Through six games, the Ohio Bobcats' defense has been stellar and in conference play, Ohio hasn't given up a single touchdown. When supplemented by an improved offensive attack, has the Bobcats looking like one of the top three or four teams in the MAC.
There's a catch, however. Well, two catches. The two teams Ohio has faced in conference play - the Akron Zips and Miami RedHawks - are both in the bottom half of total offense in the MAC and the RedHawks are the not-so-proud owners of the second worst offense in the MAC.
The 'Cats also haven't been healthy. Key players like linebacker Jovon Johnson, defensive end Tarell Basham and cornerback Devin Bass have missed time due to injuries. Even so, Ohio has the best scoring defense in the MAC and only the Toledo Rockets are close. Led by three-time MAC Defensive Player of the Week Quentin Poling, the Bobcats are also the second best overall defensive in the MAC behind Toledo.
Ohio is deep beyond its stars, however. Linebacker Blair Brown is right behind Poling, who has 40 tackles, with 38 tackles. And when Johnson missed a few weeks with a nagging high ankle sprain, the likes of Bryan Dicillo and Chad Moore filled in aptly. Additionally, Ohio has the ability to rotate players in at every level. At safety, for instance, Nate Carpenter, Toran Davis and Devin Jones all see time and all have made big plays for Ohio at different points this season.
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Western head coach P.J. Fleck is fully aware of Ohio's defensive prowess.
"This defense, they are tough, they are hungry and they are physical," Fleck said . "It's impressive to watch Ohio play defense. They have a good D-line. Their secondary is experienced. They have a lot of depth. They probably have more depth than a lot of people in the league."
These two realities are going to come to head on Saturday, as the Bobcats are set to take on the Western Michigan Broncos. Statistically, Western is ninth in total offense but the Broncos are better than the stats indicate. In every game sans a week four loss to the No. 1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, the Broncos have dropped at least 37 points in every game. With Corey Davis - widely considered to be the best receiver in the MAC -, slot menace Daniel Braverman, workhouse back Jarvion Franklin and quarterback Zach Terrell, Western Michigan has more talent on offense than anyone not playing in Bowling Green Ohio.
"This is probably the best offense we've faced so far," Ohio cornerback Ian Wells says. "This is a big one especially after leaving Kalamazoo last year with that loss."
The loss Wells is talking about is WMU's 42-21 win over Ohio last October. In that game, Davis had a career-high 212 receiving yards and Franklin tied the school record for rushing touchdowns that he would later break in the game. And by all accounts, Western Michigan is just as good, if not better, this time around.
But Ohio is too. Key players on last year's defense - Wells, Poling, Basham, etc. - are all back and better. The Bobcats' offense is better too, but it's hard to see how Ohio would win a shootout vs. Western. To win, the Bobcats' defense is going to show that it's as good as it's looked up until now.
"We just want to show them we can play," Wells said.