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October 18, 2013

Five keys to Ball State

Expectations for this week are at a low for Western Michigan football, as the 0-7 Broncos play host to surging Ball State. The Cardinals, on the other hand, come in at 6-1 and despite a challenge from Kent State last week, have their sights set on upsetting Northern Illinois and taking the MAC West title.

WMU is a 20 point underdog, so how can the Broncos stay in this one? BroncoBlitz.com examines.

1. Catch BSU napping

It might be nice for WMU if Ball State's big tilt with Northern Illinois was next weekend, because then this would be a true trap game. Instead, the Cardinals travel to Akron and will be big favorites once again.

Nonetheless, there's always the chance that after three tough games in a row (Toledo, Virginia and Kent State), the Cardinals could suffer a letdown. WMU will have to come out with more energy in order to make them pay. Relying on the other team to come out sleepwalking may not be the ideal key to success, but it may have to be a big component to any upset this week.

2. Limit early damage

In any underdog situation, the longer the outmanned team stays in the game, the more they start to believe they can win. WMU fans need to look no further than the Broncos' Sept. 7 loss to Nicholls for evidence of this.

There's little doubt that BSU will be able to move the football early against WMU (they've done it against everyone else, after all). One thing the Bronco defense has done a decent job of, though, is limiting damage on some of their opponents' sustained drives. Perhaps if this continues, and WMU comes up with a big play on defense or a trick play to stay in it, for example, they'll be more mentally focused into the second half.

3. Make use of the blitz

At Tuesday's weekly press conference, WMU head coach P.J. Fleck was clear and concise about how the defense has approached the season thus far. Eight men have regularly stacked the box, and the Broncos are attempting to use numbers to stop the run while letting their talented secondary play one-on-one.

This is a good idea for a team that harbors most of it's talent on the back end. It's not likely to work against Ball State, though.

Defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham is going to earn his paycheck this week, because Keith Wenning will carve up a defense if he's given time to throw, but he's also very good at making teams pay for leaving defensive backs on an island. It would still seem to be a worthwhile gamble to send blitzes liberally, though. WMU's defensive line has shown little ability to generate pressure, and letting a quarterback like Wenning stand tall and go through all his progressions is suicide.

4. Get a score defensively

What's one way for a defense that's carrying the load to help overcome a struggling offense? Put points on the scoreboard themselves, something that WMU has yet to do in 2013.

It's asking a lot to expect points from the defense, but then beating Ball State at all is asking a lot. Of course, the Cardinals aren't known for making lots of mistakes under Pete Lembo.

In any case, the defensive touchdown is the type of game-changing play that can swing a game towards a major underdog. The same could be said of a special teams score, but WMU seems a lot closer to making that play on defense than with their return teams at this point.

5. Will it rain?

Here's a twist from past seasons: WMU may in fact be hoping for the rain to come on Saturday. Outside of the attendance issues that may follow, the Broncos probably stand to benefit overall if the playing surface becomes wet.

It always used to be that the precision passing attack that prevailed under former head coach Bill Cubit was disrupted in adverse weather. Now with the aerial game quite toothless thus far, WMU would be better off seeing Wenning throw a slick ball.

Sure, Jahwan Edwards and Ball State have a capable running game as well. This alone wouldn't make WMU favorites, far from it. But slowing down the quick-strike potential of Wenning, Willie Snead and BSU's long list of talented skill players could easily help keep this one closer than usual. And of course, sometimes all the underdog needs is a chance.

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