The Western Mustangs football team will match up against the McMaster Marauders for their home opener this Saturday. While the Marauders are a familiar rival for the Mustangs and their fans, their retooled roster will look much different from McMaster teams of the past.
The Marauders' were hit hard by graduations over the offseason, forcing them to rebuild completely. However, this season, the young McMaster defence has ranked first in yards allowed per game (283.5) and second in total points allowed, with just 33 in two games.
The stout defence is led in part by Nate Edwards and Eli Haynes. Edwards, a second-year linebacker, has led the Marauders with 13 solo tackles and two assists. Haynes, a first-year linebacker, has compiled 12 solo tackles, seven assists and one sack.
However, while the defence has been excellent, the offence has been feeble at best. Last Sunday against the Ottawa Gee-Gees, ranked ninth in Ontario University Athletics, the offence managed just nine points, all of which came from the leg of third-year kicker Adam Preocanin.
Playing in torrential downpours, the team turned the ball over six times, coughing up three interceptions and three fumbles. Mac’s starting quarterback, second-year Jackson White, managed just 63 yards and two interceptions on 13 attempts in the first half.
As a result of his quarterback’s poor play, head coach Greg Knox made a change in the second half, tapping in second-year quarterback Andreas Dueck. Dueck responded to the change with 148 yards and one interception on 24 attempts.
The lone bright spot in the McMaster offence is fourth-year running back Jordan Lyons. Lyons had a standout performance last weekend, rushing for 168 yards on 24 attempts. However, the Burlington native was ultimately unable to find the end zone.
The key to a Mustangs victory will be stopping the torrid pace of Lyons; the team has previous experience bottling up Lyons, holding the halfback to just 32 yards and one touchdown on 14 attempts in their meeting last year.
If Western can stop the star of Mac’s offence, there aren't many pieces on the roster to replace him. In their last game, the Marauders' next closest rusher, outside of two quarterbacks, was first-year running back Tavian Shand — who ran for three yards on just one carry.
As well, if the running game is neutralized, the Marauders will be forced into a passing game — a strategy they are not comfortable with. This season, McMaster has ranked eighth in OUA with 222 passing yards per game.
The Mustangs will have their own problems to deal with, though. While their running game is strong, they will be coming up against a stellar defence that won't roll over easily. Western's offensive attack may need to be more multi-faceted to ensure a victory at home.
Also, the Mustangs will have to deal with an even larger target on their back Saturday, as they were recently named the best team in the nation for the second straight week. The Marauders, who just missed the top 10, would likely be vaulted high on the list with a victory on the road.
McMaster has not scored a touchdown in four straight quarters of play. On Saturday afternoon, the Mustangs will look to extend that streak to eight at TD Stadium at 4 p.m.