The Ohio Bobcat (7-1, 3-1) football team hasn’t yet developed into the quick-strike offense that many thought would come with a stellar offensive line, a poised leader under center and veteran offensive weapons like Beau Blankenship and Donte Foster. Save for a home win against Norfolk State, the highly potent Ohio offense has only been able to muster up 38 first-quarter points this season over seven games. Opponents have taken advantage of the Bobcats’ sluggish starts in those seven games, outscoring Ohio by 27 points.
Fixing that problem starts on Thursday against the Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-7, 0-4). Ohio’s fourth MAC opponent will come to Peden Stadium on Thursday for a 6 p.m. game.
On the first drive of the game against Miami, Ohio went the wrong way with the ball and ended up punting after a three-and-out. The Eagles are a team that can take an early exit, like we saw when they faced Purdue, or stay around for a shootout, like we saw when they matched score after score with Toledo. The ‘Cats are hungry to get back in the win column, and it all starts with overcoming that first quarter monkey.
“We’ve been able to produce a lot of big plays, if you go back through the course of what we’re all about, we’re a big-play football team,” head coach Frank Solich said. “Getting ourselves in third and longs don’t help, and we had a couple of penalties in the game that were pretty dramatic that really set us back.”
However, this task doesn’t just fall on the offense. The secondary, who were outperformed through most of the game on Saturday, will again have their hands full with Eastern Michigan quarterback Tyler Benz. The Eagles have been able to have more success with Benz under center, but have also found an almost unstoppable force in sophomore running back Bronson Hill. Over the past four games Hill has averaged 148.8 yards on the ground, and has even shown flashes of being a big-play threat out of the backfield in the receiving game. The Bobcat front seven will have a hectic day if they can’t hold down the efforts of Benz and Hill.
Still, Tettleton and company will have to give the defense time to breathe, especially if they will be playing with unfavorable field conditions. It may seem as if both teams will take the ground and pound stance, especially since the Eagles give up 302.4 yards on the ground, but the Bobcats aren’t willing to give up on the passing game due to the weather. Despite practicing inside on Tuesday and Wednesday, Ohio has been prepared for playing in circumstances that make Peden a slippery mess.
“Coach (Dwayne) Dixon coaches us up pretty good,” wide receiver Bakari Bussey said. “We practice our routes like we run them in the rain, so hopefully that’ll give us an advantage over the other team.”
The Bobcats will have to avoid losing their balance in order to hypothetically regain it on paper. An undefeated season may not be part of the plan any more, but Ohio will finish off the regular season with the same “1-0” attitude that they displayed from the very start.
About the Opponent
Location: Ypsilanti, Michigan
Colors: Green and White
Players Currently in the NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch. Green Bay Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang.
Notable Alumni: John Harvey Kellogg, co-found of the Kellogg Company. Earl Boykins, 14-year NBA journeyman currently with the Houston Rockets.
Keys to the Game
1. Put more than six points on the board in the first frame – The ‘Cats have been awful when it comes to scoring in the first 15 minutes of the game. It is the only quarter that opponents have outscored them in the whole season, and a big chunk of those points comes from the Norfolk State game. I liked how Solich went for the “Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass” early on in the Akron game, so something similar to that play will help jumpstart this offense.
2. Resourceful play calling on third down – Ohio was 4-of-15 on third down against Miami on Saturday, with some of the calls being very questionable. Overall the Bobcats have a third-down conversion rate of 43 percent, which puts them at fifth in the MAC. Not bad, but play calling needs to get better in situations where games will be tight. It’s unknown which Eastern Michigan team will come to play Thursday night, so being consistent on third down will help get things rolling early.
3. Keep team composure – There were times last Saturday where some penalties doomed the ‘Cats into third-and-long situations. For the most part Ohio is a very disciplined football team, as coach Solich runs a tight ship. There have been times this year where the team has had some mental breakdowns on the field, and these instances have ruined whole drives on both sides of the ball. I expect to see great direction and enthusiasm on the field this game, and it starts with the team leaders.
Bobcats to Watch
Offensively: Tyler Tettleton – I know this name comes up a lot under this section, but there’s a lot to talk about this week regarding the redshirt junior quarterback getting his team back on track. Coach Solich mentioned in the Monday press conference that the offense needs to be able to run the option more effectively and efficiently in order to add another dimension to the ground game. Defenses figure out a one-back attack eventually, and with the weather affecting field conditions, we might see a more active Tettleton.
Defensively: Neal Huynh – After allowing three rushers to gain over 100 yards in two games against Buffalo and Akron, the Bobcat front seven kept the RedHawks from doing damage to a battered Ohio defense through the run game. On Thursday the ‘Cats will go up against Hill, who has totaled 595 yards over the last four games. Over those four games, three of which were against MAC opponents, Hill has averaged 8.4 yards per carry. It will be up to Huynh to anchor the defensive line this week against the Eagles.
Quote of the Week
“We don’t really use it much, but when we do we just need to execute better. It comes back on me to execute it and make the play when it’s there. Hopefully this week we’ll have a better chance of doing that.” ~ Tyler Tettleton on talking with coach Solich concerning running the option.