The Ohio Bobcats defense has had their fair share of offensive battles in just the first two weeks of the 2012 collegiate football season.
In the season opener, Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin led Penn State on three drives that amassed a total of 168 yards in the first quarter. Afterwards the ‘Cats tightened up their coverage and allowed just 184 yards over the final three quarters. The ‘Cats defense followed up that effort last week against New Mexico State; their hungry defensive line registered six sacks and held week one national statistical leaders Andrew Manley and Austin Franklin in check.
This week the task is no different for the Ohio defense. The number one passing attack in the country (statistically) awaits their company in Huntington, West Virginia. The Battle for the Bell will undergo it’s 56th installment this Saturday, and while most prognosticators see an air-happy track meet taking place on the field, I see a blooming secondary making a name for themselves.
“There are a lot of awfully quick throws in their offensive scheme,” head coach Frank Solich said, “So you’re going to have to cover well and hope that every now and then you get pressure so they don’t get on a drive and just get first down after first down and get themselves in scoring territory.”
The ‘Cats have covered and protected against the big-play well thus far this season. Despite giving up a 91-yard kickoff return against the Aggies last week, Ohio only allowed one other play over 20 yards. The discipline and communication from the youthful defensive backs has been pivotal to their early-season success. It will be an exceedingly important against a Herd offense headed by quarterback Rakeem Cato that ranks first in the league with 843 passing yards through two games.
“Communication will be key,” defensive back Ian Wells said. “The corners just looking at the safeties for communication signs and just knowing our assignments.”
There were times when Wells thought that his on field communication with his teammates could have been better. It will have to be on point if the Bobcats want to start the season 3-0 for the second straight year. It will be a tough task, as The Herd have 10 different targets averaging at least 10.0 receiving yards.
Ohio has put in the work in the film room to be able to counter any wide out set that Marshall may throw their way. It was evident last week through the play of safety Nate Carpenter, who broke up two passes and came down with a dagger of a pick-six.
“It’s a lot of dedication in the film room to just know what’s going to happen before the play even occurs, and we know their alignments, their posture and their stance,” Carpenter said. “We just look for all the little tendencies they have and it all helps in the end because if you know what’s going to happen you can make a play before they even realize you’re there.”
Practicing against an agile offense headed by quarterback Tyler Tettleton throughout the week also makes for great groundwork in going against high-scoring attacks like the Thundering Herd. That may be evident during the weekly run-throughs, but something that the Bobcats have struggled with in the first two weeks of the season is getting that quick-drive offense jumpstarted in the first quarter.
“The past two games, you know, we haven’t really come out fast and have been kind of slow coming out of the gates,” Tettleton said. “We’re a fast, up-tempo offense and that’s what we like to do every drive, keep the defense of their heels.”
With the explosive wide out Donte Foster being a game time decision for the Marshall game, Ohio will have to find a way to avoid a sluggish start in the event that Foster is not available. If the game does indeed turn into an air-it-out battle, the ‘Cats would be in a worst-case situation if things don’t click on offense from the start.
Tettleton knows that with the job that his linemen have been doing thus far, he will have the allotted time to find his targets. If the defense holds up on their end and gets pressure up front to force Cato to make his decisions earlier than he wants, then Tettleton will have the ball in his court to dice up a defense that lets up 46.5 points per game.
“We’re used to running a fast paced offense as this is our second season with it,” Solich said. “We’ve faced ourselves in practice and there’s no better conditioning then doing that, so I suspect that both teams will both be in excellent condition and that there will be a lot of snaps in the ballgame.”
About the Opponent
Location: Huntington, West Virginia
Nickname: The Thundering Herd
Colors: Kelly Green and White
Players Currently in the NFL: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants. WR Randy Moss, San Francisco 49ers.
Notable Alumni: U.S. Senator representing West Virginia, Robert Byrd. Former NBA head coach (won Coach of the Year with Suns in 2004-05), Mike D’Antoni.
Keys to the Game
1. Maintain the whole game – Solich is a perfectionist, and one thing that has been nagging him these past two weeks is Ohio’s inability to put a full-game performance together. The ‘Cats dominated the final three quarters of the Penn State game after a slow start and let the Aggies hang around in the first half. One bad quarter or a few lackluster series can sometimes be the deciding factor in winning or losing a game.
2. Next-man-up attitude – The No. 1 option at wide receiver in Donte Foster may not be available for the matchup against Marshall, as he is questionable to play due to a hand injury. Running back Ryan Boykin only rushed the ball three times against Penn State and sat out the matchup against New Mexico State with a hamstring injury, and Beau Blankenship stepped up tremendously in his absence. The wide receiver core will have to make sure they’re sure-handed if indeed the agile Foster is a no-go.
3. Young secondary stays on their toes – Another week means another deep-threat challenge for the youthful Bobcat secondary. Jamil Shaw’s return to the gridiron Saturday is up in the air, but the Air Control Squad has held up just fine without him. Another statistical powerhouse awaits Ohio in Huntington, however, as the Herd are nationally ranked first in passing yards (421.5 yards per game) and 15th in points (43.0 points per game). The defensive backs had no problem holding statistical leaders Andrew Manley and Austin Franklin in check last Saturday, but the weapons are plentiful in Marshall’s offensive arsenal. Composure is key.
Bobcats to Watch
Offensively: Beau Blankenship – Can Beau go a third straight games with 100+ yards? As you know, Blankenship has more than prepared himself to be a staple of the ground game for the Bobcats. With Boykin set to return as a part of the rushing attack, Blankenship will most likely see a slight decrease in his workload. With the way that he has been handling the starting role, I predict around 25 carries for Beau against Marshall. Another 100-yard game isn’t out of the question, even with Boykin getting time on Saturday.
Defensively: Nate Carpenter – Whenever the redshirt sophomore safety comes into the game, you can bet that with every snap of game action he gets there will be 110 percent given. Carpenter got the nod to start against New Mexico State and took full advantage of that opportunity, breaking up a couple of passes and taking a Manley pass 22 yards to the house for the score. Look for the “Magic Man” to be all over the place against Marshall.
Quote of the Week
“When me and Larenzo (Fisher) first got here, LaVon Brazill was always talking about ‘Flight School, Flight School.’ We went to the mall one day and I was like ‘Let’s come up with Air Control,’ so I texted Larenzo because he was still (on campus), but it was me and Devin Bass. So we were like ‘Let’s get these hats!’” ~ Ian Wells on how the name Air Control Squad, the name for the Bobcat secondary, came about.