Ohio has quick turnaround follwing season's first loss
Bobcats take on Eastern Michigan in Thursday night national broadcast
By Lonnie McMillan / Contributor
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
ATHENS, Ohio – Only five days after its first loss of the season – in heartbreaking fashion against its rival – the Ohio football team is looking to rebound on a national stage when it takes Eastern Michigan in first nationally televised home game of the season.
The Bobcats (7-1, 3-1 Mid-American Conference) lost their first game of the year, losing their top-25 ranking and their place atop the MAC East Standings, with a 23-20 defeat at Miami, with the clock expiring on a sack with Ohio in field goal range. But with a win against the Eagles, they still will be in position to take care of their “unfinished business” of winning their first MAC championship since 1968.
Ohio coach Frank Solich said the team has learned from its loss and is ready to move forward.
"I think (the players have) got a good understanding of what transpired during the game and there's a lot of us who could've done things a lot better to force a different outcome,” Solich said. “We're identifying all those places and we're going to work at it. So the attitude's been good."
Hosting Eastern Michigan (1-7, 0-4 MAC) provides Ohio a good chance to bounce back. The Bobcats have defeated the Eagles seven of the last eight times they have played. Solich and the Bobcats love to be able to run the ball and teams certainly have found success doing that against Eastern Michigan, which has allowed 302.4 rushing yards per game.
“We'd like to be able to run the ball against them,” Solich said. “The weather is going to be a factor in the game, and I don't know what the conditions are going to be like in terms of throwing the ball, so both teams are going to need to be able to produce a running game in this game.”
Beau Blankenship ranks eighth in the nation in rushing, having already eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark at 1,025. But he is coming off his lowest output of the year, having gained only 74 yards against Miami. Ryan Boykin, who missed three games because of injury, has carried for 288 yards.
With Ohio sporting only one running back in its formations, quarterback Tyler Tettleton needs to have an increased presence in the running game, Solich said, so defenses cannot key so much on one player.
“What we need to do is get another dimension going for us offensively in terms of carrying the football,” Solich said. “And when you're running a one-back, then that other dimension has got to be the quarterback. We've got to get more production there in terms of maybe running more read type of plays, maybe more quarterback designed kind of runs, because right now they're zeroing in on our running back pretty good.”
Solich went so far as to say the Bobcats are “horrible at running the option right now,” adding that improving in that area will help the team be able to run up the middle with better results. Blankenship’s yards-per-carry average has dropped to 4.8 and Solich said he would like to average at least 6 yards per carry.
Last year, Tettleton rushed for 658 yards, but he has only 175 yards this year, although some of that drop is because of an injury that kept him out of one game and limited his running opportunities in at least two others.
Tettleton has been an efficient passer, completing 60.4 percent of his passes for 1,645 yards and 12 touchdowns with only one interception. Donte Foster has been his primary target, making 31 grabs for 323 yards and five touchdowns, while Bakari Bussey ranks second on the team with 23 grabs for 226 yards. Eight other players have caught at least seven passes.
While opponents have averaged 6.3 yards per carry against Eastern Michigan, they also have averaged 7.2 yards per passing play. Teams have averaged 37.5 points per game against the Eagles.
Five Eastern Michigan players have either 62 or 60 tackles, including linebacker Justin Cudworth, who has 6.5 for loss to lead the team. The team has managed only six sacks so far this season, half of them by defensive end Kashama Kalonji.
Eastern Michigan also has had struggles offensively, especially in its passing game. Alex Gillett began the year at quarterback, but completed only 46.1 percent of his passes with more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (four). Since taking over, Tyler Benz has been somewhat better, completing 54.0 percent of his passes for 1,097 yards and nine touchdowns with five interceptions.
"They have a running game and they try to build off that with some throws,” Solich said. “That's their style of offense and the style of quarterback they have right now."
Gillett was a bit more of a dual-threat quarterback than Benz, who has netted only 45 yards on the ground this year. The Eagles prefer to run the ball with their backs, especially Bronson Hill, who has 605 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 8.2 yards per carry.
Hill, a 5-10, 211-pound sophomore, had only seven carries in the team’s first five games, but one was a 68-yarder against Kent State that perhaps helped promote him to a bigger role. He followed with games of 283 and 185 yards, respectively, against Toledo and Army, but was limited to 57 yards Saturday against Bowling Green.
"He's a very good running back,” Solich said. “They like to run the ball. That's what they want to do.
"If you don't control that some, then he's going to have very good statistics. So, we need to actually slow him down and need to control the running game. Try to force them into the throwing game and how well we do that will determine how well we slow them down.”
Eastern Michigan’s other top weapon offensively is 6-2, 253-pound tight end Garrett Hoskins, who is by far the team’s top receiver with 31 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns.
"They utilize him as a wideout in terms of how much they throw to him and his ability to catch the ball is as great as a receiver’s, as well as being a thick kid who can stand in there and block. They got the complete player there."
Defensively, Ohio has given up 397.8 yards per game to rank fifth in the MAC. Opponents have averaged 23.5 points per game.
The Bobcats have been stingy against the run, allowing only 131.8 yards per game on the ground, but their beat-up secondary has been vulnerable at times, allowing 266.0 yards per game. However, their pass efficiency defense ranks third in the MAC.
Middle linebacker Keith Moore leads Ohio with 68 tackles, while outside linebacker Jelani Woseley is second on the team with seven tackles for loss. Despite no single player have more than two sacks, the Bobcats have totaled 16 on the season.
Last week against Miami, the defense gave up some big plays early – and two on the RedHawks’ final drive – but allowed only three points in the second half.
"Looking at the film, I thought in a lot of ways we covered people better than maybe we've covered people in a while,” Solich said. "I think improvement has shown in that game. Now obviously you're facing a truly great quarterback in the MAC and he's got some really talented receivers, it was not an easy task. But I felt good about how we controlled the game in the second half.”
Ohio has 19 turnovers and committed only three this season, while Eastern Michigan has committed 17 turnovers and forced 11.
Eastern Michigan Kicker Kody Fulkerson has no touchbacks on the year but has made all six of his field goal tries, although none has been longer than 42 yards.
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Thursday at Peden Stadium, with the game being shown on ESPNU.