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November 8, 2013

Five keys to Eastern Michigan

After a win and a well-deserved week off, Western Michigan gets back to the grind today with another winnable game against in-state rival Eastern Michigan (1-8, 0-5 MAC).

A win would give WMU much-needed momentum going into their bigger rivalry with Central Michigan as well as keeping hopes alive for a Michigan MAC Trophy, which would be a bright spot in an otherwise mostly dim season.

BroncoBlitz.com examines what must happen for the Broncos to walk away from Ypsilanti with their second win.

1. What's the impact of English's firing?

Maybe more of a wildcard than a key, but we had to start things off with the big news from Friday. Eastern Michigan relieved head coach Ron English of his duties effective immediately on Friday afternoon, throwing a wrench into this week's matchup.

Frankly, it's hard to see this being much of a positive for EMU. English was generally considered to be well-regarded among his players, and if this news was truly sprung today, it has to leave the Eagles scrambling to hold together the game plan for this week.

The interim head coach is Stan Parrish, who was last seen heading up the Ball State program before EMU hired him as their offensive coordinator this season. Parrish was just 6-19 in two years and one game at BSU, getting fired after failing to live up to the high standards set by Brady Hoke.

That's not to say Parrish is necessarily a bad coach, but he's hardly being put into a position to succeed here. Of course, he's not likely considered a long-term option. In any case, it will be interesting to watch the mindset of the players as well as the execution of EMU's game plan sans English.

2. Pounce early

OK, so this hasn't been the strong suit for WMU so far in 2013. It's well known at this point that the Broncos have yet to score a touchdown in the first 15 minutes of any game this year, but they may have an opportunity to change that this week-- and it may make all the difference.

You have to believe that EMU isn't coming into this game with the greatest mindset. The best way to put away a team with a fragile ego is to do it early.

This is to say, don't hold your breath. It's hard to have confidence that WMU will score in the first quarter, given what we've seen so far. But expect good things if they do.

3. Take the reins off Terrell

WMU fans got glimpses of what Zach Terrell may be able to do with more freedom two weeks ago when he threw for 275 yards and four touchdowns. Despite rarely going for the long bomb (partially because of strong winds), WMU looked more to the mid-range over-the-middle passing game to solid success.

Look for the play-calling to open up even more this week as WMU looks to take advantage of an Eastern Michigan defense that gives up over ten yards per attempt through the air.

Simply put, EMU has had no answer for aerial attacks that have looked competent. "Competent" may not have described WMU's passing game for much of the year, but UMass' secondary is stronger than EMU's and the Broncos did some damage. This could be another big game for the Terrell-Davis connection.

4. Win first down on defense

If Eastern Michigan is going to beat the Broncos, they're going to have to do it by controlling the clock and keeping their defense off the field. This is much the same formula as we identified last week for WMU, and the Broncos executed it to some degree.

EMU may be capable of the same, particularly if Bronson Hill sees plenty of action. The greatest single strength for the Eagles is their running game, averaging over 150 yards per contest including over 100 from Hill alone.

Look for WMU to stack the box early and try to get the Eagles into passing downs on second and third. This may lead to more play action and downfield looks from EMU on first downs later in the game, but that may not be a bad thing for a WMU defense that relies on its secondary to make plays.

5. Don't leave points off the board

Time for a bit of brutal honesty: Western Michigan got lucky in last week's win.

Of course, UMass quarterback A.J. Doyle missed an open receiver in the back of the end zone on what would have been a game-winning two-point conversion. Even before that, though, kicker Blake Lucas missed a pair of field goals including a 22-yarder.

Furthermore, WMU failed on two fakes on special teams. The first was on what would have been about a 40 yard field goal, perhaps makeable for Andrew Haldeman even in the strong winds. The second cost WMU ground in the field position game as punter J. Schroeder had space on a fake punt but ran into his own blocker.

This isn't meant to take away from the win, as WMU outplayed UMass for much of the game. But the Broncos can't rely on that many things going right every time. They've got to put points up when they have the chance, and maybe play the field position game a bit safer.

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