Where's Waldo? In Kalamazoo. Cold, hungry, lonely, lost, and winless. Desperately winless.
Things won't get easier for Western Michigan on Saturday when 6-1 Ball State rolls into Waldo Stadium. The Broncos were blown out a week ago, shellacked 33-0 by Buffalo. In six losses this year Western Michigan has been outscored 262-90. Head coach P.J. Fleck, whose squad has been decimated by injuries, has had to navigate difficult waters in his first year. The Broncos played three of their first four games on the road against Big Ten opponents, and now run into an explosive Ball State offense.
"We've got to get better. It's very simple. We're not very good right now," Fleck said. "You can see that in terms of the execution, and we've got to get better. Our kids are hungry, and it's not because they are not trying. It is not because they are not working their tail ends off. That is one thing can continue to hang our hat on, that our kids don't quit."
Who will be under center for the Broncos on Saturday is still a question. Senior quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen suffered a shoulder injury in Western's 47-20 loss to Toledo on October 5th. Last week's starting duties were assigned to redshirt freshman Zach Terrell. Against Buffalo, Terrell completed completed 16 of 34 passes for 164 yards and was picked off twice. For the season Terrell completes about half his passes, and has two touchdowns versus five interceptions.
As difficult as putting points on the board may be for the Broncos, defensively they will have their hands full with a potent Ball State offense. Western Michigan is actually 6th in all of FBS against the pass, giving up just 163 yards through the air. Much of this is due to the fact that no opponent this season has had any difficulty running the ball against WMU. The Broncos yield 274 yards on the ground. Ball State's balanced offense is sure to give the Western defense fits.
At the helm of that offense is senior quarterback Keith Wenning. Wenning has rewritten the Ball State record books in 2013, becoming the school's all time leading passer in a number of categories. A week ago Wenning threw a touchdown pass with under two minutes remaining to lead the Cardinals to a 27-24 victory over Kent State on Homecoming. With last Saturday's performance, Wenning became the only FBS quarterback with 300 yards passing in seven games this season. The win elevated Ball State to bowl eligibility and marked the 100th victory of head coach Pete Lembo's career.
"One of the things that we hoped to do when we got here was build a program that was a consistent winner," Lembo said Monday during the MAC coaches teleconference. "It's nice to see that coming to fruition."
Lembo has certainly done that, and while November 13th's showdown with Northern Illinois looms, the Cardinals learned last week that they will get the best punch from each MAC opponent along the way. Kent State had multiple opportunities to upset Ball State, and Western Michigan is sure to throw everything it can at the Cardinals. Of primary importance for the game will be protecting the football. Against Kent State the Cardinals committed two first quarter redzone turnovers, uncharacteristic of the Ball State offense. Forcing such turnovers will be crucial for WMU to have a shot at taking down the Cardinals.
"They are a very talented offense. They've got skill, they've got experienced lineman, they've got a wonderful tailback. Their receivers are lightning quick," Fleck said. "What they do well is what they do well. They're not a crazy offense where they do a ton of different things, but they do what they do well and they have a group that has played together for a long time."
The Cardinals and Broncos kick off at 2 P.M. (ET) on Saturday. The game can be seen on ESPN3.