There is not one description that you could give to the Ohio Bobcats’ football season that would capture exactly what ensued over the 12-game period in 2012.
With much talk of a schedule perfectly structured for an undefeated season, hope and high expectations crept up with the calm weather as spring practice started. After perhaps the most historic win in program history in Happy Valley, most experts and fans believed the ‘Cats had already won the MAC Championship.
Their presumptions were incorrect. The once promising Bobcats limped through MAC play, and business went unfinished for a second straight year. Luckily for Ohio, there is a chance to get back to business when they take the field on Friday, December 28 to take on the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks in the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl.
“They’re (ULM) very capable, in a lot of different ways, of getting the football in great field position and then doing something with it,” head coach Frank Solich said. “I think we have that same capability, so whether or not both teams will be able to expand on that and get done what they want to get done offensively will be determined, obviously on how well the defense plays too.”
Ohio is capable of winning on Friday if they can control turnover margin. Ohio ranks 16 in the FBS in turnover margin per game with a score of +0.8. Ohio ranks second in the nation in giveaways with 0.7, but the Warhawks are almost as stingy, giving up the ball 1.3 times per game (31 in the nation).
Both Ohio and Louisiana-Monroe are adept run defenses. The Warhawks hold opponents to an average of 135.8 yards on the ground (15 in the FBS), while Ohio is not too far behind with the 36 rated run defense in the nation. This means we should likely see an air battle between dual-threat quarterbacks Kolton Browning of Louisiana-Monroe and Tyler Tettleton.
Bobcat linebacker Keith Moore hinted through film study that Louisiana-Monroe likes to attack with the pass early on and that, that could spell trouble for a young, but tested, Ohio secondary. The coverage unit worked on passing drops in practices leading up to the matchup in Shreveport, Louisiana.
“For us as a defense we need to limit the big explosive plays,” defensive end Neal Huynh said. “They’re going to run the hurry-up and they’re going to get yards, but we need to try and do our part and limit those big explosive plays for touchdowns.”
Ohio knows that Browning, who has tallied 34 touchdowns combined on the ground and through the air, will have to be contained early for Ohio to avoid a hole they can’t dig themselves out of. Huynh and the rest of the senior-laden defensive line has much experience with dual threat quarterbacks.
“We’ve seen a wide variety of quarterbacks this year that really helped us defend dual-threat quarterbacks, so I think that’s not really going to be an issue for us,” Huynh said.
The defense knows the job at hand, but the offense will need to be able to finish off drives in the red zone by putting six on the board instead of field goals. Field goals will not be able to match up against this Louisiana-Monroe team that tallies 35.5 points per game.
“They run a lot of man (packages), so we feel that with our playmakers we’re going to have to try to take some shots down the field and see what happens there,” Tettleton said.
Although Ohio won’t be playing for a BCS victory like their MAC-West rivals, Northern Illinois, they are focused on setting the tone for next season and playing with the most successful senior class in Bobcat history one last time. It will be perhaps the toughest passing attack that they have faced all year, but the MAC has made them more than prepared to capture the second bowl victory in program history.
“It’s another opportunity to go and play in a bowl game and have a chance to showcase Ohio in front of the nation, so we’re excited for that,” Tettleton said.
About the Opponent
Location: Monroe, Louisiana
Colors: Maroon and Gold
Players Currently in the NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Aaron Morgan.
Notable Alumni: Jimmy Edwards, former Canadian Football League star running back. Tim McGraw, American country singer and actor.
Keys to the Game
1. Convert in the red zone – The Bobcats reached the end zone on 50 percent of their red zone opportunities during the regular season. This number won’t be good enough to bring home an Ohio victory against a high-scoring Warhawk offense. It is very important for the ‘Cats to score on almost every trip within 25 yards of the end zone.
2. Don’t get beat deep – Without standout cornerback Travis Carrie, the Ohio secondary was exploited at times. Their poor tackling habits and lack of tight coverage allowed teams to get the ball to their playmakers at will. With Gerald Moore at full health, his leadership will help with communication problems that the team may have been having in his absence.
3. Play with a purpose – The Bobcats were once ranked 25th in the nation before falling to their rivals, but that doesn’t mean the whole season lost purpose. This team could still win their second straight bowl game and be one of the only MAC teams to say that they came home with a victory in the postseason.
Bobcats to Watch
Offensively: Tyler Tettleton – The Ohio gun slinger may have not had the season that he was hoping, but he still has one more year left o make his Bobcat legacy even more impressive than it already is. One of the most humble football players that you’ll ever meet, Tettleton never plays for himself. In front of an ESPN audience, you can bet that the leader of the Ohio offense will make Bobcat nation proud.
Defensively: Gerald Moore – The senior captain may have missed time due to injury, but he could have a future in the NFL in front of him. You can bet that he will be displaying his best football assets on the field on Friday. Look for Moore to be very involved in his leadership role against a pass-happy Warhawk offense.
Quote of the Week
“If you play Division I football and you’re mad about making a bowl game, we don’t want you on our team.” ~ linebacker Keith Moore on outsiders questioning Ohio’s decision to accept the bowl game invite.