WMU finds itself in a familiar position this week heading into Homecoming, as the visiting Buffalo Bulls are a ten point favorite at Waldo Stadium.
With what should be a solid crowd on a nice day and a team that's a bit less powerful than most the Broncos have played this year, there is the possibility of an upset. BroncoBlitz.com looks at five ways the Broncos could pull it off.
1. Get Terrell comfortable
Tyler Van Tubbergen has not been officially ruled out, but it appears redshirt freshman Zach Terrell is likely to get his first career start this Saturday. Terrell found some success last week after Van Tubbergen left with a shoulder injury, finishing 10-for-13 for 184 yards.
Things are going to be different this week, for any number of reasons. For one thing, the mentality when starting is different-- Terrell has never prepared for a whole week as the top guy, and never had another team prepare that way either. Probably more important is the fact that Terrell's numbers against Toledo came in garbage time, as the Rockets were up 30 by the time he saw the field.
WMU needs to get Terrell comfortable for a couple of drives, giving him easy dumpoffs and mixing in plenty of running plays. If he can settle in and move the chains a couple of times, things will get easier. The new offensive staff has shown no hesitation in going deep, but that could maybe be saved until a few drives in.
2. Get on the board in the first quarter
It almost seems to be counterintuitive after the first key, but nobody said this game would be easy. WMU has only put up three points all season in the first quarter, which probably isn't a surprise to those who have watched the Broncos' slow starts.
The Bronco defense and special teams, again, need to put Terrell and the offense into positions from which they can realistically succeed. It's a young offense, and will be especially young without Van Tubbergen and possibly senior right guard Greg Peterson. Confidence is key, and they need to get some first downs and points early to build that confidence up.
3. Take Neutz away
For a lot of teams taking on Buffalo, the easiest way to gameplan might be to give wide receiver Alex Neutz his yards but take away the other options for quarterback Joe Licata. And sure, it's unlikely for anyone to completely shut down Neutz.
WMU may actually be in a good position compared to most, though, when it comes to frustrating the Buffalo passing game. With Donald Celiscar presumably manning up on the top Buffalo wideout, and Justin Currie providing good help over the top, it may be worth the gamble for WMU to leave the rest of their defensive backs on an island.
4. Buck the turnover trend
There's one way this game could get ugly, and that's turnovers. Unfortunately for the Broncos, things are not swinging their way in that department.
Buffalo is tied for second in the conference with a +6 turnover margin, as they've picked off eight passes and recovered four fumbles. WMU, meanwhile, is dead last in the conference at -8, throwing a staggering 13 picks and losing four fumbles of their own.
That's a trend that is going to be hard to break. Frankly, the Broncos have to hope that Zach Terrell does a better job protecting the football than Van Tubbergen has been. WMU has forced a respectable nine turnovers (though they could use a few more INTs), so the responsibility for improvement lies primarily on the offense.
5. Give the backfield a chance
This is the second straight week that WMU is taking on one of the tougher front sevens in the conference. Buffalo ranks second in the MAC in sacks with 16, including five from star linebacker Khalil Mack.
UB has not been as stout against the run, though, giving up over 180 yards per contest. Players like Mack are a huge challenge for young, often struggling offensive lines like WMU's, though. It's also important to note that while the Bulls give up 446 yards of total offense per game, that's heavily skewed by the 781 that Baylor, one of the nation's best offenses, put up.
The offensive line has got to give the quarterbacks and running backs some room to operate, but that's easier said than done against Buffalo.