Know Thy Opponent: Western Michigan

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Western Michigan visits Minnesota this week. We spoke with Bronco beat writer David Drew about Western Michigan and he filled us in everything you need to pay attention to on Saturday. You can read more of Drew's stories and learn more about the Broncos here.

GopherSports: David, thanks for speaking with us. We certainly appreciate your time. Can you give us an overview on the Broncos and what their identity is this year?

David Drew: It's a little bit of a change-up this year. Traditionally in years past, when you think Western Michigan, you think high-powered offense and a defense that really has to keep up with the offense. But this year, it's really kind of been established that it's more of a defense-first team, and the offense has tried to keep up with that defense, mainly because Western's got a large crew of new receivers. They don't have Jordan White anymore, who really was a superstar by all means over the last few years. Now there's a bunch of receivers still trying to find themselves, kind of getting used to the Division I atmosphere. It's been an offense by committee. It's been where the Broncos have relied more on their defense to keep them in the game. It's a little bit of a change for Bronco fans and people who know a little bit about Western Michigan football.

GS: The Broncos still have Alex Carder back there at quarterback. He can provide offense any time in the game and he has thrown the ball all over the field this year. They still provide that offensive threat that they can put up a whole lot of points in a hurry.

DD: That's what scares you. This offense by no means is firing on all cylinders, but yet you've got a superstar quarterback there who knows this offense like the back of his hand. You're waiting for that one game where both he and his receivers get on the same page, and you get a defense continuing to play like it has been through two games. You kind of have to get a little excited about what you might see when that happens.

GS: Gopher fans will look at that Illinois game and look at the 24-7 score, but that game was a lot closer than the score indicated, correct?

DD: I think that game itself was a lot closer than the score. Illinois led 17-0 in the first quarter, and the Bronco offense really the whole game could not sustain any rhythm. They couldn't really sustain any long drives. There were a lot of first game nerves and frustration kind of set in after a while. Alex Carder, I think, started to do a little bit too much, made some bad throws. Essentially, though, what I looked at in that game is, Illinois scored 17 in the first quarter, and their offense didn't score again the rest of the game. They got their final touchdown on an interception return. Western's defense pitched a shutout for three quarters. That's what I took away from that game. Obviously the offense was not firing, but you've got a Mid-American Conference defense that shut down a Big Ten offense for the final three quarters.

GS: Jerry Kill is very familiar with Western Michigan, having coached against them four times. Has coach Cubit talked about that at all? These teams have not played since the 1970s, but the coaches know one another.

DD: A little bit. Coach Cubit isn't really one to talk a whole lot about other coaches, other programs. He has mentioned it a little bit. He seems to have a lot of respect for Jerry Kill and the way he conducts and leads his program. I know at NIU, Coach Cubit had a lot of respect for what he did. I think he sees a lot of similarities in Minnesota's program as far as how Coach Kill is going about it. Coach Cubit isn't one to sing a whole lot of praises, but I think there is a good deal of respect there for Coach Kill.

GS: From reading all the stories this week, it looks like Western Michigan will focus on trying to limit MarQueis Gray and make him throw the ball.

DD: I'm sure that's been said for a number of years. Yeah, that is kind of the game plan with MarQueis, to keep him in the pocket and make him beat Western with his arm. It sounds so simple, but you've got a quarterback that has linebacker size and strength. You just don't know it's going to go until you see it.

GS: Can you complete the following sentence for us? Western Michigan will win if...

DD: Western Michigan will win if they can contain MarQueis Gray. By contain, I don't mean limit him to five yards rushing. I mean make Minnesota drive the ball methodically down the field. Don't give up a long 65 or 70-yard touchdown. And Western has to move the chains. They don't have to have big plays, but I think they have to move the chains against the big, physical Minnesota defense.

GS: David, thanks again for your time. We certainly appreciate it.

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