Bobcats face new problems in familiar territory against Zips

According to head coach Frank Solich, the Ohio Bobcats’ (3-1, 0-0) bye week came at the most opportune time for injured key Green and White starters. Offensive linemen Sam Johnson and Jon Lechner, and linebacker Keith Moore were not given exact recovery timelines after suffering injuries in Louisville. But by their presence at practice this past week and MAC play looming, the ‘Cats could be adding even more depth just when they need it.

When three straight home victories uncovered reliable backups in linebackers Ben Russell and Jovon Johnson, the Ohio defense showed non-believers its ability to fill holes made by graduating seniors. With a familiar foe in the backfield and a new threat under center, the Akron Zips’ (1-4, 0-1) offense can’t be taken as lightly as they were last season, when Ohio squeaked by with a 34-28 victory.

“It hurt when Keith went down, but people stepped it up and we got the job done,” Russell said.

Moore’s presence on Saturday will be much needed because Akron’s junior running back Jawon Chisholm is returning for another go-around. He compiled over 170 yards on the ground against Ohio last season. However, Ohio’s defense is tops in the MAC in rushing defense this season, giving up 143.5 yards on the ground per game.

Matt Waters' big play ability is one reason why Ohio holds an edge over Akron (Lauren Prescott)

Matt Waters’ big play ability is one reason why Ohio holds an edge over Akron (Lauren Prescott)

Depth in the front seven has allowed rests to be taken periodically due to equally experienced second- and third-stringers on the 2013 roster. But things can improve even more in that department, according to one Bobcat.

“What we have to work on is working in different groups because there’s so many of use, we don’t really know who we can do what with,” defensive lineman Brandon Purdum said.

Akron is a team that inherited a newfound depth and star players who can change the Zips’ fortune. Solich has noticed the improvement, and even though winless against FBS teams, Akron could play the spoiler like they almost did in Ann Arbor a couple weeks ago.

“The guys they have returning from last year’s team are very good football players, but they also added junior college players and transfers,” Solich said.

Akron’s backup quarterback from last season, Kyle Pohl, is one of those returning players who have stepped into the spotlight for the Zips this season. Pohl is fourth in the MAC in total offense and looked more than impressive in a near upset over Michigan.

But the ability to finish – much like Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton – is still not present in his game. That’s why playmaking-ability is a major advantage that the Bobcats hold over a growing Akron squad. The MAC is chock full of this particular type of talent.

“Each team has the players who can make that one play that can turn a game around,” Russell said. “That’s what we’ve got to watch out for, and we’ve got to be that team.”

To be that team, the ‘Cats must be able to continuing building off the momentum of three straight wins.

“I think we all still look back at the Louisville game, and that kind of fires us,” Purdum. “We don’t want that to happen again. Ever.”

About the Opponent: Akron Zips

Location: Akron, Ohio

Founded: 1870

Colors: Blue and Gold

Mascot: Zippy The Kangaroo

Enrollment: 24,601

Notable Alumni: Former Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel and former Ohio representative Betty Sutton

Players in the NFL: Carolina Panthers wide receiver Domenik Hixon

Previous Bobcat Game: 34-28 loss at Peden Stadium – Oct. 13, 2012

Key to the Game

Getting the playmakers the ball – As stated earlier, Ohio has a distinct advantage when sporting fast, athletic players who can score on any given touch on the field against Akron. Offensive threats like wide receiver Matt Waters and running back/kick returner Daz’mond Patterson should be involved in the game plan earlier on if the ‘Cats want to pounce on Akron first and swiftly. Patterson and Waters have been reliable targets in the aforementioned department.

Bobcats to Watch

Offensively: WR Donte Foster – After struggling with some route-running and holding onto the ball throughout the first four games of the season, this is a perfect opportunity for Foster and Tettleton to hook up on long routes and corner fades against an Akron secondary that rates 10th overall in the MAC in pass defense. In three of the next five games for Ohio they will be going up against three of the four statistically-worst defensive back groups in the conference, so starting the party against the Zips sounds like the perfect time.

Defensively: LB Keith Moore – Moore should be back in the lineup after injuring his ankle in the season opener, which is great news for a linebacking core that will be tested all day long against Chisholm. With Russell and Johnson emerging as standout candidates on the defense in Moore’s absence, a group that lost two of its three starters now looks like one that could plug up a player that totaled over 200 yards of offense last season against the ‘Cats.

Opponents to Watch

Offensively: RB Jawon Chisholm – Besides in Akron’s win over James Madison, Chisholm hasn’t been able to rush for over 60 yards on the ground and more than 4.0 yards per carry. But his breakout game over the Bobcats last season might mean that the third-year back is ready to return to the height he was once at. The offense has been livelier, especially in the passing game, but it’s this time of year when the Green and White defense usually starts having trouble with physical backs and mobile quarterbacks. This game could be a lot closer than it should if Chisholm has his way.

Defensively: DL Nico Caponi – Ohio will have another difficult test with Akron’s front seven, led by the senior Caponi, but the Bobcats’ offensive line has proved worthy so far. A battered group has only let up a MAC-best three sacks, while Akron’s defense is second in the MAC with 15 sacks. Caponi will be coming for Tettleton from the start, so Ohio needs to stay calm if they get in a situation where the Zips are controlling the backfield and not panic by switching to strictly the running game.

Prediction

Bobcats 32, Zips 23 – Last year was a lot closer than what was expected from the ‘Cats at home last season, and this Zips team has a better leader under center in Pohl. The game may be closer than one might think, but the ‘Cats open MACtion with a victory in Akron.

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