Updated Mon, Nov 4, 2013 3:35 pm
Last April, Eric Fisher of the Central Michigan Chippewas became the first Mid-American Conference football player to be drafter No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft. The MAC seems to have another future NFL star emerging this year, as Buffalo Bull Khalil Mack has sparked nationwide attention and is currently projected as a top-15 draft pick. While he’s just one piece of an 11-man defense, the Ohio Bobcats will look to slow him down and keep momentum with their running game as they take on the Bulls Tuesday night.
Against the Miami RedHawks last week, the Bobcats’ running game showed its first substantial production of the year, allowing running back Beau Blankenship to gain 172 yards to become Ohio’s first 100-yard rusher of the season.
Many surrounding the team credited the burst of production to the return of offensive lineman John Lechner. Lechner has been recovering from injury since he went down against the Louisville Cardinals back in the first week, but his returned impact has been felt immediately.
“When I’m in there I feel like we have more size,” Lechner said. “I bring some knowledge and experience, but it’s not just me. We’re all a bunch of really good players.”
Ohio players and coaches routinely expressed how important a consistent running game is to the Bobcat offense, and many said that if the offensive line plays with the physicality and toughness that they did against Miami, Blankenship will be able to find holes and Ohio will be successful.
While Miami is a rival, it’s no secret that the RedHawks have experienced their fair share of difficulties this season, including on the defensive side of the ball. The Buffalo Bulls defense presents a whole new challenge, and Khalil Mack is the kingpin of it all.
“He’s good and there’s no denying that,” Lechner said. “I have a lot of faith in [Ryan] McGrath and I feel he’ll be able to handle his own. [Mack] is just another man.”
Mack has 54 total tackles (31 solo) on the season and had arguably his best game against the Ohio State Buckeyes, where he accumulated 9 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, and an interception that he returned for a touchdown.
But, as Lechner said, there are ten other bodies on the Buffalo defense that need to be accounted for to make the Bobcat rushing attack tick. If the Bobcats can establish a rushing game early in every game from here on out, they’ll be tough to take down.
“It really helps us,” head coach Frank Solich said. “We’re able to settle the young guys in on one position. We’ve had several guys ready to operate out of two spots and that’s always challenging for young players.”
Ohio and Buffalo kick off from the University at Buffalo Stadium at 8 p.m. on Tuesday night. A win would make take the Bobcat program to an all-time winning record for the first time since 1995.