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October 4, 2013

Five keys to Toledo

Western Michigan enters Saturday afternoon's contest at Toledo as a three touchdown underdog. They'll easily need their best effort of the season to keep up with the Rockets in the Glass Bowl. BroncoBlitz.com runs through five things that WMU must accomplish to pull off a surprise.

1. No negative plays

Toledo's defense is much more vulnerable through the air than in the running game. This makes for an interesting matchup for a WMU team that, unlike recent years, has been more productive running the football.

The Rockets give up a very solid 4.0 yards per carry and have racked up an impressive 27 tackles for loss already this year. While WMU has found decent success running with Brian Fields and Dareyon Chance, they're still ending up with too many negative plays (often due to missed assignments up front).

WMU can't afford to lose yardage and put themselves in obvious passing situations. This Toledo secondary can be attacked, but the Broncos passing game is not proficient enough right now to be successful if the defense knows what's coming.

2. Disrupt the timing

Toledo's offense relies heavily on timing and chemistry in the passing game, and quarterback Terrance Owens is far more effective when given time to throw. It is a quick-hitting attack for the most part, but pressure has thrown it off in the past.

It'll be a tall order for WMU to fulfill this particular key, as the thin defensive front for the Broncos continues to get thinner with injuries and suspensions this week. WMU ranks 11th in the MAC with just four sacks on the year (though they don't have to sack Owens to affect the game).

Compounding the issue is that the Rockets' offensive line has excelled at keeping their quarterback upright, allowing just three sacks thus far. This'll be a tough job for WMU's defense, but the Broncos are probably going to need a couple of interceptions to have a shot, and picks often start with pressure up front.

3. Win battles in the kicking game

Some of the keys this season just keep rearing their head, field position game being one of them. However we want to phrase it, WMU has got to get better at three things to flip the field: moving the chains on offense, consistency in the punting game and making plays in the return game.

Punting issues are not entirely on J. Schroeder as the coverage team has had their moments of breakdown, but Schroeder does need to find the consistency that he seemed to have in the early going. Kickoff return blockers need to give Dareyon Chance more opportunities as well. WMU ranks near the bottom of the conference in kickoff and punt return average, and dead last in kickoff coverage.

WMU's issues on offense are well documented, but even more harmful than their struggles to score is the inability to pick up first downs. When the Broncos do score it tends to be set up by one big play. This means trouble in not only time of possession, but field position because they aren't putting the punt team in a good spot on the field.

4. Stay out of the fray

WMU killed a couple of drives against Kent State with inexcusable unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, leading head coach P.J. Fleck to comment "that's not us" at the post game press conference. In both cases it did look like the extracurriculars may have been started by Golden Flashes, but the Broncos still have to be smarter about retaliating.

We may see some of the same temptation against Toledo, as the Rockets certainly have a few players known for pushing the limits after plays with their trash talking. That's not to say Toledo is a dirty team by any means, but just that guys like Bernard Reedy use their mouths as another tool to take defenses out of their game. WMU's margin of error is going to be way too thin tomorrow to allow that to happen.

5. Safety play

Justin Currie and Rontavious Atkins have mostly been solid on the back end, something that's going to have to continue against the Rockets as Bernard Reedy and Alonso Russell are capable of making them pay for any mistakes.

Defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham has shown an ability to change up the gameplan as necessary. He's undoubtedly been up late a few nights this week scheming for the Rockets. Ideally, WMU would like to take some chances up front and leave their stronger secondary on its own at times, something that worked well against Michigan State in the opener. They'll do that at their own peril on Saturday, though, because single coverage on Toledo's speedy receivers is not advised.

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