Midweek MACtion returns on Tuesday night, as Ohio travels to Ypsilanti for a conference showdown against Eastern Michigan. The Eagles are coming off a huge road win at Toledo, which keeps faint MAC West Division title hopes alive for coach Chris Creighton's squad. The Bobcats also scored a huge victory last Tuesday, defeating rival Miami (Ohio) to improve to 2-7 this year.
Last Tuesday's win over Toledo was huge for Eastern Michigan, as not only did the program keep its division title hopes alive, but Creighton's team also reached bowl eligibility for the fourth time since '16. Considering this is one of the toughest jobs in college football, getting to six wins and the postseason is a big accomplishment. However, if the Eagles can post three more victories this season, that would mark the second-best win total in school history.
As a program, Eastern Michigan has just one season of double-digit wins (1987) and only one more over seven (1977). So even if the division title is out of reach, there's plenty to play for, especially with rivals Western Michigan and Central Michigan still looming on the slate. The Eagles have already defeated Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green, and Toledo in MAC play this fall and fell to Ball State and Northern Illinois — currently the top two teams in the West Division standings — by one score.
Ohio was placed into a tough spot in the preseason when longtime coach Frank Solich retired prior to the start of this campaign. Offensive coordinator Tim Albin was promoted to the top spot. The Bobcats are just 2-7 in Albin's debut, but four of those defeats came by seven points or less, including a seven-point loss to Kent State on Oct. 23. Ohio is out of bowl contention, but the final three matchups allow Albin to finish on a high note and build momentum to '22.
Ohio holds a 19-12-1 series edge over Eastern Michigan. These two teams have not played since '17. The Bobcats have claimed seven out of the last eight against the Eagles.
Ohio at Eastern Michigan
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Eastern Michigan -7.5
When Ohio Has the Ball
Ohio's offense enters Tuesday night's game ranked third in the MAC by averaging 6.3 yards per play in conference-only matchups. However, the Bobcats are posting 29.8 points a game in MAC action this season (seventh in the league), largely due to 12 lost turnovers and struggles in situational moments (10th on third down and eighth in the red zone). After posting 400 or more yards once in the first five games, Ohio has eclipsed that mark two times in the last four matchups.
A big reason for the recent uptick in performance for Ohio's offense has been the play of quarterback Kurtis Rourke. The sophomore struggled through the first four games and did not play in the next two contests, returning against Kent State to throw for 308 yards over 31 attempts. He also was instrumental in the win over Miami (Ohio) last Tuesday, connecting on 23 of 32 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. Over the last two games, Rourke has completed 54 of 70 throws for 597 yards and three touchdowns to just one interception. Four players enter Tuesday night's game with at least 20 catches this year, including Tyler Walton (27) and Cameron Odom (24) working as the top targets for Rourke.
Although Rourke's recent performances have sparked Ohio's offense, the success of this group starts on the ground. The Bobcats have rushed 203 times, compared to just 120 passes in MAC play. De'Montre Tuggle (621 yards) paces the ground game with O'Shaan Allison (315) also working into the mix. Backup quarterback Armani Rogers (461) is another option for Ohio in a change-of-pace role, but Rourke (over 40 rushing yards in each of the last two games) will provide plenty of production on the ground.
Eastern Michigan's defense gave up 49 points in last week's win over Toledo and has been vulnerable against the run (181.8 yards per game in MAC action) this year. That's not great news against Ohio's rushing attack, especially with two quarterbacks capable of hurting the defense on the ground. For the season, Creighton's group is giving up nearly six yards per snap (5.95 in MAC games) but also ranks third in the MAC in pass efficiency defense. The Bobcats will test the Eagles up front and with the ground game, so it's up to this defense to stuff Allison, Tuggle, and the two quarterbacks on the ground to disrupt the preferred plan of attack.
When Eastern Michigan Has the Ball
Eastern Michigan's offense has been on fire the last two weeks. After posting just 33 points through the team's first two MAC games, the Eagles have topped at least 30 in the last three, including 55 versus Bowling Green and 52 against Toledo. For the season, this unit is averaging 5.64 yards per play and 34.9 points a contest but is gaining steam as the season hits its final stretch.
A key reason for the offensive production in MAC play has been the development of quarterback Ben Bryant. The Cincinnati transfer replaced Preston Hutchinson as the starter in the team's third game of the year and has passed for 2,190 yards and 13 touchdowns to just five picks. Bryant has connected on at least 70 percent of his throws in three straight games and ranks first in the MAC in quarterback rating (153.64). After carving up Toledo's secondary for 354 yards and three scores last week, the Eagles figure to put their victory hopes on his right arm once again, as Ohio ranks sixth in the MAC in pass efficiency defense and is dealing with some injuries in the secondary. The Bobcats gave up 492 yards to Miami (Ohio) last Tuesday, but no other opponent has managed more than 257 passing yards against this unit. Also, while this defense has struggled to get to the quarterback (14 sacks), Albin's group isn't giving up many big plays through the air. Hassan Beydoun (64 catches) and Dylan Drummond (43) are the main targets for Bryant, with receivers Tanner Knue and Zach Westmoreland and tight ends Bryson Cannon and Thomas Odukoya rounding out the key weapons.
Eastern Michigan ranks 11th in the MAC in rushing attempts per game (31.6) and averages only 2.5 yards per carry in conference play, but Creighton has a couple of capable options in the backfield to get yardage when needed. Jawon Hamilton paces the offense with 411 yards, with Darius Boone Jr. (371) and Samson Evans (151) chipping in. Ohio is allowing conference opponents to average 147.8 rushing yards a contest, so there could be some opportunities for this trio of EMU backs.
Ohio's defense has allowed at least 30 points in three of the team's five MAC games and enters Tuesday night giving up 6.1 yards per snap in league play this fall. Considering those totals, Eastern Michigan's passing attack should have no trouble moving the ball on the Bobcats. Can Ohio's defense perform better in key situations (third downs and red zone) to force field goals and keep Bryant out of the end zone? Albin's defense may have to bend and allow some yardage, but if the Eagles are kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, that's a win for this group.
The stakes are different for these two teams on Tuesday night. Eastern Michigan needs a lot of help, but this program needs a victory to keep its MAC West hopes alive. Also, more wins can certainly help Creighton's team improve its bowl positioning within the conference pecking order. On the other sideline, Ohio is simply playing for pride and trying to finish out the year on a high note with a 2-7 record. Rourke's play the last two weeks, along with the ground attack against a shaky run defense, allows the Bobcats an opportunity to control the pace of this game. However, Eastern Michigan's offense is operating at a high level the last few contests, and Bryant's arm is the difference in the fourth quarter to lift the program to its seventh win in '21.
Prediction: Eastern Michigan 34, Ohio 27
Podcast: Week 10 Recap, Reaction to Coaching Changes and a Preview of CFB Playoff Rankings