Photo credit: Sean Neidig

Ohio Football Travels To The Zoo With MAC Title Hopes On The Line

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Two weeks isn’t a long time, but that was just what Ohio Football (5-3, 3-1) needed to get their offensive identity cemented in time for a road battle with Western Michigan (6-3, 4-1).

The Bobcats took care of business at Peden Stadium over the past two weeks, rushing for 803 combined yards in the two blowout victories over Bowling Green and Ball State. That rushing explosion has Ohio sitting firmly atop the Mid-American Conference rushing statistics at 233.5 yards per game.

Now they travel to The Zoo for a matchup with the Broncos, who are right behind Ohio on the ground (209.1 YPG) and tout the MAC’s leading rusher. Levante Bellamy is pacing the conference with 865 yards on 131 carries and five touchdowns. For some perspective, Ball State’s James Gilbert is sitting in second place with 586 yards.

Bellamy isn’t their only weapon on the ground, Jamauri Bogan has been a complement to Bellamy all season long, totaling 528 yards and 10 touchdowns on 108 carries. Ohio owns the second-best rushing defense in the conference (145.5 YPG) and they’ll be fully tested on Thursday.

“I think they’re somewhat similar in that both teams feel like they have a good offensive line. If you’re going to be at the top of the MAC then you better start with that,” head coach Frank Solich said at his weekly press conference. “We have quality running backs and more than one. We utilize our running backs, certainly A.J. (Ouellette) and Maleek (Irons) get plenty of reps, so neither team is relying on one running back.”

Outside of the rushing attack, Western is a bit of a mystery offensively. They’ve been led by junior Jon Wassink all season but their steady presence under center suffered an injury in the blowout loss to Toledo last Thursday.

Enter Kaleb Eleby.

The freshman lit up the Rockets for 293 yards and two touchdowns on 23-of-28 passing. Eleby couldn’t do enough to keep the score close at Waldo Stadium, but he has big-play ability with the deep ball, something Ohio has struggled with all season long.

The Bobcats are 1-4 against WMU in the Solich Era and this is the first meeting between the two squads since the 2016 MAC Championship Game. There may be a month left in the season but Thursday’s game is a must-win for Ohio if they want to get back to Ford Field.

The Bobcats trail Buffalo in the MAC East standings after the Bulls pulled out a 51-42 victory on Tuesday night moving to 5-0 in conference and 8-1 overall. Buffalo’s two remaining opponents besides Ohio (Kent State and Bowling Green) have a combined record of 3-15 this season. If the Bobcats can’t escape The Zoo victorious they’ll need a massive upset from those embattled squads.

It’s a playoff scenario for Ohio: lose once and a 51st year is added to the MAC Title drought, Win out and 50 years of Ohio Football is bookended in style.

The Bobcats control their destiny and the next test kicks off at 7 p.m. on Thursday with coverage from Waldo Stadium on WOUB 1340 AM and ESPNU.