Game 5 preview: Ohio Bobcats
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the Ohio mascot won’t be there.
Record: (2009) 9-5 (7-1 MAC); (2010) 1-3 (0-1 MAC)
Recent games: After opening the season with a 33-10 smackdown of the Wofford Terriers (FCS), the Bobcats are reeling from three straight losses, falling at home to Toledo 13-20, at Ohio State 7-43, and last week at Marshall 23-24 after head coach Frank Solich elected to go for a 2-point conversion, which would have won the game, rather than an extra kick, which, if successful, would have sent the game to overtime. Let me be clear: I think Solich made the right call in that situation, but I’m sure the loss still stings.
Quality wins: None this year, because wins over FCS teams aren’t quality. Last year they powered through the conference regular schedule, beating Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, and Temple, all of which went to bowl games.
Embarassing losses: Losing 7-43 at Ohio State is not that embarrassing this year, but two losses in the same rivalry in less than nine months is.
Last meeting: The teams last met in 2007 in Athens, where the Bobcats won a shootout, 48-42.
All-time series: This will be the 28th meeting between EMU and Ohio. The Bobcats lead the series 15-11-1; among games played in Ypsilanti the teams are 7-7. The teams played each other annually from 1976 through 1999. From 1985 through 1995, EMU went 9-1-1 against Ohio, but since then have been 1-6, with the sole win coming at Rynearson Stadium in 1999. The Eagles blocked an Ohio extra point attempt with 1:06 left in the game to escape with a 27-26 win.
Coach: Frank Solich is in his twelfth season as a head coach and his sixth season as coach of the Bobcats, during which time they’ve won the MAC East Division twice (2006, 2009), but in both cases they lost both the MAC Championship game and their bowl games (GMAC, Little Caesars). Solich got his start in college coaching at Nebraska, where he coached the freshman team from 1979 through 1982 and the running backs from 1983 through 1997. Tom Osborne named Solich as his successor upon his retirement. Solich led the Cornhuskers to the 1999 Big XII Championship and #2 final Coaches’ poll ranking, and to the 2002 BCS National Championship Game (against the University of Miami), and he was Big XII Coach of the Year in both 1999 and 2001. However, the ‘Huskers were embarrassed in the aforementioned game against the University of Miami, and in 2002 they finished 7-7, their worst record in more than 40 years. In 2003, blowout losses to Missouri, Texas, and Kansas State by a collective 110-40 sealed his fate; Steve Pederson, then the athletic director at Nebraska, stated that he would not “let Nebraska gravitate into mediocrity”, nor would he “surrender the Big 12 to Oklahoma and Texas.”
Offense: Ohio is averaging 19 points per game, a figure that’s buoyed by their 33 point performance against the FCS Wofford Terriers. Against FBS teams, the Bobcats are averaging just 14.3 points per game. Their 250.8 yards per game ranks as the worst in the MAC, and again, subtracting out the Wofford game brings them down even further to 224 yards per game. What offense they’ve had has come in a fairly balanced fashion;they average 6.2 yards per pass attempt (521 yards on 84 attempts) and 3.4 yards per rush (482 yards on 141 attempts). Quarterbacks Boo Jackson and Phil Bates have thrown 7 interceptions between them, and the team has also lost 5 fumbles, for an average of 3 turnovers per game. The quarterbacks also do a lot of running, combining for 62 carries for 222 yards already this year. Other leading rushers include Vince Davidson (119 yards on 47 carries, for a 2.5 yards per carry average) and Dallas Brown (74 yards on 15 carries, for a 4.9 yards per carry average). Their top receivers are Terrence McCrae (9 catches for 165 yards) and Riley Dunlop (10 catches for 121 yards).
Defense: Ohio is allowing their opponents 24 points per game, a figure that rises to 29 points when you eliminate the Wofford game. Despite that, they probably have an average or slightly above average MAC defense.
Keys to watch: Overall, this game pits one of the worst offenses in the MAC (Ohio) against the worst defense (EMU), and a middle-of-the-pack offense (EMU) against a slightly above-average defense (Ohio). Statistically, Ohio is probably a better team, but it’s close enough that the Eagles should have a chance to pull off an upset in front of their homecoming crowd.
Predictions: The betting line favors Ohio by 10 points, but I don’t think there’s that much difference between these teams. (Yeah, I know, I said that two weeks ago, before the Central Michigan game, and we saw how that turned out. But I really mean it!) How much would it suck for the Bobcats to lose back-to-back games by one points? I think it could happen. After scoring three touchdowns against Ohio State, the Eagles should be able to manage at least 28 points against the Bobcats. If EMU’s bad defense can hold, even a little, against Ohio’s bad offense, the homecoming crowd will see Ron English’s first win.