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Ohio Preview: The ‘Attack Cats’ Are Ready to Reclaim Glory

Ohio football is the only original founding member of the Mid-American Conference remaining, and it has been a minute since they were last the champions of the MAC. Ohio’s last appearance in the MAC Championship Game was in 2011, where they lost a heartbreaker to Northern Illinois under Chandler Harnish. and their last league title (which was split with Toledo) was in 1968 under coach Bill Hess.

Frank Solich, responsible for one of the most dominant teams in college football history in the 1990’s at his alma mater Nebraska, sits at the helm of this program for his 10th season, with a record of 66-50 in his time at Athens. Solich has turned the team around from a sorry period in an otherwise proud history into a perennial contender in the MAC East. Ohio plays two opponents from last season in Idaho (36-24 win in 2014) and Marshall (44-14 loss in 2014), and seem to have an extremely favorable conference schedule.

(Asterisks denote conference games, while pond signs denote regional or national broadcast games.)

Sept. 3rd at Idaho Vandals#
Sept. 12th vs. Marshall Thundering Herd#
Sept. 19th vs. Southeast Louisiana Lions (FCS)#
Sept. 26th at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Oct. 3rd at Akron Zips*#
Oct. 10th vs. Miami Redhawks*#
Oct. 17th vs. Western Michigan Broncos*
Oct. 24th at Buffalo Bulls*
Nov. 4th at Bowling Green Falcons*#
Nov. 10th vs. Kent State Golden Flashes*#
Nov. 17th vs. Ball State Cardinals*#
Nov. 24th at Northern Illinois Huskies*#

Offensive preview

Last season, the Ohio offense in a word was unsettled. Injuries and ineffective play doomed the Bobcats early in the season, and the team just couldn’t close on games or be consistent. Ohio was 111th in the country in scoring offense, averaging only 20.5 points per game, although they seemed to finally find a rhythm in the last four games of the conference season.

Ever since the departure of Tyler Tettleton in 2013, the Bobcats have had problems settling on a signalcaller. Senior Derrius Vick was named the starter last season, but was a wildly erratic passer and was often injured. His replacement, junior JD Sprague wasn’t much better. Both players are terrific runners who lack a sense of awareness in the passing game; Vick was only okay last season before injury, with a little over 1,000 yards passing and eight touchdowns in eight games, while Sprague was wildly inefficient, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and only completing 48.8% of his passes, although he did score three rushing touchdowns. Redshirt junior Greg Windham saw some action last season, going for 10-13 in six games.

The Ohio offense relies on a versatile stable of running backs to carry the lead of the offense. Last year, true freshman walk-on player AJ Ouelette took over the starting role from Daz’Mond Patterson, no small feat considering that Patterson is up for the Paul Hornung Award for best two-way player. Ouelette accumulated 918 yards and 10 total touchdowns last season and won the hearts of the Bobcat faithful for his hard-nosed style. Patterson, who also sees time at receiver and kickoff/punt returner, had 464 total yards and one touchdown. Junior Dorian Brown (62 total yards, two touchdowns in 2014) projects as a third back, while redshirt freshmen Maleek Irons and Papi White could see time.

The passing game was abysmal last season for Ohio. The Bobcats averaged 206.2 yards per game, and no receiver caught more than 31 passes or surpassed 450 yards. Ohio loses deep threat Chase Cochran (21 rec., 443 yards, 21.1 yards per catch) to graduation, but brings back leading receiver junior Sebastian Smith (31 rec., 385 yards, two touchdowns). Fellow juniors Jordan Reid (24 rec., 326 yards, one touchdown), Brendan Cope (17 rec., 303 yards in eight games), and tight end Troy Mangen (19 rec., 147 yards) all return to the lineup. Running backs Daz’Mond Patterson (12 rec., 116 yards in 2014) and Papi White could also crack into the rotation.

The offensive line returns most of their starters and nine of ten linemen from last season. Mike McQueen (6’6″, 297 lbs.), and Troy Watson (6’6″, 293 lbs.) hold down the left and right tackle spots, while Mike Lucas (6’4″, 313 lbs.), and Durell Wood (6’2″, 306 lbs.), are at the guard spots. Starting at center is the dependable and stoic leader Lucas Powell, who was named to the All-MAC third team last season, and is on the 2015 Preseason Rimington Award Watch List. Powell led the line last season in advancing the offense 370.3 yards per game. If the line can stay healthy and keep whoever starts at quarterback on their feet, Ohio could make some noise.

Defensive preview

Ohio, like fellow MAC East contender Bowling Green, had a pretty great defense last season… if you keep out the pass defense. Ohio was one of the best rushing defenses in the nation, giving up only 132.9 yards per game, good enough for 25th in the country, but were simultaneously shredded in the secondary with 206.2 yards surrendered a game, ranking 104th in that statistic. Ohio finished 91st overall in total yards allowed despite giving up only 24.8 points per game. The defense propped the offense in many games, but with a -4 turnover margin, it was going to be tough to win games that way.

Junior end Tarell Basham highlights the returning cast for the defensive line, after a 33 tackle, five sack season in 2014. The line runs very deep, and that is definitely a good thing for the Bobcats, who look to improve their defense from inside out. Redshirt senior tackles Watson Tautuiaki (22 tackles in 2014), Brandon Purdum (19 tackles, two starts in 2014), juniors Casey Sayles (19 tackles, .5 sacks, one fumble recovery in 2014) and Kurt Laseak (23 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three starts in 2014), and sophomore Tony Porter are all vying for the spots left open by departed graduates Cameron McLeod (39 tackles, 2 sacks), and Antwan Crutcher (36 tackles).

All three starters at linebacker return in 2015, which should certainly help plug holes in a young defensive line. Quentin Poling is coming off of a sensational first season, compiling 89 tackles and five sacks in 2014 as a redshirt freshman. Senior Jovon Johnson (67 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and junior Blair Brown (55 tackles, two sacks) return as Poling’s running mates. Together, this group finished 1-2-3 on the tackles list last season. Junior Chad Moore (33 tackles, .5 sacks), and redshirt sophomores Cody Grillot (18 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Travis Daugherty (20 tackles) provide solid backup options.

The secondary returns senior Ian Wells (42 tackles, one forced fumble in 2014) to the corner spot and redshirt senior Devin Jones (32 tackles, four pass breakups in 2014) to the safety spot. Junior Toran Davis (42 tackles, two starts in 2014),  redshirt senior Thad Ingol (49 tackles, three interceptions), and true freshman Deontai Williams, originally a Georgia commit, should be in the mix for the other safety spot. At corner, Devin Bass (42 tackles, one interception, 10 passes defended) should be running opposite Wells, with senior Brett Layton (13 tackles, one interception) backing up. The experience and depth will be much needed if Ohio hopes to keep opponents from scoring in the air, as this is the biggest concern on an otherwise stout defense.

Special teams preview

The ever-exciting Joshiah Yazdani returns to the fold as the kickoff specialist and kicker, where he was money from short distance, making 13-16 from 40 yards or less, but only 17-26 overall a season after converting 93% of his field goals. Mitch Bonnstetter averaged 41.8 yards per punt in 2014 and will handle punting duties. THere will be competition galore at return man, as Daz’Mond Patterson, Papi White, Kyle Nelson, and Devin Bass will all compete for the duties of returner.

Overview

The Ohio Bobcats survived the non-conference schedule and had a respectable record in the conference slate to make some noise towards the end of the season for the Eastern crown. Frank Solich’s Attack Cats can find a will and a way to the championship, and will do so on an experienced and hardy defense, led by the linebacking trio of Poling, Johnson, and Brown. Tarell Basham will have to rebound from a down season last year and contributors will have to step up in the secondary for Ohio to stay in games.

Meanwhile, the offense has all sorts of questions to figure out, including who will be behind the gun at quarterback, who will get the second and third touches at running back, and how to get the receivers more involved in the game for the Bobcats. If Ohio can stay healthy and develop into a decently efficient offense, it could be just enough for the Bobcats to win the East for the first time since 2011. A favorable schedule should help, as they draw weak divisional matchups and are capable of going 2-2 in the non-con slate if it comes down to that sort of tiebreaker. Not making a bowl last year after five straight appearances will also serve as motivation for Ohio. Look out for the boys in green and white, they just might surprise you.

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