1. Growing pains.
Western Michigan dismissed coach Bill Cubit after last season and replaced him with P.J. Fleck, a former Northern Illinois wideout and receivers coach at Rutgers. The Broncos looked presentable in a season-opening 26-13 loss at Michigan State but have traveled a rocky road since then. The schedule hasn’t been easy. The Broncos have played three Big 10 teams (add Northwestern and Iowa to the list) and two of the top seven teams in the MAC in Kent and Toledo. They lost their best player, wideout Jamie Wilson, to an ankle fracture in training camp. Injuries have weakened the starting lineup and trimmed their depth. And now senior QB Tyler Van Tubbergen is questionable after suffering a shoulder injury against Toledo last week. If he can’t go, redshirt freshman Zach Terrell slides under center and faces one of the MAC’s greediest defenses.
2. The run around.
UB’s objective today couldn’t be more clear cut. Everyone has run on the Broncs. UB’s rush attack has kicked into gear. Fully expect the Bulls to try to establish Branden Oliver (below) early and gun for an effort similar to his 150-yard performance last week against Eastern Michigan. The Broncos are talented at the cornerback spots, so if they sell out and stack the box, UB quarterback Joe Licata should find relief in second-tier receivers, such as the tight ends, slot man Fred Lee and Devin Campbell coming out of the backfield. But a failure to establish the run, and early, would give rise to WMU’s upset hopes. Lockport native David Fluellen of Toledo singed them for 220 last week and opponents already have outrushed the Broncos by more than 900 yards.
3. Neutz and bolts.
Alex Neutz is the first UB receiver ever to catch a touchdown pass in each of the first five games. He ranks second in the MAC in per-game receiving yards (103.5) and fourth in receptions at 6.4 per game. The Broncos will strive to contain him, but can they do that without sacrificing in run support? Neutz’s greatest strength might be his ability to win the one-on-one (or even one-on-two) battles. If the Broncos look like they’re cheating to stop the run, Licata will relish the chance to throw to his favorite target in single coverage. So WMU has some tough decisions to make given the emerging diversity of UB’s offense.
4. The K-Mack influence.
Some might have expected bigger numbers out of Khalil Mack this year given his attention-grabbing performance against Ohio State and his rise in the NFL Draft projections. But his influence has been dramatic. Mack often draws double teams, and sometimes even triple teams, which opens up all kinds of space for his teammates. He routinely penetrates the backfield off the edge and either pressures the QB or forces running backs to make hasty decisions. WMU likes to throw it, and the Broncos have a highly talented wideout in true freshman Corey Davis. But will a team that’s yielded eight sacks and thrown 13 picks be able to get him the ball?
5. Extra points.
Bulls never have won a road game against a West Division team but come in 10-point favorites. … UB seeking its first-ever 2-0 start in the MAC. … Bulls backup DB Dwellie Striggles suspended for first half after second-half disqualification against EMU. … Michigan natives on UB roster include tackle Jake Silas and backup DL Dalton Barksdale. … UB backup QB Alex Zordich questionable with concussion. Tony Daniel will be the No. 2 If Zordich can’t go.
Outlook: Bulls couldn’t be playing much better heading into this one. The same can’t be said for the Broncos. UB, 27-13.