Wittenberg at Ohio Wesleyan

1 P.M., DELAWARE

Records: Wittenberg 7-1, 6-1 North Coast Athletic Conference; Ohio Wesleyan 3-5, 3-4

Series: Wittenberg leads 51-35-6.

Last meeting: Wittenberg won 42-23 last season in Springfield.

 

Defense has been a strength this season for Ohio Wesleyan. That's good news for the Battling Bishops, because it will give them their best chance Saturday at upsetting Wittenberg, the 20th-ranked team in Division III.

The Tigers are coming off a 28-21 overtime loss to Wabash that was their first defeat of the season and dropped them all the way from No. 8 in the rankings. Wabash has a stout defense, allowing just 15.8 points per game, and that compares favorably with Ohio Wesleyan, which gives up 16.8.

“I’m sure they’re not very happy. Losing at home is not a typical thing at Wittenberg,” Bishops coach Tom Watts said. “Our kids are going to be pretty alert now.”

 

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That starts with the Bishops defenders, who have allowed 13, 27 and 7 points the last three games. The unit features linebacker Cody Streit (61 tackles, eight for loss) and defensive end Kor'Darius Melton (49 tackles, 8.5 for loss), both sophomores. Homegrown talent includes defensive tackle David Praul, a senior from Buckeye Valley, and defensive end Kyle Hogan, a junior from Centerburg.

The success on defense bleeds over to special teams, where much of the same personnel stays on the field to defend PAT and field-goal attempts. Hogan has five blocked kicks in the last two games. Last week in a 22-13 win over Oberlin, he blocked a 31-yard field-goal attempt and a PAT attempt that was returned for two points.

The problem for Ohio Wesleyan has been an offense that starts hot before drastically cooling off.

The Bishops have 81 first-half points this season but just 50 in the second. They are breaking in a first-year starter at quarterback in junior Jax Harville of River Valley. He has completed 129 of 242 passes with six touchdowns. But sacks have been an issue. Opponents have 32 against the Bishops.

“We’ve got great kids, but when you lose that confidence, it's hard to get it back,” Watts said. “That's the thing we've been stressing, to play with confidence.”

Top receiving targets include Deji Adebiyi (300 yards, three TDs) and twin brothers Mher Tcholakian (267 yards, one TD) and Sasoun Tcholakian (258 yards, one TD).

Developing the running game has been another challenge. The Bishops didn’t top 50 yards rushing in any of their first four games but have shown improvement since then. Jesse Beachy, a senior from Jonathan Alder, has two touchdowns rushing this season on just 90 yards.

"Our offensive line has worked their tails off, and that's contributed to our run game,” Beachy said, “and we've gotten the ball out to our playmakers a little more.”

 

Navy at Cincinnati

3:30 P.M., CINCINNATI

The Midshipmen (2-6, 1-3 American Athletic Conference West) and their rushing offense, third nationally at 307.9 yards per game, are the final tuneup for the Bearcats (7-1, 3-1 AAC East) before they face two of the top contenders in their division, South Florida and No. 12 Central Florida, back to back.

 

Youngstown State at North Dakota State

3:30 P.M., FARGO, N.D.

Tevin McCaster needs 64 rushing yards to top 1,000 for the second consecutive season for the Penguins (3-5, 2-3 Missouri Valley Football Conference). But among the many things that the Bison (8-0, 5-0) — the top-ranked team in FCS — do well is stopping the run, allowing 103.9 yards per game.

 

Kentucky Wesleyan at Ohio Dominican

NOON, PANTHER STADIUM

The Panthers (7-2, 4-2 Great Midwest Athletic Conference) are rolling with wins in five of their last six and have topped 400 yards on offense in five games. The stage is set for a strong finish with games against Kentucky Wesleyan (3-5, 2-4) and winless Lake Erie.

bhofmann@dispatch.com

@BrianHofmann