As we approach Saturday's tilt with red-hot Kent State, BroncoBlitz.com takes a look at five factors that will decide which way the game goes.
1. How do the Broncos stop Dri Archer?
Surely most have heard the name. Dri Archer is the Golden Flashes' jack-of-all-trades, a running back that splits out wide, takes traditional carries and, as we found out last week, can throw the ball a little bit.
For the season, Archer leads the Flashes with 625 rushing yards (on just 58 carries, a 10.8 yard average), is second with 225 receiving yards, and has ten total touchdowns including a 24 yard pass play to starting quarterback Spencer Keith last week. He does it all.
It would stand to reason that WMU would put a spy on Archer this week. That's certainly not a completely novel idea, but who do the Broncos have that could possibly succeed where others have failed? Johnnie Simon is a sure tackler, and Archer certainly is slippery, but it's not certain that Simon has the pure athleticism to keep up.
Perhaps WMU will simply try to stop him by committee. Regardless, the next time a team shuts down the junior from Laurel, Fla. this year will be the first.
2. Is 5-1 for real?
There's certainly little doubt that Kent State is an improved team in 2012, and the record has to inspire quite a bit of confidence in a team that's been down for so long. But how much of their record is schedule aided?
The one loss so far for the Flashes came at the hands of Kentucky, and it wasn't close. Though KSU did stay close for a half, Kentucky wore them down in the second half en route to a 47-14 blowout.
KSU has shown an ability to beat a capable MAC team, even in a shootout, as they downed Ball State 45-43 in late September. But overall their schedule has been soft, ranking 139th in the country according to Jeff Sagarin's most recent ratings.
This is not to say that Western Michigan provides a challenge they haven't seen, as the Broncos obviously are similar to what Ball State brought to the table. It may be, though, that 5-1 vs. 3-4 doesn't tell the whole story.
3. Can the Flashes strike a balance?
Quietly, Western Michigan's defense has put together a solid season. They sit at second in the MAC in yards per game, with equally respectable numbers in the passing and ground games.
Kent State, meanwhile, is looking to come in running the football as much as they can get away with. WMU fans may still be squeamish when they hear those words, but it may in fact play into the Broncos' hands. WMU has designed a defense primarily to stop the run, and they are arguably at their best when able to stack the box with eight men.
The question becomes whether Spencer Keith and the Golden Flashes' passing game can make the Broncos pay. Keith has put up respectable numbers this year, but he really has yet to be the focal point of the offense for any length of time as the Flashes have attempted 161 throws, 12th in the conference ahead of only Eastern Michigan's 160. If eight in the box slows the KSU running game enough to force them into a passing attack, it'll be breaking new ground on the 2012 KSU season. WMU may or may not be capable of that, but it has to be part of the gameplan.
4. Which defense will come up with a big play?
In all likelihood, this is the key that would push this game in Kent State's favor.
Both defenses are proficient when it comes to forcing turnovers, ranking highly in the MAC with 14 forced by the Flashes and 13 by the Broncos. The difference is that while KSU has taken extremely good care of the football, turning it over four times all season, the Broncos have a league-high 16 turnovers including 11 interceptions.
So while the question refers to both defenses' abilities to make the big play, the answer may lie in the offenses' abilities to avoid making key mistakes. This year, only KSU has proven capable.
5. Will WMU try to quicken the pace?
It will be interesting to see how Western Michigan approaches the pace of this game. Of late, the Broncos have looked to run the football a lot more and play a ball control offense, which is exactly how Kent State operates.
While the Flashes showed an ability to win the shootout in their 45-43 win over Ball State, it's no secret what type of game they'd prefer. They want to give the ball to Trayion Durham, their more bruising back, 20-30 times per game and use Archer for the occasional quick strike.
Could we see at least an attempt to return to the quick strike offense today for WMU? Maybe so, if the slow pace is a concern. With the second and third best defenses in the conference suiting up, though, it probably won't be a traditional game full of "MACtion".