Midweek MACtion’s must-see matchup of Week 12 takes place on Tuesday night in Athens, as Western Michigan travels to Ohio for a meeting of two of the conference’s top teams. The Broncos enter Week 12 locked into a tie atop the West Division, while the Bobcats need a win to keep the pressure on Miami (Ohio) in the East. This game was originally slated to kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET but was moved up one hour to 6:30 p.m. ET due to winter weather expected in Ohio.
Western Michigan closed out its 2019 home slate with a 35-31 victory over Ball State last Tuesday. The win ensured the Broncos of at least a .500 mark in the regular season (6-4) and kept this team alive for a trip to Detroit for the MAC title game. Coach Tim Lester’s squad is one of four teams in the West with two losses in league play entering Week 12. However, the Broncos own tiebreakers over Central Michigan and Ball State. Thanks to a 31-24 win on Oct. 5, Toledo owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over Western Michigan this season. But with the Rockets still facing games at Buffalo and Central Michigan, the Broncos should feel good about their chances for Detroit with a win on Tuesday against Ohio and again on Nov. 26 at Northern Illinois.
Ohio entered 2019 as the clear favorite to win the MAC East. However, coach Frank Solich’s squad enters Week 12 on the bubble to make a bowl and faces an uphill battle to make the conference title game. The Bobcats are 4-5 overall and likely need to win all three remaining matchups – Western Michigan and at Bowling Green and Akron – to guarantee a bowl trip. Of those five losses, four came by 10 points or less, including three-point defeats in MAC play. Last week’s loss to Miami (Ohio) was a significant blow to Ohio’s chances of a division title. The Bobcats must win out and hope the RedHawks lose twice to book a trip to Detroit in early December.
Western Michigan holds a 33-29-1 series edge over Ohio. The Bobcats won in Kalamazoo 59-14 last season but lost the four previous meetings between these two programs.
Western Michigan at Ohio
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Ohio -1
When Western Michigan Has the Ball
Assuming the weather isn’t too bad, the scoreboard operator could be busy when Western Michigan has the ball. The Broncos lead the MAC in scoring (35.9 ppg), yards per play (6.7), and plays of 40 or more yards (20). Additionally, this group has scored at least 30 points in all four of their MAC victories this season.
Western Michigan’s offense is arguably the MAC’s most balanced attack this season, but the ground game is the focal point for coach Tim Lester’s group. Running back LeVante Bellamy enters Week 12 with 1,212 yards and 20 touchdown runs and is making a strong case for MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors. The senior gashed Ball State for 157 last Tuesday and has seven 100-yard efforts in his last eight games. That’s not great news for an Ohio defense tied for seventh in the MAC against the run and allowing nearly 200 yards a game (196.6). Sean Tyler and Davon Tucker are proven options if Bellamy needs a break, and quarterback Jon Wassink (250 yards) is capable of making a couple of plays on the ground each contest.
Staying healthy was a priority for Wassink after his last two years ended prior to November due to injury. But the senior has made all 10 starts for Western Michigan this season and has connected on 59.9 percent of his throws for 2,397 yards and 16 touchdowns to just seven picks. Western Michigan lost three out of its top five receivers from last season, but tight end Giovanni Ricci (41 catches) is having an outstanding senior campaign. Additionally, the addition of Keith Mixon as a transfer from Mississippi State, along with the emergence of Skyy Moore (34), DaShon Bussell (20), and Jaylen Hall (16) gives Wassink plenty of options to target on the outside. Ohio ranks eighth in the MAC against the pass and has allowed seven completions of 40 yards or more.
Although Wassink and Western Michigan’s passing game will be a handful, Ohio has to focus on stopping Bellamy. The Bobcats have allowed four opponents to run for at least 200 yards and an average of 209.6 yards in the team’s five losses. The problems aren’t limited just to the main defensive statistical categories. Solich’s defense has struggled to generate pressure, ranks 10th in the MAC in red zone defense and has forced only six takeaways in 2019.
When Ohio Has the Ball
For Ohio to win out and reach a bowl game, Solich will have to lean heavily on his senior quarterback. Nathan Rourke has accounted for 99 touchdowns over the last three years and once again ranks first in the MAC in total offense (277.9 ypg) in 2019. Rourke leads the team with 625 rushing yards and has passed for 1,876 yards and 11 touchdowns through nine games. In last season’s matchup, Rourke created all sorts of problems for Western Michigan’s defense, as he scored three times through the air and added 68 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Western Michigan has held its last two opponents under 200 passing yards, but this group has been vulnerable at times. Eastern Michigan torched the Broncos for 407 yards, with Central Michigan and Michigan State both reaching the 300-yard mark. Rourke has been throwing to a young but promising group of receivers this season. Isiah Cox (26) paces the team in catches, with Shane Hooks (18), Jerome Buckner (14), Cameron Odom (16), and tight end Ryan Luherman (19) rounding out the key targets. Western Michigan’s secondary ranks fifth in the MAC in pass efficiency defense and has given up a few big plays (seven of 40 yards or more).
Considering the firepower on Western Michigan’s offense and some of the issues Ohio has experienced on defense, utilizing the rushing attack to shorten the game is a must for Solich’s group. Three players – Rourke and running backs De’Montre Tuggle and O’Shaan Allison – each received at least 10 carries in last week’s game against Miami (Ohio). The Bobcats ran for 241 yards in that matchup and should be able to find similar success against a Western Michigan front giving up 186.5 yards a game on the ground.
Total yards isn’t the best way to evaluate a defense, but it’s notable the Broncos are giving up 428.4 a game. Consider this: Lester’s group is giving up 5.9 a play and ranks second in the MAC in points allowed per game (26.3). In other words, Western Michigan is going to bend a little but will toughen inside the red zone. Additionally, the Broncos have excelled at generating takeaways (17) and lead the MAC in sacks (31).
Blowouts or one-sided meetings have been the trend recently between these two teams, as 20 or more points decided four out of the last five head-to-head matchups. Expect a closer game on Tuesday night. With bowl positioning and a spot in the MAC title game still alive for both teams, this should be an entertaining battle. Western Michigan’s balance on offense isn’t going to be an easy matchup for Ohio’s defense. And when the Bobcats have the ball, Rourke is going to create plenty of headaches for the Broncos. Western Michigan is 0-4 on the road this year, but the Bobcats are 1-3 at home against FBS competition. The weather is an x-factor to watch. The Broncos are probably a better all-around team, but the guess here is Ohio finds a way to win at home and keeps the pressure on Miami (Ohio) for the top spot in the East.