When Ohio coach Frank Solich looks around at his team, he sees something that he hasn’t seen a lot of in his first 10 seasons in Athens: explosiveness.
“We have more explosiveness on this team than we’ve had in sometime,” Solich said.
In their first three games, the Bobcats (3-0, 0-0 in MAC) have used plenty of explosiveness in their offense in order to obtain their first 3-0 start since 2012. Over the last two games, the Bobcats have scored four touchdowns of 30-plus yards, all by four different players, and have had several other big plays that have led to touchdowns.
“If you look at our receivers and what they have been able to get done with explosive plays, our running backs and even some of our guys on defense have made some explosive plays,” Solich said.
One of those running backs is red shirt freshman Papi White, who has been Ohio’s all-purpose player this year. In three games, White is averaging 90.7 all-purpose yards per game, which leads the team by a comfortable margin. White’s ability to play multiple positions allows him to use the play-making ability that coaches have been raving about all year.
White has had his fair share of explosive plays so far this season, but none were bigger than last week’s 54-yard run against Southeastern Louisiana. With the Bobcats only up by a touchdown and their running game stuck in the mud, White came through at the biggest time. On the first play after a Lions touchdown, White took a jet sweep to the outside and went untouched down the sideline to put the icing on the cake for last week’s win.
“Whenever you have a run that goes 54-yards, people are going to defend you differently,” Solich said of White’s run last week. “Papi [White] is a really explosive runner.”
Getting plays this week will be a tall order for the Bobcats, as they face one of the better defensive teams in the country in Minnesota (2-1, 0-0 in Big Ten). So far this season, the Golden Gophers have only allowed 16.7 points per game, which is tied for 26th in the nation. Part of the Golden Gophers success comes from the secondary that they have, who have shut down the passing attacks of every team they’ve faced so far this year, ranking 19th in the country in passing yards allowed per game.
If the Bobcats do want to beat a Big Ten team for the first time since they beat Penn State in 2012, the big play may be the thing that will allow them to pull off the upset, and Solich knows that going into Saturday.
“We are going to have to try and get some things done one-on-one and hopefully have some big and explosive plays during the day,” he said.
About the Opponent: Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten)
Colors: Maroon and gold
Mascot: Goldy Gopher
Notable Alumni: 1980 United States hockey coach Herb Brooks and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bob Dylan
Players in the NFL: Tennessee Titans running back David Cobb, New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker, Buffalo Bills tight end MarQueis Gray, Atlanta Falcons defensive end Ra’Shede Hagemen, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Marcus Sherels, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth, Chicago Bears safety Brock Vereen, Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Damien Wilson
Previous Bobcat Game: 42-20 Minnesota win at Peden Stadium — Sep. 13, 2003
Current Matchup: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. — TCF Bank Stadium
Ohio players to watch
Offense: RB Papi White – We already talked about him above, but his importance in this game cannot be understated. Minnesota is very good defensively and has a way of slowing down even the fastest of offenses. In order for the Bobcats to come out victorious, they’ll need at least one big play out of White. Whether it be a run, a reception, or a punt return, if White can get an explosive play, the Bobcats will be in business.
Defense: LB Quentin Poling – As good as the Golden Gopher defense is, the Bobcats’ defense has been just a notch below them this year. Playing without captain Jovon Johnson, Poling has stepped up his game since Johnson went down. Assuming this game is a defensive slugfest, Poling will have to keep up his level of play if Johnson has to miss his third consecutive game.
Minnesota players to watch
Offense: WR KJ Maye – For as good as Minnesota’s defense is, its offense is equally bad. So far this season, the Golden Gophers rank 122nd out of 127 teams in scoring offense. But that doesn’t mean that the Gophers don’t have playmakers. Through three games, senior KJ Maye has three touchdowns to go with his 11 receptions and 151 yards. Maye will be a challenge for a Bobcat secondary that has played better than expected so far this season.
Defense: LB Cody Poock – The sophomore linebacker has been all over the field this season for Minnesota, totaling 24 tackles in his first three games this year. A lot of what he’s done, however, has been in the open field, as he leads the team with 18 solo tackles.
Minnesota 17, Ohio 14 – In all honesty, I can see the Bobcats coming away with an upset in Minneapolis. The Golden Gophers struggled with Kent State last week, and Ohio is a better team than Kent State. But with the way the Bobcats looked against SE Louisiana rushing the ball, it will be hard for them to come out victorious and move to 4-0.