Ohio (4-4) at Western Michigan (4-3) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Waldo Stadium (30,200) -- Kalamazoo, Michigan. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Ohio 3-1, Western Michigan 1-1. Away Record: Ohio 1-3, Western Michigan 3-2. Neutral Record: Ohio 0-0, Western Michigan 0-0. Conference Record: Ohio 2-2, Western Michigan 2-1. Series Record: Western Michigan leads, 30-28-1.
GAME NOTES: Coming off a huge victory over conference rival Bowling Green, the Western Michigan Broncos will try for their first three-game winning streak this season as they play host to the Ohio University Bobcats in a Mid-American Conference clash at Waldo Stadium Saturday.
Ohio took down Akron by a 23-20 score last weekend. The Bobcats took advantage of a Zips team that was playing without regular starter Kyle Pohl at quarterback, and was able to end a two-game losing streak in conference play with the victory.
Western Michigan traveled to Bowling Green, and took on the then-unbeaten in conference Falcons and won by a 26-14 score. The Falcons and Broncos were both known for strong offenses, but it was the defensive effort by WMU that set the team apart over the weekend.
The two MAC rivals have met 59 times on the field, and get set for the series' 60th matchup this weekend. Western Michigan owns a very slim 30-28-1 all-time series record, but the sides haven't clashed on the field since a 2008 41-20 Broncos victory in Kalamazoo.
Ohio and Akron seemed to be mirrored last weekend. Both sides scored the same number of points in three of four quarters, but it was a single Josiah Yazdani field goal as time expired at the end of the first half that proved to be the difference for the Bobcats in the three-point win. Neither side was especially strong offensively, with Bobcats quarterback J.D. Sprague being the difference maker after passing for 197 yards and two touchdowns against one interception.
Sprague completed touchdown passes to running back A.J. Ouellette and receiver Ian Dixon, and added 68 rushing yards to his stat line on just six carries. Against a Western Michigan team that averages more than 32 ppg, Sprague will have to be especially on point. The Bobcats are averaging just 18.8 ppg, and led by Sprague, the passing game accounts for just 214.9 ypg. In the previous two losses to Central Michigan and Bowling Green, the team scored a combined 23 points - 10 and 13, respectively.
When Ouellette is in the backfield, the Bobcats have something of a weapon in the run game. The freshman back led Ohio with 74 yards on 23 carries last weekend, and has a team-best 407 yards and four touchdowns on the year. Getting through Western Michigan's defense will take a solid mix of run and passing success, and Ouellette has the potential to be a big-play guy.
The Ohio defense helped the winning cause last weekend when it forced three Zips turnovers, which helped limit the in-state rival to a mere 20 points. But for a team allowing a not-too-shabby 25 ppg to opponents, one would think the Bobcats would be better against defending the pass.
Ohio allows 285.6 passing ypg to opponents, and has surrendered 16 touchdowns through the air this season. Allowing 142.6 rushing ypg might not be so friendly against the Broncos this weekend, when stud freshman back Jarvion Franklin takes the field. Linebacker Quentin Poling (59 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 sacks) will be busy trying to contain the big WMU running back.
Things started to look bad for the youthful Broncos when the team dropped back- to-back contests to Virginia Tech and Toledo earlier in the season, but since then WMU has won two games in a row for the second time this season, and seeks a third this weekend. The Broncos limited a potent Bowling Green offense to just 274 yards of offense, and got another solid effort from the freshman running back Franklin in the win.
The Western Michigan offense is run-first with Franklin, who leads the FBS with 16 rushing scores on the year, and ranks sixth in rushing yards (992). He had a mild day against Bowling Green, by his lofty standards, gaining 149 yards and scoring a single touchdown in his team's win. The offense manages 188.1 rushing ypg this season, and is scoring 32.6 ppg in large part due to the 18 ground touchdowns the team has scored.
That's not to take anything away from young quarterback Zach Terrell, who has performed beyond expectations with 1,750 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions in seven contests this season. He's been able to find steady receivers Corey Davis (the younger brother of Central Michigan star Titus Davis) and Daniel Braverman on a consistent basis. The two receivers have been on the other end of nine Terrell touchdown passes combined, so Ohio certainly can't cheat the run.
The Achilles' heel for WMU has been an inconsistent defense, which is allowing 28.1 ppg to opponents this season. The 14 points Bowling Green scored on the squad last weekend was the fewest since the team defeated FCS program Murray State, 45-14, back in September. Those two meetings aside, the team has held just one other opponent to fewer than 33 points. The Broncos have also only secured nine takeaways in seven games, which ranks in a tie for 84th in the country.
Tackle machines Grant DePalma (64 stops) and Justin Currie (59 tackles) will be keeping an eye on Ouellette of Ohio, while defensive backs Donald Celsicar and Ronald Zamort (two interceptions apiece) will be tasked with taking away passing options for Sprague. Ohio has done a great job of limiting opponents to just 11 sacks on the season, which is bad news for a WMU program that has eight team sacks in seven games played in 2014.
Ohio finally picked up a crucial win last weekend, but did so largely because Pohl, the Akron game manager and on-field leader, sat out due to an injury. The Bobcats are struggling to find any sort of rhythm offensively, and don't really have anyone the team can turn to when in desperate need of scoring. The Broncos have scoring in bunches, and can unleash the running back Franklin at seemingly any time. Ohio may find it difficult to defend any aspect of Western Michigan's offense, especially on the road.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Michigan 34, Ohio 20Game Date and Time
Saturday, October 25, 2 p.m. (ET)