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Western Michigan Broncos vs. No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes football preview

The Broncos head to Columbus for their first ever match up with the Ohio State Buckeyes

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The grueling non conference schedule comes to a close for the Western Michigan Broncos in Columbus, Ohio, where the Ohio State Buckeyes await in the Horseshoe. The Buckeyes showed some weaknesses in last week's game against the Northern Illinois Huskies, and the Broncos will likely look to expose those same weaknesses in an effort to end the non conference slate on a seemingly impossible high note.

The early schedule looked daunting on paper preseason, and is just as thankless in practice for the Broncos, who enter Saturday's contest at 1-2, a mark that is surprising not due to the number of losses, but rather due to the manner in which the Broncos got to this point. The Bronco defense has been less than stellar, especially when it comes to stopping the run. In its two losses, Western Michigan surrendered 304.5 yards rushing per game to opponents, including a staggering 413 yards to Georgia Southern in a 43-17 loss.

Murray State traveling to Kalamazoo could be what the Broncos needed to stop the boat from taking on water. Zach Terrell recovered nicely from his performance the previous week by throwing for 355 yards and four touchdowns - a career high for touchdowns - resembling more of the quarterback regarded as one of the best in the MAC and less of the quarterback we saw in Statesboro. In the first two weeks, Terrell threw five interceptions as WMU fell to 0-2. Terrell, however, was not the only Bronco that returned to form last weekend. Jarvion Franklin joined the party, finding the end zone for the first time this season since finishing fourth in the country in rushing touchdowns a year ago. The Broncos' success is based off balance and consistency, and the Brown and Gold will need both to pull off a monumental upset.

All eyes will be on Cardale Jones and the Ohio State offense on Saturday. This is a unit that has not returned to its form from a year ago, mustering just a single offensive touchdown against Northern Illinois last week. While Jones was the surprise story on the Buckeyes' run to a national title, the 2015 version is a known commodity, and teams appear to be figuring something out. Jones was just four of nine passing for 36 yards on Saturday, throwing two interceptions and finishing with a QBR less than seven. To be fair, J.T. Barrett wasn't much better, pitching in an interception of his own and failing to eclipse 100 yards through the air. The Buckeyes also put the ball on the turf twice last week, far from helpful to an offense that has struggled to figure themselves out post Braxton Miller spin move.

On defense  Ohio State should be feeling a little more comfortable, even after last week. The Buckeye defense held NIU to just 190 yards of total offense and got off the field on third down frequently, forcing the Huskies to go 6-20 on third down conversions. And if the defense is on the field very little, opponents are on the scoreboard even less. In its first three games, Ohio State has held opponents to just over 12 points per game, including a shutout at home against Hawaii. The Buckeyes don't give up many yards through the air either, their worst performance being week one against Virginia Tech where the Hokies threw for 192 yards, but only just under seven yards per attempt through the air.

The Buckeyes aren't prone to giving up big plays, but not all receivers have the big play potential of Corey Davis, the Broncos number one option at wide receiver. Davis' value to the passing game is hard to overstate. His absence in the second half of the Broncos' trip to Georgia Southern was noticeable in all aspects despite the big day from Daniel Braverman in a loss. Braverman is actually Terrell's favorite target, having hauled in a nation leading 40 passes for Western Michigan to go along with 398 yards receiving, a mark that stands at fourth in the country. The Broncos will need a big play or two to get the best of one of the nation's top defenses, but if Davis' performance against Michigan State in week one is any indication, WMU could find chunks of yards at times in Saturday's game.

The area of the field that will be most important on Saturday for the Broncos is the line of scrimmage, including but not limited to pass protection. The offensive line allowed seven sacks against Michigan State, which is as good of preparation as any for the Buckeye unit that will confront WMU this weekend. Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, and the rest of the defensive front have sacked the quarterback four times in each of the Buckeye's first three games, and will be a lot to handle for even the Broncos' veteran offensive line. The big play potential of Terrell, Davis, Braverman and Franklin are useless if there's no time to throw or room to run.

Ultimately, the key to the game is whether or not Ohio State has its kinks worked out on offense and if the Bronco defense is up to the task of neutralizing Ezekiel Elliot. To this point, there are few indications that the WMU defense can stop the run effectively for four quarters, and the Buckeyes will almost definitely seek to exploit that. The game will be decided at the line of scrimmage for the Broncos. If they give their superstars time and space to make plays, while limiting the Buckeye rushing attack, WMU could flirt with an upset bid. But if Ohio State begins to find its form from the previous season, WMU could be facing the reality of a 1-3 start to a season of high expectations.

Western Michigan takes on Ohio State at 3:30 ET on Saturday, September 26th on ABC/ESPN2