Ohio (4-3, 2-1 MAC East) marched into Kalamazoo and came away with its first road win of the season, spearheaded by a defensive performance for the ages, a strong kicking game, and stretches of effective offense.
The Broncos (2-5, 1-2 MAC West) turned in an amazing defensive effort to keep the contest close until there was just too much adversity to overcome with too little time left in the fourth quarter.
Here are our takeaways from the a game in which defense took center stage.
Ohio’s Defense Peaking at the Right Time
For several games this year, Ohio’s offense came up big, like in wins versus Fordham, Akron, and FAU where the ‘Cats scored 52, 48, and 43 points respectively. But last week, it was the defenses time to shine and shine they did.
The Bobcat’s offensive attack got off to a great start against WMU, scoring touchdowns on its first two drives and marching into the redzone on the third before an interception by former Fighting Illini DB Delano Ware started a Broncos defensive turnaround which kept the mighty Ohio offense out of the endzone for the rest of the first half and the third quarter.
As the ‘Cats offense cooled, the defense heated up against a developing WMU offense, ultimately taking over the game in the second half with an amazing number of big plays.
Ohio shut out the Broncos in the final two quarters, ending five drives on interceptions and the two others on fourth-down stops. On the day, the Bobcat defense allowed a season-low 14 points while recording six turnovers including five interceptions, eight tackles for loss, and five sacks.
After missing the Akron game injured, Ohio DBs Torrie Cox Jr. and Zack Sanders announced their returns with authority, intercepting two passes each. Sanders also added a sack.
Redshirt freshman Cox Jr. keeps making a case for an early-career All-MAC nod, with plays like a nifty pass break up followed later in the game by an athletic interception in the third quarter where he quickly closed the gap on the Bronco target, tipping the ball and ultimately corralling it for the big play.
Ohio’s front seven dominated in the second half with multiple notable performances. Team captain DT Kai Caesar created multiple big plays including two interceptions, the first on a batted ball and the second on a QB pressure. Caesar also added a sack.
DE Vonnie Watkins ran amok with five tackles, three tackles-for-loss, a sack and a QB pressure. DT Rodney Mathews and DE Jack McCrory combined for eight stops, a sack, and two QB pressures.
For the second week in a row, DE Bryce Dugan turned in notable plays, this week with three stops, a sack, and an INT.
If Ohio’s defense can continue its hot play, the ‘Cats have the offense and special team to make a push for the 2022 MAC East title. As it is heading into the mid-point of conference play, the Bobcats are in control of their championship aspirations—if they win out they can punch their ticket to Detroit.
That is easier said then done, as the Bobcat defense will have its mettle tested next week versus defending MAC Champ Northern Illinois, who beat EMU last week 39-13 and are third in the MAC in points scored with 32.7 per game.
The Broncos Defense Can Handle a Ton of Adversity
That the Broncos were not blown out by a much bigger margin was due to an inspired performance by the Broncos defense that kept it a one-score game into the fourth quarter (20-14) by holding Ohio to 13 second-half points under almost impossible odds.
Six second-half turnovers and a decision for WMU to go for it on fourth-and-seven from its own 17 yard line staked the Bobcats to incredible field position only for WMU’s defense to answer the bell way more times than a defense normally does in those circumstances, allowing just one touchdown.
Ohio started a drive at the WMU 40-yard line, but gained only six yards before the Broncos stopped the ‘Cats on fourth down. On another drive, Ohio’s offense gained one yard on three plays after taking over at the Broncos 17 to settle for a field goal.
Later in the contest, on a drive beginning at the WMU 33, the Broncos defense forced and recovered a fumble in the red zone to deny the visitors another golden opportunity for points.
The Broncos stellar defensive performance was a team effort but play in the front seven jumped off the page.
The Broncos defensive line led the charge with a masterful performance by DE Andre Carter who hounded Ohio’s QB throughout the contest. His speed rush and inside moves kept a strong Bobcat offensive line off balance, disrupting Ohio’s offense at key moments.
The rest of the D-line were impressive as well with Marshawn Kneeland adding three TFLs and DT Braden Fiske adding two QB pressures and a TFL.
LBs Zaire Barnes and Corvin Moment showed why they are one of the better duos in the MAC with a combined for 22 tackles, two TFLs and a sack.
MAC teams have a lunch pail mentality; a physical, tough style of play and blue-collar work ethic tend to color their performances. The MAC was full of examples like that this week and this game was no different.
For instance, with his performance versus WMU, Ohio RB Sieh Bangura garnered back-to-back MAC East Offensive Player of the Week awards, finishing with 105 yards from scrimmage and two scores. But it was not only the yardage or scores that stood out but the effort: Bangura moved the pile multiple times fighting hard for every yard against a strong Broncos defense.
Ohio’s Kicking Specialists Functioning a Championship Level
There are five games to go but if Ohio’s specialists keep playing at their current level, they can be a factor in a championship run.
As it is, the Bobcats came up big against WMU by hitting 4-of-5 FGs including a 55-yarder.
The unit is anchored by true freshman Nathaniel Vakos, who earned his second MAC East Special Team Player of the Week award for his performance over the Broncos. Vakos is on schedule to get some post season, All-MAC hardware as he is 10-11 on field goals while hitting 26-27 XPs.
Kickoff and long-distance FG guy Tristian Vandenberg also was awarded MAC East Special Team Player of the Week against Kent State in a game during which his only kicks were on kickoff.
Next week, the Bobcats host NIU (2-5, 1-2 MAC West), while WMU travel to Miami to take on the RedHawks (3-4, 0-3 MAC East).