In looking at the Broncos Defense, there are similarities between the teams on that side of the ball too.
Similar to the Owls, early on in 2008 the Bronco Defense struggled. Then around late October they started to find footing and played much better Defense the remainder of the season. Also like the Owls, Western Michigan has a very talented Free Safety.
Overall, they have been classified as a disciplined group that plays the run well - but one that also has a talented Secondary and a good pass rush.
The marquee name on Defense for Western Michigan is Free Safety Louis Delmas. A native of Miami, Florida, Delmas has been named to the MAC team for 3 consecutive years. He earned 1st Team honors for the first time this year after making over 100 tackles and intercepting 4 passes. Delmas is the team leader in both categories. The 5-11 200 pounder is also known for his hard hitting playing style.
Joining Delmas in the Secondary are Senior Cornerbacks E.J. Biggers and Londen Fryar. They make the Bronco unit tough to throw against and were each named to the 2nd Team as All-MAC selections. Biggers had 2 interceptions and 4 pass break-ups this season while Fryar led the team in break-ups and also blocked a kick.
Overall the Broncos are allowing just 249 passing yards a game.
A big help to the Secondary, Western Michigan also has talent up front in its 4-3 Defensive alignment. Strongside Linebacker Austin Pritchard was also named 1st Team All-MAC, joining Delmas on the elite list. After an injury filled 2007 season the Lebanon, Ohio native had a very solid 2008. He rebounded to notch second on the team in tackles behind Delmas, but more impressively led the team with a spectacular 12.5 tackles for a loss. Pritchard had 17 tackles against Central Michigan. At 6-4 235 pound Pritchard can put his hand down and rush the passer as well.
Up front Defensive End Zach Davidson gets a good push up field and is second on the team in both tackles for a loss (9.5), and sacks (3.5). Davidson was named 2nd Team All-MAC for his efforts.
The Broncos amassed 23 sacks on the year and had 13 different Defenders register sacks. They will obviously seek to disrupt Chase Clement in Tuesday night's game with lots of pressure.
So will Western Michigan stop Chase Clement and the Owl Offense? That remains a question a lot of teams have tried to answer. But its the same one 9 other teams couldn't solve in 2008.
The other half of the question is what must the Owls do to score on a Bronco Defense that doesn't appear to have many weaknesses?
I really think its in their execution - not trickery or doing something new. Sure the Owls have studied Western Michigan's Defense, and they know their tendencies and strengths by now. There will no doubt be new wrinkles in the Offensive strategy. Rice's Tom Herman is a very smart Coordinator and is adept at exploiting weaknesses in opposing Defenses. Overlooked is the fact that Chase Clement is also very good at reading Defenses during the game.
But I think the real key to Rice winning its 10th game in 2008 is simply doing what they do best and not trying to do "too" much. Starting with Chase - he tends to put the weight of the world on himself sometimes and comes out a little too "amped" up. Chase and the Offense need to find a rhythm early, try to establish a running game against a good but not overly big Western Michigan line - and score points, lots of them. It sounds simple but assuredly probably won't be.
That's why this should be a really good football game.
Still, I think if the Owl Offense starts clicking, the Owls could have too many weapons to be shut down. In the Owls' last game of the season against UH they looked unstoppable - let's hope they pick right up from there...