the media after Nicholls wrapped up spring camp, and it certainly looked true after game one. Washington impressed against the Ducks, managing only 40 yards on 13 carries but impressing out of the backfield with 11 catches for 92 more.

It's obvious that the Colonel staff is focused on getting Washington the ball. At 5-foot-11 and 214 pounds, he has the makeup to be a workhorse back, and if WMU lets him get going downhill, he could be hard to stop.

This matchup takes on some intrigue, in fact, because Nicholls is the type of team that has hurt the WMU defense in recent seasons. With a quarterback in Kalen Henderson that is a threat to run the football and Washington at running back, don't be surprised if the Colonels throw some option looks at WMU.

The Broncos are going to see teams better at those sorts of plays than Nicholls, but it could be valuable practice and perhaps an indication of WMU's improvement, or lack thereof, in the area.


5. Will the fans buy in?

Well, it's not really a key to the game, per se. But I'm pretty confident that WMU won't have big problems with Nicholls. Therefore, I'm asking the question that many are curious about.

P.J. Fleck's video outlining the "new traditions" he plans to bring to Waldo Stadium on game days has drawn mixed reactions around the country. Some seem to make fun and some just like the uniqueness, but in any case people are talking.

Now we find out if the students and alumni will participate. Some of the ideas may flop, but if even a couple stick, it could help raise the level of the game day atmosphere and show the students a better time on Saturdays.


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