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2017 Week 2 Preview: Ohio Bobcats at Purdue Boilermakers

Frank Solich looks to build on shutout victory against a re-branded Purdue.

Ohio v Penn State

A 1-0 team travels to face an 0-1 program. Despite the difference in records, both teams showcased impressive performances last Saturday evening.


What Ohio looks like after "perfect" Week 1

Frank Solich enters his 13th year as the boss of the Ohio Bobcats program. Despite the ever-active coaching carousel in the Mid-American Conference, the 72-year old who began his coaching career prior to Super Bowl I remains a constant. The Ohio Bobcats are an embodiment of Solich. In recent history, they're a regular in bowl season. They don't sport a flashy offense and avoid the national spotlight, but always remain in the conference championship conversation.

The reigning MAC East champions opened 2017 with a quiet but dominant demolition of the FCS's Hampton. In recent history, Hampton has flirted around the .500 mark in the FCS — not quite set to challenge Solich's Bobcats.

Ohio dismantled Hampton 59-0 on Saturday. Regardless of opponent, any shutout win where the offense nearly produces 60 points is impressive. Only four other FBS programs opened their seasons with shutouts (three others over the FCS). The Bobcats, best renowned for their unforgiving defense, have never produced a greater point total in the Solich era, showing signs of a promising offense to open 2017.

Ohio pounded the ball through the heart of Hampton's defense, rushing for seven touchdowns. Six Bobcats produced rushing outputs between 27-63 yards, totaling 248 in the shutout victory. Junior running back A.J. Ouellette, who sat out the bulk of 2016 with an early-season foot injury, reminded Bobcats fans of the power back's potential. Ouellette led the team with 63 yards on 12 carries on Saturday.


What's new, Purdue?

The Bobcats' Friday night showdown at Ross-Ade Stadium is against the Purdue Boilermakers. Normally, MAC teams have no problem running through Purdue (three MAC wins over the Boilermakers since 2013), but new head coach Jeff Brohm appears to have revitalized Purdue after witnessing Saturday's action.

One game — a 35-28 loss to Louisville— is indeed a small sample size, but spectators in Indianapolis saw a new brand of Boilermakers' football. After finishing 9-39 in the Darrell Hazell era (2013-16) Brohm is trying to shed the Big Ten cellar-dweller label from his program in West Lafayette.

The former Western Kentucky coach took on his longtime former boss, Bobby Petrino at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday. Purdue managed to lead 14-10 at halftime, despite entering the contest as 26.5-point underdogs. The Boilermakers extended their lead to a game-high eight points in the third quarter and captured a brief three-point advantage with 10:48 remaining in the contest before fading away at the end.

What stood out about Purdue was its ability to force turnovers. The Boilermakers forced three Louisville fumbles, impeding the offense of Bobby Petrino's Cardinals for the majority of the game.

Offensively, Purdue rotated between two quarterbacks in the loss. Junior David Blough and sophomore Elijah Sindelar produced similar numbers on Saturday by throwing for over 100 yards and two touchdowns each. According to The Purdue Exponent, Brohm, a former NFL quarterback, made it clear that both "evenly talented and evenly matched" quarterbacks are destined to receive playing time under the lights on Friday.


Two-quarterback system comparisons

Brohm isn't the only coach in this battle focused on utilizing a two-quarterback system. Solich rotated between sophomores Quinton Maxwell and Nathan Rourke in the victory over Hampton, a trend that will likely continue against Purdue.

Maxwell saw plenty of action during Ohio's 8-6 run in 2016, including the upset victory over the Toledo Rockets. But Rourke took home MAC East Offensive Player of the Week honors after a standout collegiate debut. Rourke only threw 10 times but punched the ball into the end zone three times on the ground, on only six carries. Here are both teams statistical comparisons between their quarterbacks:

Ohio

Maxwell: 7-of-9, 100 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 2 rushes, -5 rushing yards, 0 TD

Rourke: 6-of-10, 72 passing yards, 0 TD, 0 INT; 6 rushes, 50 rushing yards, 3 TD

Purdue

Blough: 18-of-26, 175 passing yards, 2 TD, 2 INT; 5 rushes, 6 rushing yards, 0 TD

Sindelar: 15-of-31, 118 passing yards, 2 TD, 1 INT; 1 rush, -8 rushing yards, 0 TD

Maxwell and Blough, the more experienced members of the duos, earned the starting nods on Saturday. Both could potentially start again on Friday, but Rourke and Sindelar are guaranteed to see field action and make an impact in the MAC-Big Ten showdown.


Ohio's senior linebackers

Ohio lost several notable defenders to the 2017 NFL Draft. MAC Defensive Player of the Year Tarell Basham was claimed by the Colts in the third round and inside linebacker Blair Brown earned a spot on the Jaguars roster after being selected in the fifth round. The new leaders of the defense in Athens are both seniors: inside linebacker Quentin Poling and outside linebacker Chad Moore.

Poling recorded 109 tackles in 2016, including 13.5 tackles for loss. He has shown ability to drop back into coverage to, accumulating seven career interceptions and 11 career pass deflections. Poling also holds 13 career sacks to his name, still in search of his first one in the 2017 season.

Moore finished third on the Bobcats with 97 tackles in 2016. He led the Bobcats' star linebacker trio (along with Brown and Poling) with two interceptions and six pass deflections. Like Poling, Moore has displayed decent skill in the coverage game, but will have to play a vital role if Ohio wants to limit Purdue's improved passing offense (293 yards and four touchdowns against Louisville).


Keys to the Game

Turnovers and sacks

A season ago, Ohio's defense yielded only 22.2 points per game and finished fifth in the FBS in sacks. The Bobcats' defense will control the scoring output in this game, a matchup that should produce less than 52 points. With two quarterbacks playing on both sides, the better defense should come out with the victory.

In order for Ohio to win, the Bobcats must produce similar sack numbers they did a season ago, constantly blitzing Purdue's young sophomore passers. Ohio recovered 11 fumbles a season ago and is off to a hot start in the category after recovering two against Hampton. Purdue, likewise, showed strength in the turnover-producing department, forcing and recovering three fumbles in the narrow loss to Louisville.

Whichever team wins the turnover battle will likely win this low-scoring competition. With uncertainty at the quarterback position for both teams, the defenses should have a field day in West Lafayette. Ohio often struggles with the passing game and Purdue has yet to establish a run game against Brohm, so both defenses will be tested with rather one-dimensional offenses.

Kicking Matters

Ohio and Purdue appeared slated to play a tightly-contested game. This game looks similar to last Friday's Northern Illinois-Boston College contest, where the Eagles won on the leg of their kicker, while the Huskies' failed to convert on a game-tying field goal.

Purdue's J.D. Dellinger owns the only field goal attempt of the season for the Boilermakers. His 53-yard attempt was blocked, but 53 yards is out of range for many college kickers.

Ohio's kicker Louie Zervos impressed as a freshman with 29 made field goals, but experienced adversity in Saturday's victory. The sophomore kicker missed two out of his eight extra points, depriving the Bobcats of the 60-point mark. He connected from 38 yards for his only field goal of the game and must return back to form to provide a major advantage to the Bobcats against the Boilermakers on Friday. In close games, the kickers are as integral to their teams as any other player.


Games Notes

Ohio and Purdue kick off at 8 p.m. EST in Ross-Ade Stadium on Friday night. The game can be viewed on FS1 and Purdue opens as four-point favorites. The Boilermakers have won all seven editions in this series, but these teams have not clashed since 1988.

Frank Solich is no stranger to knocking down Power Five squads, overcoming Penn State, Pittsburgh, Illinois, and Kansas during his tenure in Athens. The MAC has yet to defeat the Big Ten (or any Power Five opponent) this season with Ball State falling to Illinois 24-21, Michigan State rolling over Bowling Green 35-10 and Penn State pulverizing Akron 52-0.


Prediction

The power of the defenses will outweigh the power of the offenses on Friday night. One significant edge Purdue owns over Ohio is a capable passing game. Brohm, a former quarterback, developed star passers Brandon Doughty and Mike White at WKU and looks to be establishing a passing-based offense for the Boilermakers. Purdue's receivers, especially Jackson Anthrop (seven receptions, 82 yards, two touchdowns) showed prowess against a tough Louisville secondary on Saturday, so Ohio defensive backs better prepare for Brohm's air attack.

Prediction: Purdue 24, Ohio 20