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2019 Week 12 MAC Preview: Western Michigan Broncos @ Ohio Bobcats

A rematch of the 2016 MAC Championship Game kicks off in Athens, OH, this Tuesday night.

Western Michigan v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Heavy snow and low temperatures moved kickoff an hour earlier to 6:30 p.m. ET, but no weather conditions will prevent Western Michigan and Ohio from squaring off in Tuesday night MACtion.

The programs are among the MAC’s most consistent, as Western Michigan is bowl eligible for the sixth consecutive season while Ohio is two wins short of attaining the 6-win mark for the 11th straight year. While the interdivisional opponents don’t face each other annually, there is recent history between these programs on the MAC’s biggest stage. The Broncos and Bobcats delivered one of the more memorable MAC Championship Games of the decade, where Western Michigan inside linebacker Robert Spillane intercepted Ohio on a potential game-winning drive to secure a 13-0 record and a Cotton Bowl bid for the Broncos. Ohio currently owns the bragging rights, however, destroying Western Michigan 59-14 last year in Kalamazoo.

Tuesday night’s matchup also comes with historical implications as a win would give Ohio head coach Frank Solich his 111th victory, surpassing Herb Deromedi (Central Michigan, 1978-93) for most wins by a MAC head coach.


When Ohio has the ball

This season, Ohio is still clawing its way to bowl eligibility. The Bobcats haven’t lived up to their status as preseason conference favorites and their MAC East chances took a major hit with a home loss to Miami (OH) last Wednesday night.

At 4-5, Ohio still has two winnable games on the schedule in Akron and Bowling Green (combined 3-15 record), but the Bobcats can undo some of the damage from last week by taking down the Broncos’ powerful offense in Athens. Last week, defense wasn’t exactly the problem for Ohio. The Bobcats held Miami to 278 total yards, well below their defensive season average of 428 yards allowed, but the offense couldn’t establish momentum.

Ohio fumbled into the end zone on the opening drive, missed a field goal on its next opportunity, and concluded an ugly 3-possession sequence with a fumble at midfield. The key to fixing offensive woes from last week begins with establishing a stronger passing attack. With senior Nathan Rourke at quarterback, the Bobcats’ offense can assert their dominance in a multidimensional manner. Rourke’s shown the ability to pinpoint targets downfield, and Ohio’s passing game was imperative in a shootout victory over Kent State. He will face a Western Michigan secondary which struggled containing the passing offenses of Michigan State and Syracuse, a unit operating with limited cornerback depth.

However, Patrick Lupro could present a challenge for Ohio receivers. The cornerback has three interceptions on the season and probably won’t line up in press coverage too often. Ohio’s top four receiving threats each average more than 14 yards per reception, led by Isiah Cox (26 catches, 17.0 average) and Shane Hooks (19 catches, 19.7 average).

Ohio’s rushing game isn’t the same juggernaut it was in the past two seasons. Without A.J. Ouellette and Dorian Brown on campus, the Bobcats have worked in a three-back system of O’Shaan Allison, De’Montre Tuggle, and Julian Ross. Allison and Tuggle each average at least five yards per carry, but Rourke’s scrambling ability places him as the top rusher on the team with 625 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Western Michigan’s defense has faced issues in containing opposing running backs, but mobile quarterbacks haven’t particularly threatened the unit. Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito is the only signal caller to rush for more than 65 on the Broncos, and Western Michigan limited quick-footed Toledo quarterback Mitchell Guadagni to 39 yards on 13 carries. The Broncos’ defense receives a tackling boost from a likely First Team All-MAC selection in Treshaun Hayward. Starting the season as a reserve linebacker, Hayward is third in the FBS with 115 tackles and ranks in the top five of the MAC in sacks and tackles for loss.


When Western Michigan has the ball

Western Michigan did itself a massive favor for its MAC title aspirations by unseating first-place Ball State last Tuesday. The Broncos are now one of four MAC West teams with two conference losses, which creates a heated race between Western Michigan, Toledo, Ball State, and Central Michigan.

The Broncos are bowl eligible, and their senior talent has carried them to a bevy of wins. Western Michigan is one win away of tying the record for the Tim Lester era, and playing with a healthy quarterback in November is definitely a contributing factor. Jon Wassink finalized his college career at Waldo Stadium by rushing for a career-high 131 yards on six carries. His recent passing numbers aren’t as astronomical as they were in September, but Wassink is still getting the job done. The MAC’s leading passer has thrown 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season, completing 60% of his attempts in the process.

Western Michigan’s most deadly weapon on offense is the lightning quick senior in the No. 2 jersey. LeVante Bellamy has already surpassed the 1,200-yard rushing mark as the fifth-ranked halfback in all of college football. He posted a hat trick of touchdowns last Tuesday against Ball State, and his 20 touchdowns lead all rushers. But Bellamy doesn’t necessarily score frequently from goal line sets. When he needs to, he can power and truck through defenders, but the senior has scored nine touchdowns from over 30 yards this season (only 29 other running backs have at least nine touchdowns this season). Continuing with Bellamy’s NCAA 14 Dynasty-esque rushing numbers, he has scored 11 touchdowns in the past three games alone, with at least three in each outing.

Ohio’s defense must prepare to meet Bellamy at the line of scrimmage to have any success against the Broncos’ rushing attack. In an open-field, there aren’t too many running backs in college football that are as dangerous.

Read options have become more of a staple in Western Michigan’s offense as of late, especially with Wassink demonstrating his rushing prowess. The Broncos may even get their receivers involved in runs, as they did with wide receiver/return specialist Keith Mixon Jr. last week — who scored a 47-yard touchdown on a reverse. Western Michigan has grounded the ball in recent weeks, and with harsh temperatures and snow inflicting Athens, expect the Broncos to refrain from more than 20-25 pass attempts.


Game Notes

Time and Date: Tuesday, November 12 at 6:30 p.m. ET

Network: ESPN2

Location: Peden Stadium — Athens, OH

Spread: Ohio (-1)

ESPN FPI: Western Michigan has 62.8% chance to win

All-time series: Western Michigan leads, 33-29-1

Last meeting: Ohio 59, Western Michigan 14 — November 1, 2018


Prediction

All three midweek MACtion games this season have come down to the wire. Toledo beat Kent State by 2, Western Michigan beat Ball State by 4, and Miami beat Ohio by 3, meaning just 9 points have separated MAC teams on Tuesday and Wednesday nights this year.

This one will be another close game, and this is a difficult game to pick. Homefield advantage hasn’t played into the Bobcats’ favor though, as they lost by 20 to Louisiana, by 3 to 3-6 Northern Illinois, and by 3 to Miami last week, in Peden Stadium. Facing a team with a 1-3 record home record against FBS opponents, Western Michigan gains a slight edge over Ohio. LeVante Bellamy is scorching hot at the moment, and the Bobcats’ 100th ranked rushing defense hasn’t proven to be the unit to stop the senior from 140+ yards.

Cold weather will limit the offenses, and Ohio is on a mission, but Western Michigan is a safer pick given the recent directions of the teams this season.

Prediction: Western Michigan 28, Ohio 24