2013 Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl
Tropicana Field -- St. Petersburg, Fla.
Ohio Bobcats (7-5, 4-4 MAC) vs East Carolina (9-3, 6-2 CUSA)
Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 -- 2:00 p.m. ET
When the Ohio Bobcats and East Carolina Pirates take to the field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday afternoon, Dec. 30, both teams will do so with something to prove.
Ohio, as it has in recent years, fell apart down the stretch. They lost three straight against Buffalo, Bowling Green, and Kent State before eventually defeating Massachusetts and had many naysayers voicing their discontent. The seniors have something left to prove before leaving as the most successful senior class in program history.
East Carolina heads into the bowl game coming off a loss in a game where a win would have sprung the team to the Conference USA title game. That 59-28 loss against Marshall was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, because fans of ECU fancied themselves the best team in the conference.
Instead, both teams find themselves a little under the weather as both head to the fair weather state of Florida.
Quarterback Tyler Tettleton had an up-and-down season for Ohio but has the opportunity to surpass 9,000 career passing yards in this game. In the team's three huge November losses, he totaled just 351 yards and just one touchdown. However, he rebounded with a strong performance against UMass (243 yards, 2 TDs) and has good cumulative numbers for the season.
Senior running back Beau Blankenship has trudged through a letdown of a season after entering 2013 with much attention focused his way. After rushing for over 1,600 yards in 2012, Blankenship had 129 fewer carries and only 844 total rushing yards in 2013. He also had ten fewer touchdowns (5 vs 15). If Ohio is to win, he will have to come close to replicating his 172-yard performance against the Bobcats' rivals, the Miami RedHawks. His only other game with over 100 yards was the season finale vs UMass.
Ohio likely will also have to distribute the ball to guys in the receiving corps like Donte Foster and Chase Cochran. Foster had 63 catches, 858 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season, while Cochran tallied 32 catches, 656 yards and four scores. Matt Waters (32 catches) is the only other player to average at least two receptions per game.
On the special teams' side, kicker Josiah Yazdani could be a big edge for the Bobcats. He's a perfect 40-for-40 on kicks this year, as he's made all 28 extra points and each of his 12 field goal attempts, with a long of 49 yards.
Unfortunately, Ohio's defense will have it's hands full with an East Carolina offense that ranks tenth nationally in points per game (40.4) and passing yards per game (331.5). For a unit that's had trouble at times stopping teams this year, that's not good news.
ECU is led by junior quarterback Shane Carden. Carden was named Conference USA Most Valuable Player after finishing with 3,866 passing yards (sixth in FBS) and 32 touchdown passes (eighth in FBS). He also leads the country in completion percentage, as he is successful on 71 percent of his attempts.
The Pirates' primary back is Vintavious Cooper, and he's been pretty effective in 2013. He averaged 4.9 yards during his 205 carries, which led to a total of 995 yards and 11 touchdowns. Carden added 63 yards on 80 carries (this includes sacks), but he added ten rushing touchdowns of his own.
The primary worry in this game for Ohio simply must be receiver Justin Hardy. Hardy finished the regular season with 105 catches for 1,218 yards and eight touchdowns. Isaiah Jones is also dangerous, and compared to Hardy, you might forget that 54 catches, 556 yards and five touchdowns are good in their own right.
As I noted above, Ohio has an edge in special teams, at least at kicker. ECU's Warren Harvey has made 57 of 58 extra points, but he's connected on only 14 of his 23 field goal attempts and is just 4-for-13 when kicking from the 20 yard line or further.
Ohio is participating fifth consecutive bowl game, and they are seeking their third straight win. They defeated Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl one year ago. East Carolina has not been nearly as successful in bowl games, and the Pirates lost in the New Orleans Bowl last year versus Louisiana-Lafayette.
This has the chance to be a high-scoring game, but if it turns out like that, Ohio's chances of winning are probably slim. East Carolina simply has a more potent offense. Ohio's best bet in this game is to play ball-control offense and hope that their defense can stop ECU enough times to eke out a victory.