Western Michigan gets its last shot at a non-conference opponent this Saturday when the Broncos head to Iowa City for their third Big Ten matchup of the season.
Last week, WMU hung around with Northwestern for much of the game before falling 38-17 to a team that many have in their top 15. A similar performance would probably keep the Broncos in striking distance against the Hawkeyes, though the matchups are very different.
1. Dare Rudock to throw
Ed Pinkham could probably roll out the same game plan he used against Michigan State and find quite a bit of success this weekend. WMU's defensive coordinator had his unit mostly sell out against the run and left his cornerbacks often on islands against the Spartans, to quite a bit of success.
Iowa doesn't scare you with their downfield passing game, so another game with eight Broncos in the box on most downs would hardly be surprising.
Hawkeye quarterback Jake Rudock has looked competent enough to potentially make WMU pay. But you have to believe that WMU would rather roll the dice with Rudock putting it in the air than Mark Weisman pounding away on the ground all four quarters.
2. Make special teams plays
It'd be extremely helpful if the Broncos could get some flashy plays out of the special teams unit, but after last week's debacle, it's likely that Rob Wenger and the coaching staff will settle for solid.
Very little went right for WMU outside of Andrew Haldeman hitting his one field goal. J. Schroeder had by far his worst performance of the year, the return teams were non-existent, the opening kick return by Northwestern went into WMU territory, and freshman Austin Guido made a major mental error by running into a Northwestern punt returner prior to the ball getting there.
There's simply no way to win as an underdog when field position is such a problem. Much of the same happened in East Lansing, though less was directly attributable to the kicking teams. WMU must make sure to keep their starting positions reasonable tomorrow.
3. Keep the defense fresh
Much like the Michigan State game, few expect WMU to put up lots of points tomorrow. The major key for the offense is to keep the chains moving at a reasonable pace so the defense can rest up from the physical Iowa offensive line.
Look back to the first half of WMU's loss to Northwestern. The defense was holding strong, but WMU's offense only managed one drive bordering on sustained, ending in Andrew Haldeman's field goal. Meanwhile, the defense tired after drive after drive of chasing around Kain Colter and Trayvon Green. If the offense can't do more against Iowa, the same will be said of Mark Weisman.
For the season, WMU ranks 107th nationally at 28.3% on third downs. That has to get better this week.
4. Clean up the penalties
Thus far in 2013, WMU has averaged 67 penalty yards per game, though they did bring the number down to 45 last weekend. The effort this week will have to be similar if not better.
Put simply, underdogs can't afford to kill drives or extend the opponent's drives with mental errors. WMU got a good look at what can happen when a lower-tier team wins the penalty and turnover battles when Nicholls came away from Waldo Stadium with a win.
5. Hit the fly route
There's plenty to criticize about the WMU passing game to this point, but one notable bright spot has been the ability of Corey Davis and to some degree Timmy Keith to break free and gain a step or two on the secondary.
Tyler Van Tubbergen has hit on these routes a few times in the early going of 2013, but he's missed open men far too often. He did hit Corey Davis for a long touchdown against Northwestern.
Of course, it wasn't enough that day, but if the Iowa game is closer than the Northwestern one (as expected), hitting on another route like that could go a long way in building momentum.