Football: Triple threat poses challenge for Ohio defense

The Ohio Bobcats’ offense had been hiding in its shell over the first three games of the season. Although the team squeaked away with a win against Kent State in week one, the offense never was able to build any type of momentum throughout.

That was not the case against the Idaho Vandals in the Bobcats’ season opener last Saturday. Derrius Vick led his team to three first-half scores before exiting the game with an ankle injury. Backup quarterback J.D. Sprague stepped in, and the offense still produced. Four scores later and the Bobcats were able to even their record.

FCS opponent Eastern Illinois (1-3, 1-0) will be visiting Peden Stadium this week, and they are hungry coming off a crushing victory, its first of the season, over Austin Peay.[1] The Panthers will be displaying their triple-option offense — something the coaches cooked up last week — however, leaving Ohio with little video to prepare with.

“It’s very effective for them, a shotgun, but they do have three backs back there, so they’re able to run off of the dot back and the fake, the lead back and the other guy will be the lead back, and they have the option-back,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “So with a quarterback that has really good mobility too, that’s a real weapon.”

If the ‘Cats don’t get to the Panthers’ triple option early, Eastern Illinois will be able to spread out the Ohio defense when quarterback Jalen Whitlow goes to throw the ball. The Bobcats have had some previous experience this season with the option and isolation matchups, so they will not be entirely in the dark.

“They’re kind of a mix of Marshall and Kentucky,” defensive back Ian Wells said.

As always, the Ohio (2-2, 1-0 MAC) defense will work on limiting the ground game, but it will not be an easy task, especially with Eastern Illinois running the triple option. The Panthers total over 200 yards of rushing offense, with the double-threat Whitlow accounting for just over 70 yards on the ground per game. Ohio linebacker Quentin Poling, who had three interceptions last week, is determined to lead his team in stopping the run. He will need help in containing the crowded Panther backfield, and his teammates were able to provide that assurance last week against Idaho.

The same goes for the offense as well. The Bobcats need to come out charged and focused on their individual tasks. Most importantly, Sprague will need to get things moving as soon as he steps in the game Saturday. Sprague admitted this week to being hesitant when he initially entered the game, but his teammates allowed the game to slow down enough for him to be acclimated mid game.

“We just need to focus on ourselves,” Sprague said. “We have way too many self-inflicted wounds, including me.”

Those self-inflicted wounds that Sprague speaks of were not as evident last week as they were the first three. Ohio is confident, though, that it will be able to continue the trend against Eastern Illinois.

[1] The Bobcats faced Austin Peay last season, shutting out the Governors, 38-0. Eastern Illinois just got done demolishing the Governors this season, winning 63-7 last week.

About the Opponent: Eastern Illinois Panthers (1-3, 1-0)

Location: Charleston, Illinois

Established: 1895

Colors: Blue and Grey

Mascot: Billy the Panther

Notable Alumni: Actor and entertainer Jerry Van Dyke and Jimmy John’s founder Jimmy Liautaud

Players in the NFL: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo

Previous Bobcat Game: First game to be played Saturday

Current Matchup: Saturday at 2 p.m. — Peden Stadium

Bobcats to Watch

Offense: RB A.J. Ouellette – Ouellette pointed out in practice this week that, obviously, Ohio has a lot of diversity at running back. Most recently, Ouellette has emerged as a go-to option for the Bobcat offense. He carried the ball 27 times on Saturday for 132 yards with two touchdowns. Don’t expect the same workload out of Ouellette this weekend, but still expect him to be a factor in the Ohio offense. The Bobcats will most likely be spreading the wealth at the running back position on Saturday, and from a momentum standpoint, Ouellette holds the top spot at the moment.

Defense: LB Quentin Poling – How can you take your eyes off Quentin Poling this season? After filling in the huge plug caused by Ben Russell’s injury, Poling has been on fire. He has gone above and beyond what he has been asked to do, tallying team highs in interceptions (3), sacks (3.0) and tackles (34) while filling in for Russell. There have been a few notable backup players proving that they deserve the starting job so far this season, and Poling is one of them. Look for him to anchor the Bobcats attack of the Panthers multi-threat running game.

Panthers to Watch

Offense: QB Jalen Whitlow – As mentioned above, Whitlow is a double-threat quarterback. This dates back to his days at Kentucky, which ended due to his former team’s desire to move him to wide receiver. On the season, Whitlow is averaging 126.0 yards through the air and 70.8 yards on the ground, accounting for five touchdowns. To force Whitlow to pass, the Bobcats will need to attack the heart of the Panthers’ triple option. It just so happens to be located at the quarterback.

Defense: DE Fedney Delphonse – Eastern Illinois’ defensive statistics are out of sync after the blowout win over Austin Peay, but there really isn’t much talent featured on this roster. Delphonse, who has a team-high 2.5 sacks this season, will be a test for the Ohio offensive line: a unit that had its best performance of the season last week against Idaho. A repeat of last week’s heroics will start with containing the ends so that Sprague has room to operate. Delphonse will be the hardest task for the Bobcats offensive line, but it is one it can handle.

Prediction

Bobcats 35, Panthers 13 – This one will start off kind of tricky for the Bobcats, but once Ohio gathers some momentum, it will be off to the races. The defense responded well to the embarrassment at Marshall two weeks prior. Even if they don’t admit it, that game is still fresh in their minds. Look out for a lockdown game on defense to go along with a dominant performance on the ground from the offense.

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