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2016 Hustle Belt Preseason Preview: Ohio Bobcats

Ohio looks to become bowl eligible for eighth straight season

Ohio v Penn State

What’s New?

Bobcat camp was shaken up earlier this week when expecting starting quarterback JD Sprague left the team due to recurring health issues, but expect the Bobcats to compete in the East regardless.

At the QB position it’s a two man race between Greg Windham and Quentin Maxwell, with Windham clearly having the upper-hand following fall camp. In the backfield Ohio will look to stay healthy this season with a stable of solid backs led by AJ Ouellette between the tackles and Papi White on the outside. Maleek Irons is also a well-rounded third back giving the ‘Cats some depth. Sebastian Smith and Jordan Reid will lead the receivers, and are expected to step up in order to help the passing game with a new starter taking snaps.

On the defensive side of the ball the front seven will need to be solid against the run and get pressure on opposing quarterbacks in the passing game. The defensive backfield replaced every starter but has looked relatively decent in camp despite inexperience. Tarell Basham and Casey Sayles return on the defensive line with Quentin Poling manning the middle linebacker role behind them meaning Ohio should be tough against the run.

Ground Game: Ouellette, White and Irons will get the majority of the carries with all three capable of hitting any gap on the field. Ouellette will be the consistent back between the tackles that is not easy to bring down. Look for him in the red zone to be Frank Solich and offensive coordinator Tim Albin’s first choice. White is the playmaker who can rip off 20-yards at any given moment and is a key special teams player in the return game. Ohio’s ground game will only be successful if its quarterbacks can attack the outside with their feet. Albin’s offense took a turn for the better in the Bowling Green loss, when Derrius Vick and JD Sprague were healthy at the same time allowing them to be aggressive with the QB on the ground. Look for outside options and reads early in games to open lanes for Ouellette on the inside.

A.J. Ouellette (Ohio Athletics)

On the other side of the ball the rush defense will be as good as the Bobcats can be healthy. The 2015 team defense statistics were severely skewed due to three less-than-stellar performances in the middle of season that fell while Quentin Poling was sidelined due to injury. Despite missing three games, Poling led the team in tackles and was named MAC East Defensive Player of the week three times.

With 15 days until kickoff, the Bobcats have yet to name a starting quarterback, although it is expected to be Windham. There is a definite lack of depth in the signal callers as only one of four has ever taken game snaps. Windham is the definite front-runner followed by redshirt freshman Quentin Maxwell and redshirt sophomore Joey Duckworth. If Ohio faces multiple QB injuries as they did in 2015, Duckworth and freshman walk-on Deeb Haber could be forced into action much too soon.

Defensively, the Bobcats will need to replace all of their starters in the defensive backfield. If the front seven cannot get pressure on quarterbacks and linebackers struggle in coverage, it could be a long year in Athens. Ohio is not set up this year to shootout with its opponents.

Expected Results: 7-5
Ohio vs. Texas State: In this matchup of Bobcats, Ohio comes out on top. They pressure the quarterback much better and win all special teams matchups as well as have the more productive offense. Ohio wins this one at home.

Ohio @ Kansas: Not much to say about this matchup. Kansas was 0-12 a year ago and are not looking much better this season. On the road, Ohio will need to avoid overlooking this game, but Solich will have the ‘Cats ready to prove they are in fact the better team.

Ohio @ Tennessee: This one doesn’t look good for the Bobcats. Tennessee was 9-4 in the SEC and held opponents under 30% on third down conversions, an area the ‘Cats struggled with last season. On the road in an SEC stadium, Ohio will lose its first game of the season.

Ohio vs. Gardner-Webb: Call it a tune up game before heading into conference play; Ohio will have no problems here. On paper Ohio is better across the board and I fully expect them to prove it in Peden Stadium.

Ohio @ Miami: Miami is still another year out from making the Battle of the Bricks rivalry great again. Although Ohio won 34-3 on its homecoming game a year ago, expect this to be a closer game with Ohio on top by two touchdowns. Way-to-early-prediction, Ohio vs. Miami 2017 will be an early front-runner for MAC game of the year.

Ohio vs. Bowling Green: With Matt Johnson gone, Bowling Green may not be the powerhouse they were, but it will still be a tough game for Ohio. Both teams will have new quarterbacks and BGSU has already had injury problems on the line. If they can get healthy by week six, I think this game comes down to the last possession but slight edge to Bowling Green.

Ohio vs. Eastern Michigan: Ohio wins easily in week seven. Eastern will be on the road outmatched at every position and struggle in this one. Ohio wins by three scores.

Ohio @ Kent State: Ohio could become bowl eligible by week eight this season with the lighter part of the schedule coming early in the year. Fans of Ohio should hope for at least five wins coming off of the Kent State matchup because it will be the easiest of the closing five games for the ‘Cats. If Ohio can play defense as well as last season against Kent State, they could see another shut out.

Ohio @ Toledo: This will be the first of a tough four game stretch to close out the season for Ohio. On the road for the second week in a row against a team that finished just outside the top 25 the Bobcats could struggle. The loss of Matt Campbell as head coach shouldn’t come in to effect much here. The one advantage for Ohio will be playing on a Thursday night #MACtion game which always lends a small surprise factor. Regardless, I cannot consciously choose Ohio over Toledo in this one.

Ohio vs. Buffalo: Since the legendary Tettleton safety call in 2013, Ohio and Buffalo have alternated wins in this series. Buffalo got the best of the Bobcats by a large margin last year that was one of the skewed games due to the absences of Quentin Poling and Papi White. I think Ohio makes it interesting in Athens, but the Bulls go home with a win.

Ohio @ Central Michigan: No matter how you look at it, this game has some of the best potential for a MAC showdown all year. The majority of comparisons between the two sides are nearly identical expect for two key areas. Ohio is much worse both defending in the red zone and in penalty yards. That slight advantage, plus the home turf give Central the edge.

Ohio vs. Akron: Predicting a three game losing streak heading into the final week of the season, I think Solich gets the team fired up. This is another game that will come down to the fourth quarter. Ohio took the win last season by two points on the road. This year at home, barring injuries, the Ohio offensive line should hold the strong Akron pass rush in check and take a tight victory to finish 7-5 and be bowl eligible.