Expect a packed crowd at Peden Stadium Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. for Homecoming weekend when the Ohio Bobcats (4-1, 1-0) will be riding a four-game winning streak against a Central Michigan Chippewas (2-4, 1-1) squad that has recently snapped a three-game skid. Regardless, the MAC has been as surprising as ever, especially in Athens.
The defense has now picked up three MAC East Defensive Player of the Week awards, with safety Toran Davis being the latest Bobcat to earn the recognition. His efforts against Akron – a 34-yard interception return and an 18-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown – have now solidified the secondary as one of the most dangerous units on Green and White.
“I think we proved that we can tackle well, we’re disciplined and we’re well coached, we get out there,” Davis said. “I think it shows that we enjoy playing with each other, and sometimes you see us making sacrifices so a buddy can make a tackle or a good play.”
Cornerback Devin Bass, another MAC East POW winner, leads the conference in pass deflections with eight. His efforts when called upon off the bench have been the reason why the ‘Cats’ defense has been tiring out offense late in games.
Even though the defense has aided the offense in putting points on the board, the Bobcats have scored 26 points in the fourth quarter in their last four victories. This output has helped them win close shootouts against North Texas and Marshall.
The secondary has come up big in the two blowout wins against Austin Peay and Akron, allowing zero points in the final 15 minutes of play in both games.
“There are a few things a safety has to do to be successful: they have to be able to come up and plug the holes in the run game and also defend the pass,” head coach Frank Solich said.
The real challenge for the Ohio defense is going to be in the trenches withthe ‘Cats’ defensive line, which happens to be tied for second in the MAC with 16 sacks. But the CMU offensive line has been able to open up holes despite having their star running back, and possible NFL prospect, out for the season.
“They’re not guys who are somewhat undersized out there playing their hearts out,” Solich said of the CMU offensive line. “They’re talented football players that have really good size.”
The offense for CMU, led by newcomer Cooper Rush, has been hot and cold for the Chippewas this season. If he can get chemistry working with big-play wide out Titus Davis, then Ohio may be in for a close match.
But the ‘Cats will be shaking things up to make sure Rush feels uncomfortable in Peden.
“He’s a young quarterback, so kind of show him some different things and see if we can force him to make some mistakes,” Davis said.
The defense will be key to winning this matchup against the Chippewas, but the offense will also have a hurdle to overcome in CMU’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme. With the leading MAC tackler, Justin Cherocci, centering this pro-type defense, the Ohio wide receivers will have to be able to pick up a lot of the slack. This means that the spread offense may have to branch out a bit if the ‘Cats want to build an early lead.
“We have a lot of different threats, and I think that poses some big-time difficulties for other teams,” wide receiver Chase Cochran said. When you have so many guys in double-digit receptions, you can’t just say, ‘We’re going to double team Donte, we’re going to double team Matt.'”
If Ohio can keep calm and execute their game plan, then this Homecoming will be one of the more special ones in Athens if the ‘Cats can surpass the .500 mark.
“I think it’s true to say that the best fans in the MAC are here at Peden,” Davis said.
About the Opponent: Central Michigan Chippewas
Location: Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Colors: Maroon and Gold
Notable Alumni: Head coach of Indiana Hoosiers men’s basketball team Tom Crean
Players in the NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle (and 2013 No. 1 draft pick) Eric Fisher
Previous Bobcat Game: 43-28 loss at Kelly/Shorts Stadium – Nov. 10, 2011
Key to Victory
Outmuscling the CMU offensive line – Even without 2013 No. 1 NFL Draft pick Eric Fisher on the line and star running back Zurlon Tipton, the CMU offensive line has been tops in the MAC. Even without Zurlon, Saylor Lavallii has stepped in to become the No. 5 leading rusher in the MAC. The flaw to the Chippewas’ line is their pass protection, as they have given up a conference-worst 18 sacks. Ohio’s defensive front, which is tied for second in the MAC with 16 sacks, will have a good chance of rattling Rush early and often on Saturday.
Bobcats to Watch
Offensively: TE Troy Hill – With the Central Michigan defense focused on protecting against the spread, players like Hill will be huge in this matchup if Tettleton wants to put up first downs. Although the always-reliable options Waters and Cochran will be viable deep threats, the 4-2-5 defense hurts Ohio’s chances of relying on the deep passing game.
Defensively: S Xavier Hughes – I like to mention Xavier every week, but I think we’re going to see a hurried Rush on the field at Peden Stadium. This will lead to a lot of mistakes by Central Michigan, and it’s hard not to imagine Xavier not being at the center of those big-time turnovers that provide the Bobcats good field position.
Opponents to Watch
Offensively: WR Titus Davis – According to Aaron McMann of the Central Michigan Life, the only consistent deep threat is Davis. If Ohio, which they have done a good job at doing this season, can shut down a long-threat in Titus, they will have no problem with containing the CMU offense like they did the Akron Zips’ youth-riddled offense last weekend. This will mostly rely on the play of shutdown corner Travis Carrie.
Defensively: LB Justin Cherocci – Central Michigan will be running a 4-2-5 defense under new defensive coordinator Joe Tumpkin, so Cherocci will be the hybrid safety/linebacker – a Brian Urlacher-type player. He leads the MAC in tackles, so there are at least some comparisons there. Beau Blankenship may have a hard time dealing with this Central Michigan brute, possibly calling for more Ryan Boykin and Daz’mond Patterson.
Bobcats 38, Chippewas 17 – With the Bobcats coming home on a four-game winning streak running on all cylinders – special teams included – I think we’re going to see another blowout victory from the Green and White. I almost Musburger’d last week’s pick, but the defense has proven week in and week out that they can be the crutch that this offense needs. I could never have guessed that three Bobcats (Jovon Johnson, Devin Bass and Thad Ingol in that order) could have already collected MAC East Defensive Players of the Week.