It's the middle of October, which means leaves are falling, the air is getting colder, and the fan bases of Ohio (4-2, 1-1 MAC) and Eastern Michigan (1-5 ,0-2 MAC) enter Saturday's matchup in a near identical situation to last season's game. A year ago the 'Cats entered their game against EMU on the heels of a crushing defeat at the hands of Miami. The Eagles entered the game in the midst of another long stretch of frustrating blowout losses.
After Ohio was upset at home by CMU this past week, and Eastern Michigan suffered a 25-point loss to army, the only real difference this year is that the 'Cats head up north to Ypsilanti, Michigan for this year's game.
Ohio's currently listed as 20 point favorite in this game, and is looking for a repeat of last year's 45-14 drubbing of the Eagles, as a way to right the ship and keep its hopes for a MAC Championship in 2013 alive. This season with the way that EMU's defense has struggled this year, it's not impossible to see the Bobcats come out with a statement victory. Ohio is going to come out guns-a-blazing against an Eagles' defense that's allowing an average of 40 points a game.
Last week they were torched by the Black Knight's running game, which amassed 551 yards rushing, scoring all seven of their touchdowns on the ground. This would have played right into last year's Ohio team, which was one of the more dominate running attacks in the mid-west, but this year, the Bobcats are struggling on the ground. Through six games, Ohio has averaged just 141 yards rushing, and has yet to have a 100-yard rusher on the season. That's a far cry from a team that averaged almost 100 yards more than that a season ago. But Saturday could provide the two-headed rushing attack of Ryan Boykin and Beau Blankenship the springboard it has been waiting for all season long.
Conversely, the Eagles' rushing offense is on par with Ohio's. It's led by senior running back Bronson Hill, who found impressive first half success against Army, amassing 117 yards by halftime, but was shut down in the second half. He's going up against an Ohio rush defense that is tops in the MAC, and even after allowing more than 200 yards on the ground last week, has given up less than 900 yards on the year. If EMU wants to keep this game competitive, it will need to rely on the arm of junior quarterback Tyler Benz.
So far this year Benz has put up nearly 1,300 yards and seven touchdowns, but has made costly mistakes too. He's tossed six interceptions on the season, and has thrown at least one in each of his last four games. Ohio's secondary has been stout, but not spectacular. It currently ranks near the middle of the pack in MAC passing defense, but has just seven passing touchdowns since Week 2, which would put it tied for second best in the conference. Benz will need to limit his picks, while making tighter throws in order to give his rushing game a chance.
Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton has had issues in the decision making department this season as well. He's already thrown five interceptions on the year, one more than his season total from 2012. He's heading up against an Eagles' defense that has had success in keeping quarterbacks out of the endzone, even if only because of its awful rush defense. EMU's secondary is currently third best in the conference, which means Tettleton will have his hands full Saturday.
If Ohio can win big, it might be enough to right the ship, and get the fans nerves back at ease. It also would go a long way towards keeping its dream of a MAC East championship alive, as it currently sits well behind Bowling Green in the East standings.
For EMU, a big loss could be the spark that the Eagles powder keg has been waiting for. It's unlikely English is fired after the game no matter the outcome, but the decibel level on the noise in Ypsilanti would certainly jump a few notches.
The game is scheduled to kickoff Saturday at 1 p.m., and can be streamed live on ESPN3.