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November 15, 2013

Five keys to Central Michigan

WMU has had a forgettable season in P.J. Fleck's first year on the job, struggling to a 1-9 record thus far. None of that matters when the Broncos and Central Michigan take the field today.

As always, this is going to be an emotionally charged game whether on the field or in the stands. WMU hopes that the old adage of throwing the records out comes true, even if CMU's 3-6 mark isn't setting the world on fire.

BroncoBlitz.com takes a look at a few keys that will swing this rivalry tilt for WMU.

1. Stack the box

Not unlike the Broncos, CMU is leaning on a young signal-caller to lead them into this game. Cooper Rush has impressed at times, and has in fact put together three consecutive above-average weeks.

He's not immune to mistakes, though, as you'd expect from a player with his inexperience. As impressive as his 7.4 yards per attempt and 12 touchdowns may be, he has also tossed 11 interceptions. It's more of a sure thing that the Chippewas will be able to pound the ball on the ground if WMU doesn't key on it, so look for Ed Pinkham and the defensive staff to try to force Rush to beat them.

2. Feed off of the energy

It's encouraging that WMU has sold 14,000 tickets to this game as of Friday, since a solid walk-up crowd is likely with good weather and a solid majority of the 7,200-seat student section will likely be filled.

The last time Waldo Stadium was that full was against Nicholls. Now of course, WMU lost that game rather infamously, but it seemed as though a previously sleepwalking Bronco team was helped in the second half by an energetic student presence even if the effort did fall short.

Western vs. Central is a rivalry that deserves a big-time atmosphere, even if the teams aren't great. If that's what we see at Waldo Stadium today, it's all the better for the Broncos.

3. Use the wind

Again, while the result was not what any WMU fan wanted against Eastern Michigan last week, the Broncos did a reasonably good job of managing the wind in Ypsilanti.

Expect more of the same in Kalamazoo today. While temperatures will be comfortable and the rain should stay away, the wind is going to approach 20 miles per hour and will likely be a factor in both the passing and special teams games. Getting the wind behind Zach Terrell and Andrew Haldeman in the fourth quarter may be more important than the decision to kick or receive.

4. Find the end zone, not the goal posts

Certainly no disrespect is meant here to Andrew Haldeman, who had a phenomenal game last week in going 6-for-6 on field goal attempts at EMU. But WMU needs more than three points when they're in the red zone.

Five of Haldeman's kicks came from inside the 20, and the Broncos only punched in one touchdown from that distance. So, despite outgaining the Eagles 468-403 and winning the turnover battle 2-1, WMU was still unable to come away victorious.

CMU is only 10th in the MAC in red zone defense, so the door is open for the Broncos to do a much better job in that regard. In what's expected to be another close matchup, it could once again be the difference.

5. Find a pass rush

One of the less-cited issues with this edition of Western Michigan football is the lack of a dangerous pass rush. While this is an area in which WMU has historically excelled, the Broncos rank last in the MAC with a paltry six sacks through ten games.

Clearly most of the problem lies with the defensive line, although blitz packages have also been largely ineffective. While it's still probably smart to play the run first against CMU, Cooper Rush still does average the second-most passing yards per game in the conference and will hurt the Bronco defense if he's able to sit back and wait for openings.

Whether it's scheming, blitzing more, or finding a weakness in the CMU offensive line, the WMU staff has got to find a way to get Rush under duress.

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