One month ago, I was sitting in the press box above Peden Stadium waiting for Ohio’s uncharacteristic showing, marred by a nightmare on special teams, to end. It was senior night, but there was very little for the ‘Cats to celebrate as the 26-14 loss to the Bowling Green Falcons dropped the team to 8-2 on the year with two games left on the schedule.
The only reason that I’m mentioning the first of three losses that Ohio ended the season on is that something I heard that night really put the ‘Cats’ season in perspective for me; it was the mutterings from a BGSU media member, “We’ll be watching you in Detroit,” the man said before the game.
His statement had me thinking the exact opposite, clearly he hadn’t watched much of Ohio recently. I knew how Ohio would finish their final away matchups against a dangerous, Ball State offense and MAC leading Kent State. I knew Ohio’s unfinished business would remain unfinished for a second straight year.
Expectations were so high in Athens after the Penn State victory. Yes, it’s hard to even recall the 24-14 gutsy performance by the ‘Cats in Happy Valley. Since that loss, the Nittany Lions went on to finish the season with a mark of 8-3, while Ohio faltered down the stretch.
Injuries derailed Ohio this season from the start and it only got worse. Going into the season, the Bobcats were already without corner back Travis Carrie, whom I believe is the most-talented player on the roster. Even in one of the program’s biggest wins, the Bobcats lost wide out Mario Dovell, their best run blocking receiver and a big-play threat. Landon Smith quickly took the position, averaging 24.8 yards per catch, but he too went down with a season-ending ankle injury in the win against Eastern Michigan.
In the final two losses of the season, Ohio’s second-half collapse was summed up with sudden injuries to their interior lines. Carl Jones and Neal Huynh were carted off together at Ball State, then three starting linemen went down in a 15-minute span against Kent State. It was a grueling stretch, in which at one point Ohio played three games in 12 days, but they had overcame that adversity and survived it a year prior.
Each successive injury, Ohio lost experience and talent. Gerald Moore played through injury as did Ryan Boykin and Donte Foster at times. That put a whole in Ohio’s game plan. Captain Jordan Thompson, Tyler Tettleton’s safety blanket, was lost to a season-ending injury in his final season. The list goes on and on, but you can’t put the blame solely on injuries, while the simplicity of the offense did them in. Remember when Smith threw a touchdown to Tettleton on Homecoming?
Fast forward ahead to the Bowling Green game where Ohio’s scheme consisted of running the ball on first and second down. The basic play calling was quickly picked up by one of the country’s best defenses as early as the second drive rolled along. Teams were forcing Ohio to settle in on their offensive plan because it worked against opponents like New Mexico State and Norfolk State.
MAC opponents picked up very quickly on Ohio’s play calling because they had the biggest target on their back in the conference from the very beginning of the season.
Comparisons to the ’68 season ended once Tettleton folded under pressure in the final play in Miami. Toledo became the next MAC team to receive recognition from the poll voters, but was upset by the up-tempo Ball State offense.
Originally selected by the MAC coaches to finish fourth in the MAC East, Kent State surprised many and took Ohio’s place as darling of the MAC during the regular season. It was short lived for the Golden Flashes, who lost to defending MAC Champion Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship by the score of 44-37 in double overtime. NIU became BCS bound, in a game that the Bobcats wouldn’t have been ready for, and would’ve been overwhelmed in from the start.
MAC football fans had their doubts about Northern Illinois because they lost 2011 Vern Smith Leadership Award and current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Chandler Harnish.They were wrong. Harnish’s replacement, Jordan Lynch, turned into a fringe Heisman candidate this season racking up 43 total touchdowns. Teams like NIU and Kent State stepped up in the face of adversity, and Ohio did not.
NIU is now the MAC team that made history, but it just as easily could have been Kent State or Toledo or Ohio. The conference is the strongest it has ever been.
“As I was being recruited I knew that the MAC was going to be on the uprise,” senior safety Gerald Moore said. “As the conferences are changing, you can definitely see more and more players coming to the MAC and getting that opportunity to play.”
The MAC sent a record seven teams to bowls, with one of those births of course being of the BCS variety.
“I think the MAC is continually moving itself forward and upward in terms of what they’re accomplishing and being recognized around the country for those accomplishments,” head coach Frank Solich said.
So while Northern Illinois enjoys their heavily-covered BCS bid with Florida State, Kent State, Toledo, Bowling Green and Ball State all received better matchups than Ohio’s Independence Bowl battle with Louisiana-Monroe (8-4, 6-2), in a virtual home game for the Riverhawks, in Shreveport, Louisiana. While the Warhawks may be making their first bowl appearance, their high-scoring offense (35+ PPG), quick-strike ability, strong finishes and problematic pass defense will make it a tough battle for the reeling Bobcats. There is time to recoup, though, as the two teams don’t play until December 28.
“I think this will be good for our team, and definitely the seniors, to get to play one last time with our teammates and end on a good note,” Moore said.
That means there is plenty of time for the Bobcats to talk about Isaiah Newsome’s four interceptions in the last eight games or Kolton Browning’s 34 total touchdowns. It also means that the ‘Cats have a chance to come away with something positive from a regular season that ended in disappointment.
14 players had their season end with injuries, 11 of them being integral pieces to the team, but Ohio still has some players who have a chance to recover before their fourth straight bowl appearance. This team had probably the highest expectations out of any Bobcat football team in the history of the program, but Ohio can still right the ship. This is a team with only one bowl win in it’s history, a win in the Independence Bowl will still be a historic win for the program, but even that won’t be enough to salvage a season full with shortcomings.
There will be no looking back, however, for a team that took little time to celebrate victories and hang their heads after a loss. “1-0” has been the motto from the start, and the ‘Cats will take that demeanor with them down south.