The biggest key for the Ohio Bobcats entering their matchup against then MAC East leading Temple last night was stopping their running game. As it turned out, it was the Owls that should have paid a bit more attention to Ohio's land assault leading up to the game.
Despite one of the nation's top statistical defenses, Temple wasn't able to stop Donte Harden at all last night. The senior running back has had some ups and downs this season but this is the kind of game that shows just how important he is to Ohio's offense. Harden has been benched a few times this season for fumbling the football and even though Beau Blankenship got a few carries in this game, this was Harden's night.
Harden finished the game with a school record 322 all-purpose yards, including a career high 184 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards. Those 184 rushing yards came on just 20 attempts, giving Harden a ridiculous average of 9.1 yards per attempt. An 81-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter, which the longest run of Harden's career and the longest play from scrimmage on the season for the Bobcats, certainly beefed that average up, but the Bobcats were finally able to get the pistol pitch to work consistently, which was surprising considering the opponent.
Harden opened up the scoring with a touchdown on the first drive of the game. Ohio ran a play-action wheel play with Harden getting out of the backfield as the lone receiver on his side of the field and Tettleton lofted one over his shoulder for a touchdown on the left sideline (Note: I was on ESPN's telecast as he scored this touchdown. Boo-yah.).
Harden would also play a vital role in the game winning score as well, even though he didn't score the touchdown himself. On second and five at their own 27, the Bobcats went back to the play that got them the first touchdown off the game, only reversing the side. After eating up the defense for three and a half quarters, the defense bit on the playfake and once again, Harden was wide open down the sidelines. Tettleton had to put a little more on this ball and it felt like the pass was in the air for an eternity but Harden came down with the ball and ran for a few more for a 50 yard gain.
The play that decided the game would happen a few snaps later. Down three with the ball on third and goal from the five yardline, the Bobcats were either going to win or tie based on the result of this play (or lose, based on how Matt Weller kicked last night). Initially, it looked like Ohio would have to settle for a field goal but even though all of the Bobcats receivers were covered on their routes, the offensive line held up for what seemed like an hour, so Tettleton was able to scramble around for 10 seconds or so before finding Donte Foster in the endzone for a touchdown. It was a pretty good day to have the name "Donte".
It was also a pretty good day to have the name "LaVon Brazill". Overshadowed by Harden's outstanding game and Tettleton's consistently impressive poise in big spots was Brazill's outstanding and vital performance. Brazill finished the game with 165 receiving yards on seven catches, including some key plays in the fourth quarter. Ohio has the best corps of receivers in the conference but it's not hard to tell Brazill is the leader of the pack is, even if you were watching for the first time. Brazill had nearly half of Tyler Tettleton's 15 completions and no other player had more than two grabs. He may not have gotten into the endzone but week in and week out, Brazill has proven he is the best offensive player the team has.
Speaking of Tettleton: Can we say that he has been incredible this season? I mean, for a first year starter, how many big mistakes has he made? He's got a 4-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio right now and at least two of the five interceptions he's thrown can't be blamed solely on him. He threw for three touchdowns and 258 yards in this game and only made one bad throw all game long (he threw behind Phil Bates on a post route in the first half). That touchdown pass to Foster was created by some great offensive line play and some nice moving by Foster but for a quarterback to be able to stay patient with his receivers for that long in that spot was spectacular and the throw as right on target. If Tettleton wasn't five-foot-11, he'd be getting more attention nationally.
Though the odds were heavily against them, Temple did have a shot to win this game in the fourth quarter and the narrative wouldn't have been all that bad, either. After throwing three passes, "starting" quarterback Chester Stewart was replaced by Chris Coyer, a sophomore that hadn't thrown a pass all season long. Of course, Temple doesn't do much throwing, so that wasn't too big of a deal, but with Bernard Pierce doing his best Chris Johnson impersonation, the Owls needed a threat on the ground.
Up until Temple's final drive of the game, that had worked. Coyer actually tied Harden for the rushing title in this game with 184 yards on the ground and he did so on fewer carries (17). The sad part about Ohio giving up 184 rushing yards to Temple's back-up quarterback was that the Owls were running virtually the same play every time Coyer took off to run. A simple read option was the call and Coyer was gashing the Bobcats' D for big gain after big gain. But on that final drive, when the Owls had to throw the ball to move down the field, Coyer couldn't come through and the Bobcats came away with a 35-31 victory. This put me in a good mood. Of course, then the crowd stormed the field and I was in a bad mood again.
Here are some other notes on the game:
One of the first things I noticed about Ohio football is that there are few traditions but there is one huge one: no matter what, all students must leave at half-time. I don't like this one very much.
You've Been Scouted!
There were about six scouts on hand for yesterday's game, most likely to see Bernard Pierce in action. A couple of them left at half-time because Pierce wasn't impressing. It probably didn't help matters that he had some serious concussion like symptoms after the game. As he walked into the locker room his eyes were opening and closing and he needed the help of four people to even walk. Pierce finished with just 84 rushing yards, his third lowest output of the season.
Ohio had a good number of recruits on the sidelines for this game and they picked a great night for visits. Well, other than the fact that the recruits realized they'd be playing second halves in front of 25 students.