OHIO vs. UMass Q&A Preview: Little Victories

Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

In preparation for this Saturday's epic tilt between the Bobcats of Ohio University and the Minutemen of the University of Massachusetts, Mike Paquette and myself took the time to lob softballs at each other and see who has the true warning-track power when it comes to prognostication.

In preparation for this Saturday's epic tilt between the Bobcats of Ohio University and the Minutemen of the University of Massachusetts, we here at Hustle Belt decided to see how eloquent we could be in discussing our squads.

Clearly, the logical solution was to banter back and forth at each other in Q&A format until one of us demonstrates the ability to bore the other to tears say the most insightful things with regard to the game.

Geeves: It would appear (to a casual observer of their box scores like myself) that UMass has been making strides in a slow but certain manner towards not only not getting destroyed, but maybe even winning (not this week, but eventually). Is there anything in particular that you can point to as responsible for closing that gap?

Paquette: UMass is nowhere near where they want to be, that much is still certain. But you're right, they are definitely making strides on both sides of the football. Last week against Miami they were stopped on fourth-and-short inside the 30 twice and threw three picks, one of them in the end zone. If two of those drives ended in touchdowns, we would be having a very different conversation. Of course, they didn't, and those types of things will keep happening until the team can eliminate mental errors.

I would have to point to the play of freshman quarterback Mike Wegzyn if I were to identify one thing that's consistently improved over the first few games. Remember, Wegzyn wasn't supposed to be the starter this year. He's gone from looking very intimidated in the UConn game to a poised passer out of the pocket. When your quarterback is willing to sit in the pocket and make his reads rather than scrambling at the first sign of trouble, that's usually a good thing. Speaking of good things...

Paquette: Much of the preseason MAC talk revolved around the possibility of OHIO running the table. Now they're entering conference play with a record of 4-0. Given what you've seen over the first third of the season, is there a MAC team that stands out as having the best chance to unseat the Bobcats?

Geeves: I think that, through this first third of the season, there is a very clear top tier in the conference, consisting of OHIO, Ball State, Toledo, and Northern Illinois. Now that we've seen that delineation start to occur, I think the odds of 13-0 (don't forget the MACC game) are even greater now than they were at the start of the season given that the Bobcats don't play both Toledo and NIU this season.

That said, the best odds occur in three places. First comes Buffalo next weekend, where a healthy Branden Oliver might mean a Bulls offense that can keep pace. Second would be their Nov 14th matchup with Ball State, where you never know who might wind up #Wenning in the end. Then, of course, there is the championship against whichever of the top-tier competitors makes it out of the West. But we have bigger fish to fry...

Geeves: More importantly, how are you feeling after four weeks of the new uniforms, and hey how about that backflip?

Paquette: I have a few biases working against me here. I'm a big fan of tradition, hate the black-for-blacks-sake trend, and prefer schools use only their official colors when representing the institution. That being said, the team looked pretty badass when I saw them trot out the all-blacks against Indiana. They've now worn four different jersey combinations in their four games, and I expect that number to go up to five this week against OHIO (get ready for the maroon shirts). The biggest complaint I have is the helmet. UMass had worn white helmets consistently since 1970, and while I can live with the black, I would have preferred it to be an alternate. The flip? Gold. If you wagered before the season that UMass would have more SportsCenter Top 10 appearances than wins, you're feeling good right now. Speaking of feeling good...

Paquette: Tyler Tettleton is nursing an "undisclosed abdominal injury", but says he is 100% certain he will be playing on Saturday. How much of a leash do you think OHIO gives him, and should fans expect to see a lot of Derrius Vick? If Vick takes the majority of the snaps, how will that affect OHIO's offensive attack?

Tettleton is obviously a significant rushing threat, as he demonstrated throughout last season, which on the surface means a significant re-injury risk. That said, he hasn't run the ball much this year (23 carries for 100 yards through three games), as the Bobcats have largely relied on a strong showing from Beau Blankenship to carry that load. On average, Vick has run the ball slightly more than Tettleton, but it's essentially the same offense no matter who is at quarterback from what I've seen. I don't expect to see much of Vick unless the score gets out of hand (no way that happens, right?) or Tettleton, um, reinjures his abdomen? But enough about me; what do you think, big picture?

Geeves: Do you think the Minutemen have improved enough to have a shot at keeping things close, or are they still not ready to handle a team as talented as OHIO?

Paquette: I think we're still looking at a young team that's going to make a lot of mistakes. A transition to FBS is one thing, but when you bring in a spread coach to run a team recruited for a pro-style offense, you're going lengthen the learning curve. UMass has had a lot of trouble putting points on the board, and I wouldn't expect that to stop this week. The key is Mike Cox; if they get him running effectively early, they may be able to replicate the successes we began to see last week (188 yards, 2 TD, 1 awesome flip).

The defense, on the other hand, has been consistent, but if OHIO has a quarterback draw in their playbook, expect it to become a big part of their attack. The Minuteman D has been torched by every two-legged quarterback they've faced this year. They've done fairly well with stopping the run otherwise, and their pass defense isn't bad, so if they can figure out a way to stop the draw, they may be in a good place. The line for this game is hovering around 24, which seems about right. I think we're looking at a final score of 35-14. How about your view?

Paquette: OHIO isn't a one-dimensional team by any stretch, as they currently sit in the top 35 in the FBS in both total defense and total offense. If MASSACHUSETTS (see what I did there?) wants to have a puncher's chance in this game, what weakness of OHIO's should they aim to exploit?

Geeves: In doing some investigation, it all comes down to two things: third downs and long drives. First let's consider third downs:
  • In the split personality game against Penn State, the Bobcats were 2-for-9 on third down conversions in the first half (down 14-3), 11-for-12 in the second half (outscored PSU 21-0)
  • In the first eight minutes versus Marshall, OHIO was 0-for-2 and the Herd was 4-for-4 (down 14-0). The rest of the first half, Marshall was 0-for-3 and the Bobcats were 8-for-9 (outscored Marshall 17-0)
Then there's the time of possession. Against New Mexico State and Norfolk State, Ohio needed only 26 minutes of possession for 16 scoring drives. Against Marshall, nine scoring drives resulted from 34 minutes of possession. In other words, if you can shut them down on third down, especially third-and-short, and can make them earn their points by avoiding big plays and requiring long drives, you just might have...a chance to not be embarrassed for all four quarters. I don't think UMass can do all of those things consostently, and I'm not as nice as you, so I'm going with OHIO 49, UMass 10.
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