The Ohio Bobcats entered their third consecutive MAC game against the Akron Zips last week knowing that a third-straight loss meant their goal of making it to Detroit for the postseason would be crushed. Ohio welcomed a red-hot Akron team to Peden Stadium and cooled them down with a last-second victory to keep their MAC East hopes alive.
This upcoming Saturday, and the rest of Ohio’s regular season, will present the same challenge week in and week out. The matchup against the Western Michigan Broncos at Waldo Stadium is the midseason game this year that will throw the Bobcats’ remaining three games in one direction or the other.
“We knew we had our backs against the wall in terms of the MAC race and in terms of the season in general,” Ohio safety Josh Kristoff said.
Western Michigan has performed well this season through its first seven games. In three losses the Broncos have lost by an average of just over nine points against Big Five conference opponents such as Purdue and Virginia Tech. Because of the three losses the balance of the Broncos’ season relies heavily on how they perform against the Bobcats, so both teams are fighting to save hope in the MAC.
“I think they are a football team that has a good combination of things,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “They’re athletic up front and on both sides of the ball.”
A lot of the team’s successes derives from the performance of standout freshman running back Jarvion Franklin. He averages 141.7 yards on the ground and has already reached the end zone over 15 times this season. Every time he touches the ball he picks up over five yards, so the Bobcats will have to get a lot of bodies on him to shift Western Michigan’s focus toward its passing game.
“We’ve got to rally to the ball and get as many helmets on him as possible,” Kristoff said. “If we can make them one dimensional, make them try to beat us with the pass, then I think we have a good chance.”
The Broncos’ pass and rush defense will both present problems for the Bobcats, however. With two standout corners totaling four interceptions on the season and ranking near the top in the NCAA in pass deflections, Ohio quarterback J.D. Sprague will have to display great communication with his wide outs in order to avoid costly turnovers.
“It’s a lot of man-to-man in the secondary, mostly all the time, so we’re going try to win those matchups,” Ohio wide receiver Sebastian Smith said.
Western Michigan boasts overall strength on its roster. Ohio will have to be on top of its game to stay alive in the MAC East race.
About the Opponent: Western Michigan Broncos (4-3, 2-1)
Location: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Colors: Brown and Gold
Mascot: Buster Bronco
Notable Alumni: Actor and standup comedian Tim Allen and NFL coach John Harbaugh
Players in the NFL: New York Jets linebacker Jason Babin and Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings
Previous Bobcat Game: 41-20 Bobcat loss at Waldo Stadium — Oct. 4, 2008
Current Matchup: 2 p.m. Saturday — Waldo Stadium
Bobcats to Watch
Offense: WR Sebastian Smith – It was week four when the Ohio Bobcats’ receiving core came alive for quarterbacks Sprague and Derrius Vick. It was also the week that Vick went down with an ankle injury. Anyways, it was the perfect time for the wide receivers to step up their game. With Chase Cochran being the only veteran threat on the squad, Smith stepped up with some great grabs and solidified himself as a trustworthy weapon. Although he came up empty handed against Akron, expect Smith to lead the Ohio receivers against the Broncos.
Defense: DB Devin Bass – After an extremely rough start to the season, Bass finally had a breakout game against the Zips on Saturday. He came away with his first interception of the season, a pick on fourth down that prevented Akron from scoring. With a much-needed confidence boost provided by his performance in the win over the Zips, expect Bass to be back in 2013 form. Although he has taken on the task of lead defensive back, he has been burned a majority of the time. With a lockdown performance under his belt in 2014, Bass has shown that he has what it takes this season to lead the secondary over the final half of the year.
Panthers to Watch
Offense: RB Jarvion Franklin – This marks the second time this season that the Bobcats will have to keep a special eye on a standout freshman. Franklin has already compiled 18 offensive touchdowns this season, 16 of them coming on the ground. He’s worth noting in the above section as a specific threat that Ohio will have to key in on, so you know this newcomer is no fluke. The Bobcat defense has always stressed stopping the run first this season, and that will be the most important practice for Ohio on Saturday. If Franklin dictates the game from the start, the ‘Cats will go through another experience like earlier this season at Central Michigan.
Defense: CB Ronald Zamort – Zamort is one of two Western Michigan secondary members with two interceptions on the season. As the leader of the defensive backs, Zamort ranks sixth in the league with 12 pass breakups and was a driving force in an impressive effort last week against Bowling Green’s top-ranked MAC offense. Sprague has not put together a convincing performance, but the Bobcats got the job done against Akron without dazzling numbers from the backup. Turnovers, however, will be key in determining the outcome of the game. The Ohio offense will have to tread carefully in Zamort’s territory to avoid costly mistakes.
Broncos 30, Bobcats 14 – The Bobcats have not fared well on the road, especially against teams with an explosive running attack. With a 1-3 away record the ‘Cats have played extremely flat in all three losses. With the way the numbers are lining up in the WMU-Ohio matchup, it looks to be a perfect combination for another Bobcat throttling on the road.