Big game is fast approaching. Even though we were fortunate to have Justin Coffin from hustlebelt.com on our podcast I wanted to share some questions along with his thoughts to those questions. We had Justin on our MotSaG Podcast so if you haven’t heard you can now. You can follow Justin on Twitter, very appreciative of him taking the time out to share Western Xichigan football with all of us.
MotSaG: What are the biggest concerns for the Broncos this weekend entering The Shoe?
1. The biggest concern for the Broncos is their run defense and by extension Ezekiel Elliot. In the Broncos’ two losses they gave up over 300 yards per game on the ground to both Michigan State and Georgia Southern, the latter of which rushed for 413 yards. If the Broncos are to contain the Buckeyes in any way, it will have to start by stopping the run to some degree, which is something the Broncos have yet to prove they can do. Another concern I think the Broncos should have is absorbing the initial punch by Ohio State. Last week NIU struck first and really set the tone for the rest of the game, and WMU must be prepared to handle some pressure should they fail to do the same.
MotSaG: Do you think Western Michigan will come in with a hybrid defense like others have been doing to disrupt the Buckeyes offense?
HB: The defensive schemes of Hawaii and Northern Illinois seem to be the hot topic surrounding the Buckeye’s recent struggles offensively. I’m not really in a position to gauge what WMU’s coaching staff is thinking coming into this game, but I think it would certainly be foolish not to try something similar. Personnel differs from team to team, and I’m sure Urban Meyer has something up his sleeve to beat some of these “hybrid” schemes, so WMU will have to put its own spin on what the Huskies did last week in order have similar success. Whatever that wrinkle is, the Broncos will have to commit players to the box to stop Elliot and the rushing attack. The defensive front is simply too undersized – while not lacking for speed – and will have its hands full if too many players are committed to pass coverage. The Bronco pass defense has some new faces this season that are coming into form like safety Asantay Brown, and old faces looking to find their previous form – Ronald Zamort, the nation leader in passes defended last season, but perhaps the most interesting piece is last year’s third leading wide receiver, Darius Phillips, who made the switch to defense and has quickly become the best corner on the team.
MotSaG: What do you think or have seen is the weaknesses of the Buckeyes defense?
HB: Well, the Buckeye defense is only allowing just over 12 points per game, so they are definitely doing something right to cause these power outages. I’m not sure there is one, true weakness. I’m not even sure Northern Illinois did much to expose anything on that side of the ball, either. They amassed just 190 yards of total offense and didn’t even crack the century mark through the air, the beneficiaries of some good field position and turnovers. Speaking of which, Ohio State is very lucky the defense has been so good. Insulating an offense from five turnovers is difficult, and I’m not sure it can be done two weeks in a row. But since I can’t answer by saying Ohio State’s offense is its defense’s biggest weakness, I suppose I need to find something else. If Ohio State has a vulnerability it will be through the passing game, and WMU has a wide receiving corps that can expose just about any secondary in the country if its quarterback has time to throw.
MotSaG: Three keys for the Broncos to walk out Columbus with a victory?
HB: Three keys for a Bronco victory on Saturday
Contain Zeke Elliot
WMU isn’t going to take anybody’s run game away completely, but if you look at WMU’s first two games of the season, the defense gave up a ton of yards on the ground but felt good coming out of the first game and, well, not so much in the second. The reason for this is the lack of a big play on the ground. The Broncos gave up a ton of yards rushing to Michigan State, but never allowed scampers of over half a football field like it did to Georgia Southern a week later. I looked at the box score for OSU’s most recent game (one that I watched start to finish) and was pretty shocked that Elliot’s numbers were still pretty good. He’s going to get his yards, but I think if the Broncos make it difficult to find space, they have a chance to stick around in this one.
Keep Terrell Upright
To win you have to score more points than the other team, right? Ohio State is giving up just 12 per game and I’ll guarantee WMU gives up quite a few more than 12 points on Saturday. If the Broncos are going to keep pace with the Buckeyes, they need to give their quarterback time to throw. Zach Terrell (Fort Wayne, Indiana) is regarded as one of the best in the MAC, and completed 67.9% of his passes last season. So far this year it’s been a bit of a roller coaster for Terrell, going from being very good against Michigan State to very poor against Georgia Southern. If the Broncos get the best of Terrell on Saturday, they can pick apart a very good secondary, but Bronco fans won’t get a chance to see that if Joey Bosa and company are pounding him into the turf.
Score without your offense
A major reason WMU was able to stick around against the Spartans was a 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Darius Phillips. In fact, Phillips had a career high in return yards in a game that day, and he did it all in just the first quarter. Another performance like that out of Phillips will go a long way towards taking some of the pressure off of the Bronco offense to move the ball.
MotSaG: What are your predictions for the game?
HB: I don’t take pleasure in picking against my alma mater, but if NIU couldn’t do it with 5 turnovers, then I don’t see any way the Broncos can pull this off in Columbus. P.J. Fleck was an assistant on Jim Tressel’s staff in 2006, so maybe he will have some insight for WMU on how to deal with the environment at The Shoe, but words can only help so much. I think WMU responds well to an initial punch by the Buckeyes and fades gradually into the fourth quarter. 42-17 in favor of Ohio State sounds about right to me.
Once again thank you to Justin for all his help this week. Lets go Buckeyes!!