KALAMAZOO,MI(WKZO)-- The Broncos travel to Champaign, Illinois this Saturday to take on the Fighting Illini at 3:30pm. The last time the 2 teams met was in 2008 at Ford Field, as the Broncos came away victorious 23-17. The Broncos look to upset Illinois, as they currently rank 24th in the nation with a record of 3-0.
1. KEEP THE MOMENTUM GOING: The Broncos are riding high after last week’s victory over rival Central Michigan. And for there to be any chance of an upset, this must continue. Coach Cubit and his players feel like they have something special brewing this season and a win over Illinois would show the rest of the nation that the Broncos are for real. The next 4 games will be the toughest stretch of games in 2011 for the Broncos and upsetting Illinois will put them on pace for a bowl berth and most importantly a MAC Championship.
2. BE PHYSICAL IN THE TRENCHES: The Illini are one of the most physical and athletic teams in the country and showed this in last week’s 17-10 victory over Arizona State. On paper the Broncos are overmatched on the offensive and defensive lines and as we all know that in the trenches is where the game is often won or lost. A lot will be asked of the offensive line, especially the 3 interior positions as they are still an area of concern. They did an excellent job of containing Mike Martin of Michigan in Week 1 and a repeat performance will be needed again.
3. ALEX CARDER NEEDS TO SPREAD THE WEALTH: Jordan White has been unstoppable at times this year and the secret is out that he’s good. He currently ranks 3rd in the nation in receptions and 6th in receiving yards. I expect the Illini to try to double team White, which will open up other receivers. Robert Arnheim, Chleb Ravenell, Ansel Ponder and Eric Monette a have done a good job as a complement to White but no one has really taking over that number 2 receiver spot. Arnheim has been the most productive behind White but more is needed. With starting Tight End Clark Mussman status for Saturday still in the air due to an injury, a big day will be needed from the wide receiving core.
4. FORCE NATHAN SCHEELHAASE TO REMAIN THE POCKET: Scheelhaase is one of the most up and coming QBs in the nation has improved leaps and bounds during the Illini’s first 3 games. Everyone knew he could make plays with his feet but he has shown that he can also be a pretty good passer as well. He is completing passes at a rate of 71%, has thrown only 1 interception and is ranked 6th in the nation at passing efficiency. When the Broncos bring pressure on Scheelhaase, they must make tackles and not allow him to break loose.
5. CONTINUE TO BE EFFECTIVE IN THE REDZONE: The Broncos offensive unit has been incredible inside the 20 scoring at a rate of 93% (13-14), including a perfect 6 for 6 against CMU. The Illini defense is going to be tough to score against, so it is essential for the Broncos to put points on the board whenever the opportunity arises.
6. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES: The last time WMU played a Big Ten opponent, Michigan, the storyline after the game was 'missed opportunities.' If the Broncos get a chance to go up on Illinois like they had the chance to vs. Michigan, they need to take advantage of it in every possible way. They have to come out focused and crisp. If they do, they can give Illinois a run for their money.
7. STOP THE RUN: Last time the Broncos faced Illinois, they stuffed the running game the Illini had. So much so that the leading rusher for Illinois was their quarterback, Juice Williams and he only had 68 yards on 12 carries. They must duplicate that defensively this time around in order to be successful.
8. NO HANGOVER FROM WIN OVER CMU: Lou Holtz once said "If what you did yesterday seems big, you havent done anything today." Thats the aproach the Broncos need to have vs Illinois. Beating your rival for the first time since 2005 is great. It was nice to get the monkey off of everyone's back, especially Coach Cubit's but that was last week. WMU has to come out vs Illinois with the same intensity, determination and confidence that they've shown versus every other opponent this year.
9. GET OFF THE FIELD: In 2008, the Broncos held Illinois to a staggering 1-13 on third down conversions. They have done a good job this year, only allowing opponents to convert 34% of their third downs (11-32). With the offense converting on over 50% of their third downs, the defense needs to keep doing what they're doing and get the ball back to the explosive offense to put points on the board.
10: USE SPECIAL TEAMS TO SET UP THE OFFENSE: Western Michigan wide receiver Jordan White ranks first in the conference and in the nation in average yards per punt return, with 33 yards. Kickoff returnman Dervon Wallace ranks second in the conference and fifth in the nation in average kickoff return yards with roughly 35 per KO return. If the special teams can continue to give the offense good starting field position, it helps them win the field position battle and takes some of the heat off of the offense.
COLIN'S PREDICTION: Before the season started I had the Broncos winning this one, but the way the Illini have played this season has made me change my mind. However, this could be a trap game for the Illini after coming off a huge victory over ASU and before starting Big 10 play next week against Northwestern. Western keeps it close but in the end they won’t be able to handle Illinois physical play. ILLINOIS 34 WESTERN MICHIGAN 24
ZEKE'S PREDICTION: This game could go either way. I think WMU has the talent to beat Illinois and playing in another Big Ten venue doesnt sway my opinion towards Illinois as much as it previously did. With that said, the Illini are ranked for a reason. I think we can win it but I dont think we will. Im a little on the fence about it. I think Illinois will win but would not be surprised at all if WMU pulled off the upset. ILLINOIS 28 WESTERN MICHIGAN 24