For the fifth consecutive season, the Frank Solich-coached Ohio Bobcats (7-5, 4-4) will be going bowling. It looked to be the end of the Green & White’s two-game bowl winning streak after a 1-3 finish to the season.
But even after a disastrous end to the season, the Bobcats will have a chance to right their regular season wrongs in a matchup with the East Carolina Pirates (9-3, 6-2 C-USA) in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl on Dec. 23. Kickoff from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. is set for 2 p.m. on ESPN.
“We’re obviously very pleased and excited about being offered an invitation to the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl,” Solich said at the bowl game press conference. “This gives our seniors another chance to continue to set records as they do almost every time they step on the field now.”
Being one of the most successful classes in Bobcat history, the 2013 seniors have the chance to leave prints at Ohio that will never be forgotten by the Green & White faithful. That does not go without saying that the Pirates will be one of the toughest foes the ‘Cats have seen on a football field all season; the Louisville Cardinals included.
Boasting a top-10 offense in the nation from a statistical standpoint – led by record-setting quarterback Shane Carden – the Bobcats will have to use their postseason experience to their advantage if they plan on matching the high-octane Pirates.
“There’s some ups and there’s some downs in a season, and it’s how you respond to those that determines what you’re like as you finish your season out and go into a bowl game,” Solich said. “We prepared really well last year, and we’re excited about (this) game as we were last year.”
The opponent this time around will be the ultimate bowl game test for the Bobcats. The 40.4 points per game average that the Pirates hold was good for 10th in the nation thanks to the leadership of Carden and junior wide receiver Justin Hardy. The ECU wideout ranked fifth in the nation with 105 receptions, while also racking up 1,218 yards and hauling in eight scores.
Hardy is the main cog in ECU’s spread-out offensive scheme, which works hand-in-hand with the Pirates’ rushing attack that is not to be taken for granted.
“The opponent in East Carolina will be a huge undertaking for us,” Solich said. “It’s not (going to be) a deal where you need to stop just one phase of the game.”
On the other end , the ‘Cats will need to be proficient in all three phases of the game if they want to match the potent Carden blow for blow.
With troubling issues on the offensive line throughout the past 12 games, Ohio running back Beau Blankenship will have to have a repeat performance of his season-best game (averaged 9.5 yards per carry against UMass) if Tettleton stands any chance of getting things going early against the heavy pass rush of the East Caroline front seven.
“It’s going to be good to get another shot. We’ve had some up and downs this season,” Blankenship said. “But it feels like kind of a fresh start and a way to end it the way we want to. That’s the way we need to approach it, to start fresh and finish the season off right.”
While many have already counted Ohio out of the contest – slotted as 14-point underdogs – redshirt senior quarterback Tyler Tettleton believes that the Bobcats familiarity with doing away with hardship in the past will be a testament to how the Green & White perform on the field Monday.
“I think we’re here for a reason. If we weren’t picked here obviously we wouldn’t deserve it,” Tettleton said when asked about being picked over MAC West rival Toledo to play in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. “I think we’re definitely deserving.”
Tettleton will have four final quarters of his Ohio football career to prove the above-mentioned statement is true.
About the Opponent: East Carolina Pirates
Location: Greenville, NC
Colors: Royal Purple and Old Gold
Mascot: PeeDee the Pirate
Undergraduate Enrollment: 21,589
Notable Alumni: Actress and producer, Sandra Bullock, and Chairman and CEO of WWE, Vince McMahon
Players in the NFL: Tennessee Titans running back, Chris Johnson, and Baltimore Ravens fullback, Vonta Leach
Previous Bobcat Game: 21-14 Bobcats loss at Peden Stadium – Sept. 19, 1998
Key to the Game
Containing the explosive ECU offense all around – Focusing on shutting down Carden specifically will most definitely backfire on the Bobcats, even though he has accounted for 42 total touchdowns for ECU (32 by air, 10 by land). The ‘Cats have had games blown wide open on them throughout the 2013 campaign because of the defense’s monocular vision on high-profile offensive players such as Carden. The under-the-spotlight leader for the Pirates should remind Bobcat fans of sophomore-year Tyler Tettleton: he has a 1,000-yard wideout in Hardy (LaVon Brazill), a great supplement at running back in Vintavious Cooper (Donte Harden) and can take the ball into his own hands past the line of scrimmage.
Bobcats to Watch
Offense: WR Donte Foster – Despite finishing off the season with a strong, predictable win against MAC bottom dweller UMass, the ‘Cats have once again managed to stumble into the postseason. Similar problems are once again pulling apart the seams of Ohio: an injury-riddled, inexperienced offensive line, porous special teams play and uncreative play calling. But going up against Louisiana-Monroe in last year’s bowl contest produced unforeseeable results for the ‘Cats, trampling the Warhawks thanks to an early air raid from the Ohio offense. That needs to be the case on Monday as well, and who better than Foster to get things going for the Green & White from the first offensive snap.
Defense: LB Keith Moore – The 2010 walk-on linebacker has made statements for the ‘Cats ever since playing in all 14 games during his redshirt sophomore season. In the following season, Moore logged a team-best 98 tackles and was one of seven players to start every game for the Ohio defense. Despite fighting some early-season injuries that stemmed from the season opener in Louisville, Moore still averaged the third-most tackles on the team (4.8 tackles per game) over nine games. He’s one of the best communicators on the Ohio D, and he’ll definitely have his hands full against the weapon-laced Pirate offense. Moore has fought adversity throughout his Bobcat career, and this is a test that he is not about to back down from.
Pirates to Watch
Offense: QB Shane Carden – As mentioned above, the prolific start to Carden’s career is similar to the arc that Tettleton experienced as a sophomore and junior. Just like the Ohio quarterback, Carden is rewriting the ECU record book and is one of the nation’s best signal callers statistically. The East Carolina quarterback currently ranks sixth in passing yards (3,866) and eighth in passing touchdowns (32). With three games logging five touchdowns through the air and two where he has passed for over 440 yards, the Green & White D will surely have their word cut out for them on Monday.
Defense: OLB Derrell Johnson – The front seven for East Carolina is an extremely intimidating bunch. Johnson and fellow defenders linebacker Montese Overton, defensive lineman Terrel Stanley and defensive end Lee Pegues accounted for 23.5 of the team’s 35 sacks this season (67.1 percent). That number does not fare well for Ohio at all, especially with the recent issues with the offensive line, which resulted in an underwhelming year for Blankenship. Johnson – a Second-Team All-C-USA selection – will be leading the brigade for the Pirates, so expect to see this ECU defender making at least four backfield plays.
Pirates 48, Bobcats 21 – East Carolina will be one of the most well-balanced opponetns that the ‘Cats have faced in all of 2013, and that spells trouble for a team that dealt with multiple exposure problems during the regular season. The Pirates will pounce on Ohio from their very first offensive possession, resulting in another disappointing performance by a MAC team competing in a bowl game this holiday season.