Jason Arkley, who covers Ohio football for The Athens Messenger newspaper, was kind enough to answer six questions (well, actually 15, but who is counting?) about the Bobcats heading into Saturday's game. ...
- What is the mind-set of the Bobcats following Tuesday's loss to Buffalo? Is there any type of hangover from the loss, especially with the two bad calls the MAC confirmed the next day?
Mind-set isn't good. There's a feeling that MAC title is out of reach for another year and now even a bowl game is at risk. Whether that inspires Ohio on Tuesday night or not remains to be seen. The Bobcats handled the officiating fall-out well, in my opinion. It obviously impacted the game, but Ohio didn't use it as an excuse. In general, I sense the Bobcats are more upset at how they reacted to the bad calls than the calls themselves. Despite all of that, I expect something of a bounce-back effort from Ohio on Tuesday.
- Regarding the Ohio offense, has it changed much, in terms of style, from last season? How has quarterback Tyler Tettleton played this year? Who are his favorite receivers?
Offensive scheme and principles are pretty much the same. Lots of the pistol, no-huddle, and varied formations (tight end/wide receiver variety). Ohio is throwing a bit more this year (lowest percent of called run plays in coach Frank Solich's tenure), which is due to a running game that has taken a step back in 2013.
In my opinion, Tettleton has thrown the ball exceptionally well most of the season. Consistent pressure led to some percentage issues at Buffalo, but he's been one of the nation's best (top 25) in passer rating most of the season. The biggest difference is Tettleton's lack of rushing yardage. He's kept the ball just a handful of times on the zone read this season and has been looking to make more plays with his arm, rather than his legs, on scrambles.
Tettleton (65.2%, 2,155 yds, 17 TD-6 INT) has developed good chemistry with senior WR Donte Foster (51 catches, 728, 6TD), who is also Ohio's career leader in touchdown receptions. Junior WR Chase Cochran (28-599, 21.4/catch, 3 TDs) is the team's best deep threat, and senior Matt Waters (30-400, 3 TD) has been consistent in the slot.
- Who are some of the other players to watch on offense? Is Beau Blankenship still splitting reps at running back as he was last year? How has the offensive line played?
- On defense it looks as if the defensive line is playing well as the Bobcats are tied for the MAC lead with 28 sacks. How is OU generating its pass rush? Who are the key players in that area?
Ohio has been able to get pressure through its defensive line, and through various blitz schemes. The positive for the Bobcats is they will get pressure at times without having to resort to full blitz packages. Freshmen DEs Tarell Basham (6.0 sacks) and Casey Sayles (3.0 sacks) have been instrumental in helping generate that pressure so far. Senior DE Ty Branz (5.5 sacks) was integral to that as well early on, but is lost for the season with a knee injury.
MLB Ben Russell has be solid as a first-year starter and is the most commonly used linebacker on blitz calls (3.0 sacks).
- Ohio has intercepted 10 passes this season. What has been the key to the pass defense? Who are some of the players to watch in pass defense?
The key to the secondary has been the play of the two corners, and the closing speed of senior safety Xavier Hughes (3 INTs). Hughes has the ability to rapidly make up ground and will sometimes try to 'bait' quarterbacks into throws toward the middle of the field. at CB, sixth-year senior Travis Carrie has been consistent all year despite a relative lack of work. Most opponents send most of their targets to the other side of the field where sophomore Devin Bass (12 passes defended) has played well. Carrie, however, was beaten for two TD catches last Tuesday at Buffalo. In general, most plays made against this secondary come in underneath the coverage...few big plays over the top.
- How are the Bobcats doing on special teams? How have the kicking and punting games performed this year? Is there a particular person to watch in the return game?
Punter Grant Venham hasn't graded well against the MAC this year, but so far the Bobcats have avoided any blocked kicks — which were huge in this match last year.
The kick-off return unit has failed to produce many big plays all season long, but Devin Bass has been the best of group in that role this season.
Carrie, on punt returns, has been a feast or famine option. He's led the MAC all year in punt return average, and has the ability to create big plays. But, he's also fumbled four different returns this year — one which resulted in a turnover late in the fourth quarter during a home loss to Central Michigan.