Thursday Night MAC Football: Eastern Michigan at Ohio

Jamie Sabau

After losing their first game in startling fashion, the one-loss Bobcats regroup and host one-win EMU at home at 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU, signaling the advent of MAC November weeknight football.

I'm sure the good souls of Miami University send their condolences to all the curious football watchers who last saw Ohio University pummel an emotionally spent Penn State team, hoping to see a top 25 team on Thursday night and how good they still are.

But since then PSU has actually helped Big Ten football look competent. Meanwhile the Bobcats remained undefeated in record only, skating past UMass, Buffalo and Akron in consecutive weeks, trying to address a much-bandaged defense on the fly. Even a month ago, Miami was the lone "maybe" game on their schedule, wherein if the Bobcats could top their rival, they were looking pretty keen at a 12-0 season.

Then Kent State came out of nowhere. Then Bowling Green's defense became a steel trap. Then Ball State kept pulling off wins in thrilling fashion. Suddenly they finish their season with three bowl-eligible programs and one struggling one with the reigning MAC Coach of the Year: Eastern Michigan, suddenly 1-7 and undergoing a serious transformation of their own.

There's no sugar left in the pantry to coat the start EMU got off to: they dug themselves into a hole at Ball State, was embarrassed at home to Illinois State (!) and could not do a thing right at Purdue. With numerous issues at hand, the ballsiest switch Ron English did on offense was bench quarterback Alex Gillett, who had started games since his freshman year, for promising sophomore Tyler Benz. They gave Michigan State the oddest scare in the world, leading well into the third quarter before losing by 16.

Once conference play resumed, they started mixing Bronson Hill into the backfield, whose participation in The Third Quarter Of Defensive Disaster led to being a productive running back: he followed it up with another brilliant game at Army and suddenly the offense was fixed, because if you can score 47 points on Toledo and 48 on Army, then you're at least capable of much more than just 14 points against Illinois State.

But EMU's bugaboo remains that defense. They kept offensively-challenged BGSU to 24 points, which was one more point than their season-best showing at Michigan State, and that's a weird thing to say right now. The main issue is the run defense. They're giving up over 300 yards per game, 6 yards per attempt, and three touchdowns on the ground per contest. Essentially they make every opponent look like Oregon on the ground. Which is startling, because EMU is the ones in green trying to accent their uniforms with awful gray matte and wings.

Well, as long as Ohio doesn't have a good running b— oh, right. Beau Blankenship. NEVER MIND.

If you haven't seen Blankenship run the ball, he's got some speed but is mostly a moving target difficult to bring down as well as someone that doesn't fatigue easily. He's third in FBS in rushes per game, just over 26 carries, right behind another familiar name: Le'Veon Bell for Michigan State. The Spartan back's numbers against EMU: 26 carries and 253 yards. Eep.

I apologize to all those viewers who will tune in looking for a shootout. There will be points, but it's going to be a slow ground grind, at least for Ohio. The mismatch is so grand here, Tyler Tettleton may not throw it more than 25 times unless they need to play catch-up in the second half for some forsaken reason (such as: the Ohio defense caught the grippe). On the legs of Blankenship alone, coupled with some play-action, Ohio can get to 40 points.

The curiosity will be when EMU tries to score. How good can Hill be? He was neutralized well against BGSU and the passing game didn't get very far either. If anything this could be a great national showcase for Garrett Hoskins, a super tight end that I've admired every time I've peeked into a webstream to watch EMU play. He always has some excellent catches down the field. Nobody else on the team has more than 20 receptions on the year, so this may be the day Ohio can figure some stuff out in their secondary: their pass defense is ranked 103rd in the country but EMU's passing offense is also 103rd. Hey, fair fight!

At least that particular matchup is fair, even if the rest aren't. It's fair to say that EMU's team is trending upwards and Ohio's is regressing a bit, but the chasm is still pretty wide for this to be anything but a Bobcats victory. Right? Maybe? Guess you'll have to watch to find out.

And THAT is what they call in the business "a tease."

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