Despite becoming bowl-eligible in their final regular season game, the Ohio Bobcats were one of six six-win teams in the FBS to not receive a bowl invitation. The MAC sent five teams to the postseason and for the first time since 2008, Ohio wasn’t one of them.
Were the Bobcats deserving of a bowl-bid? Ehhhh, it’s debatable. Ohio (6-6, 4-4 MAC) won the games it was expected to win and lost the games it was expected to lose. The 2014 Green & White didn’t do anything exceptional, yet they weren’t really supposed to in the first place.
The 2014 season was seen by some as a rebuilding year, following the departures of offensive playmakers such as Tyler Tettleton, Beau Blankenship and Donte Foster. Redshirt junior Derrius Vick was named starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, but offensive struggles caused him to split snaps with redshirt sophomore J.D. Sprague. When Vick went down with a knee injury in the home opener versus Idaho, Sprague took over and started for the next four games.
Sprague has great awareness in the pocket and is excellent at keeping plays alive with his feet, perhaps best displayed on this touchdown against Eastern Illinois, but he struggled when having to rely on his arm when Ohio trailed late in games. Sprague finished the year with 1,236 passing yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions through the air and added 264 rushing yards and three scores on the ground.
Vick returned to the field in relief of Sprague in a loss at Western Michigan and made it clear in a dominating performance over Buffalo that the Bobcats’ offense was much more dangerous and explosive with Vick behind center. Vick compiled 1,156 yards through the air with eight touchdowns and four interceptions and tallied 390 rushing yards and a touchdown with his legs.
The real surprises this season came in the form of freshmen, most notably, A.J. Ouellette. A Covington, Ohio native, Ouellette entered camp this summer as a walk-on, but shortly after joining the team, he was awarded a scholarship. He began the season as the fourth or fifth running back on the Bobcats’ depth chart, but after his backfield mates coughed the ball up four times in the season debut at Kent State, Ouellette was called on in the game’s final drive to hold on to the ball during what turned out to be a game-winning drive. Ouellette received his first start against Eastern Illinois following a breakout two-touchdown performance against Idaho. Ouellette battled injuries throughout the year, but finished with 918 total yards (785 rushing yards) and 10 touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, the Bobcats were led by redshirt freshman Quentin Poling. Poling burst onto the scene in the road loss to Kentucky by headlining two goal line stands. Poling, a linebacker, introduced himself to the home fans versus Idaho by picking off three passes in the game. Poling finished the season leading the defense in tackles (89), sacks (tied, five), interceptions (three) and finished second on the team in tackles for loss (8.5).
Aug. 30, @ Kent State, W 17-14: The season-opening victory should not have been as close of a game as it was. Ohio never trailed the Golden Flashes, but when you take a 14-7 lead into half and fumble the ball on your first four drives of the second half, you’re basically asking for the opposing team to tie it up. That’s exactly what Kent State did with 3:34 remaining. Ohio inserted the sure-handed A.J. Ouellette into the game and drove 48 yards on nine plays to set up a 44-yard Josiah Yazdani game-winning field goal as time expired.
Sept. 6, @ Kentucky, L 20-3: Kentucky scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, but the Bobcats’ defense locked down after that point, limiting the Wildcats to just three points on three trips into the Ohio red zone. Despite the defense’s response, the Bobcats were unable to get anything going on offense. Ohio punted on its first four possessions and turned the ball over on downs on the next two drives. Derrius Vick began the game missing on his first six pass attempts and was replaced by J.D. Sprague, but Sprague wasn’t able to do much better, failing to put together any drives of worth.
Sept. 13, @ Marshall, L 44-14: The high-powered Thundering Herd offense racked up 705 yards of offense in a blowout victory over the ‘Cats. Ohio trailed 41-0 before finally salvaging some dignity with two touchdowns. Quarterback Rakeem Cato was finally able to defeat Ohio in his final try, and he did so handily. Cato torched the Bobcats’ secondary for 425 passing yards.
Sept. 20, Idaho, W 36-24: Returning to the friendly confines of Peden Stadium seemed to be just what the Green & White needed. The Ohio offense totaled 505 yards, 272 on the ground, and scored on seven of its 11 possessions. Derrius Vick looked sharp, but his game was cut short by a second-quarter knee injury that put him out for nearly five games. Ouellette picked up the slack for Vick and rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Quentin Poling intercepted Idaho’s Matt Linehan three times in the game, becoming the first Bobcat since 1997 to do so.
Sept. 27, Eastern Illinois, W 34-19: Sprague and Ouellette both made their first official starts of their careers and combined for four rushing touchdowns. Despite outgaining Ohio 432-387, the Division 1 FCS Panthers were never really in the game. After falling behind 3-0 on Eastern Illinois first drive, Ohio scored 21 straight points and coasted to victory after that point.
Oct. 4, @ Central Michigan, L 28-10: The Chippewas’ Thomas Rawls ran for 229 yards and two scored. His teammate, Titus Davis, racked up 181 yards on 10 catches and reached the end zone twice in a game that really wasn’t even as close as the score indicates. The Bobcats were forced to punt on seven of their 10 possessions, four of those coming on three-and-outs. Central Michigan went 13 of 17 on third downs and held the ball for over 42 minutes in their victory.
Oct. 11, Bowling Green, L 31-13: 513 yards of total offense, 29 first downs and nearly 40 minutes of possession – One would think these are Bowling Green’s stats in their win, but those numbers belong to Ohio in what was perhaps the most befuddling game of their season. The Bobcats ran a school-record 110 plays on offense, but were only able to put 13 points on the board. Ohio had nine drives that entered Falcon territory, but once it crossed midfield, it was as if there was an invisible fence prohibiting it from proceeding further. J.D. Sprague threw for a career-high 325 yards on 56 pass attempts, but the game was never really in contention in second half. Ohio never led and Bowling Green left Athens with a convincing victory.
Oct. 18, Akron, W 23-20: Josiah Yazdani nailed a 22-yard go-ahead field goal with 1:55 left in the game and a Josh Kristoff interception sealed the victory for the Ohio. Devin Bass forced a fumble on the Zips’ previous drive to set up the eventual game-winner from Yazdani. Sprague threw for two touchdowns in what may have been his best game of the season. Sprague also racked up 68 rushing yards on just six carries. The ‘Cats never trailed in the game, but there was a feeling that a hot Akron team, who entered the game on a three-game winning streak, would strike at any moment to snatch victory from Ohio’s hands. Due to the circumstances at the time of the game, one could consider this to be the Bobcats’ finest win of the season. Akron began the game sitting in second in the MAC East at (4-2, 2-0 MAC), but its defeat at Peden Stadium started a downward spiral that saw the Zips lose five of their last six games.
Oct. 25, @ Western Michigan, L 42-21: The MAC Offensive Player of the Year, Jarvion Franklin, ran for three scores and totaled 156 yards on the ground for the Broncos in a convincing victory. Corey Davis, brother of aforementioned CMU wideout Titus Davis, finished with nine catches for 212 yards and two touchdowns. Ohio got on the board first with a Daz’ Patterson touchdown that immediately followed a Brett Layton interception, but Western Michigan responded with 28-straight points en route to a 21-point win. J.D. Sprague began the game at quarterback, but he was subbed out for a mostly-healthy Vick midway through the second quarter. Vick’s first pass was picked off and returned for a touchdown. Once Vick settled in, he played awfully well and tallied 246 passing yards in just over a half of play, but the outcome was eminent for the entire second half.
Nov. 5, Buffalo, W 37-14: The Bobcats dominated in all facets of the game and defeated the Bulls by 23, Ohio’s largest margin of victory this season. The ‘Cats limited Buffalo to only 134 yards of total offense. Derrius Vick didn’t overwhelm in his first start since his injury, and he didn’t need to, either. Ouellette ran for 155 yards and two touchdowns to level Ohio’s record at 5-5.
Nov. 18, Northern Illinois, L 21-14: The Bobcats hosted the Huskies for the first time since 2009, and Ohio was even with Northern Illinois for most of the game, but a Drew Hare touchdown pass with 6:00 remaining put the Huskies up 21-14. The Bobcats were driving in NIU territory, pursuing a tying touchdown, when Landon Smith fumbled at Northern Illinois’ 33-yard line. A.J. Ouellette had another big game with 127 rushing yards, this nifty rushing touchdown and a receiving score. Yazdani had two 46-yard field goal attempts fall identically short in the loss.
Nov. 25, @ Miami, W 24-21: After falling behind 21-0, Kylan Nelson returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown to spark the Ohio comeback. Derrius Vick connected with Brendan Cope for a 38-yard connection with 26 seconds left to set up Josiah Yazdani’s 28-yard game-winning field goal. Vick threw for 121 yards, two touchdown and an interception in the victory. Ouellette added 96 yards on the ground and caught one of Vick’s scores.
The Bobcats lose seniors in the secondary, defensive line and receiving corps, but they return most of their starters in every other area. After this season’s performance, Derrius Vick is the front-runner to be the starting quarterback next season, but there’s no doubt that Coach Solich will have an “open” competition for the job at the beginning of camp.
The offensive line will have benefited from another year together and the Bobcats return many of their playmaking skill players. Sebastian Smith will likely be the go-to receiver next season. He’ll be joined by Jordan Reid, Brendan Cope and a slew of young Ohio wide receivers. Ouellette will lead a talented and deep backfield that will likely be the focal point of the ‘Cats’ offense.
The defense will be led by Tarell Basham and Quentin Poling, who both finished the year with five sacks. The defensive line will have to address the losses of starters Kendric Smith and Antwan Crutcher, but the rest of the front seven should be strong. The entire linebacking core will return, including Poling, Jovon Johnson, Blair Brown, and Chad Moore. The defensive backfield will be led by corners Devin Bass and Ian Wells, both entering their senior seasons. The Bobcats will need to fill the holes left by three graduating safeties, but the 2015 Ohio Bobcats defense has a chance to become one of the best in the MAC. Poling certainly thinks so.
Time will tell.
Despite missing bowl season, the players are looking forward to spending time at home; some are already looking forward to the 2015 season.
Others were just plain bummed to miss out on a tropical trip.