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September 27, 2013

Five keys to Kent State

Western Michigan has its first true "must-win" of the season on Saturday, hosting Kent State in a game that might just dictate the direction of the Broncos' season. BroncoBlitz.com looks at five things WMU must do to take home their first win of 2013.

Last week's game saw a complete breakdown in almost every facet of the game, so WMU will have to come with a much better effort at Waldo Stadium on Saturday to get to 1-0 in the MAC.

1. Buy into the "new season" idea

P.J. Fleck obviously knows the importance of putting WMU's non-conference slate behind them, as he has the team wearing white wristbands symbolizing a new season starting 0-0 in MAC play.

It's important that the team buys in. As Fleck and offensive lineman Jimmy Kristof alluded to at Tuesday's press conference, if the players have their missed assignments from the past four weeks in their heads, they'll play tentatively and likely will repeat the mistakes.

2. Start faster

Playing off of the first key, WMU is going to have to put things behind them if they want to get off to a quick start. Tentative play is hardly conducive to hitting on all cylinders from the beginning.

That's something the Broncos haven't done thus far. Another theme of Fleck's presser on Tuesday was the importance of the start of Saturday's game, as the Broncos have found themselves in field position trouble-- and subsequently scoreboard trouble-- in every game.

This starts with the offense and kicking game, both of which have put the relatively stout defense in difficult situations repeatedly through the first four games. Kent State's defense can be scored on, but the offense has to do themselves favors on the drives that don't produce points. At least, they need to string together a first down or two.

3. Pursuit, pursuit, pursuit

WMU's defense is going to have a hard time matching up size-wise at times on the front lines. With 248 pound running back Trayion Durham behind a big offensive line, Kent State has the potential to be a bruising team in MAC play.

It's no secret that WMU's defensive line and linebackers are undersized, so they'll have to get to the ball and gang-tackle to bring down Durham on the inside.

Dri Archer is expected to play Saturday, though the extent is as yet unknown. It may well be that Durham is the bigger matchup problem, anyway.

4. Focus on Nix, but watch Hitchens

Any offensive gameplan going against the Flashes is obviously going to have defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix as a focal point. But the Broncos may double-team the former MAC Defensive Player of the Year at their own peril.

Nix leads KSU with six tackles for loss, and Fleck called him the best tackle WMU will face. Hitchens, though, is putting together a heck of a year himself with two sacks, three TFL and a forced fumble.

With an offensive line that's already young and has struggled at times, handling this defensive line and keeping rushing plays in the positive direction is going to be a real challenge for the Broncos on Saturday.

5. Keep the Flashes' turnover margin down

Last year, Kent State built a special season largely on the back of big plays and a great turnover margin. Top playmakers are a part of any great team, but turnover margin has been proven to be largely-- though not completely-- influenced by luck.

The luck is possibly running low for the Golden Flashes, who have produced just two forced turnovers through four games in 2013. To be fair, they've only given the ball away three times, despite eight fumbles.

I'm sure P.J. Fleck is aware and unhappy with the turnover numbers for the Broncos, considering he often states that the ball is the program. WMU needs to avoid bucking Kent State's trend and play mistake-free, because it doesn't look like the Broncos possess the talent advantage over the Flashes from this vantage point.

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