Ohio and San Diego State are set to kick off in the second-ever DXL Frisco Bowl on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET.
On media day, Ohio head coach Frank Solich, San Diego State head coach Rocky Long, and a handful of Ohio players were present to preview the game and the bowl experience in Frisco, situated in Northeast Texas.
Age and Experience
Rocky Long and Frank Solich have a combined 40 years of FBS head coaching experience, split at an even 20 years apiece. When Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder retired, Solich (74) became the oldest head coach in the FBS and Long (68) moved up to third. At 142 years of combined age, the Frisco Bowl will feature the oldest head coaching matchup of the college football season.
“We don’t know each other real well, and we’re not buddies — we don’t hang out, but old guys have similar personalities,” Long said. “After a while and since there’s a few of us left at our age, we better be buddies because we have to fight all the rest of ‘em.”
Long and Solich have worked wonders on their respective programs throughout the years. Solich is in his 14th season with Ohio and has attained bowl eligibility for 10-straight years while Long is in his ninth season with San Diego State and is in his ninth bowl appearance.
“You’ve got to have great support from your administration all the way through,” Solich said on consistency. “When you have the backing of your administration. the athletic department, are able to recruit the right guys, and have a coaching staff that’s been together for a good share of our time, the continuity of it all has helped us a great deal.”
Long also echoed Solich on how the players and administrators brought into the program affect long-term success.
“The most important part of any kind of extended success you have is the players in the program,” Long said. “We don’t get the highest rating players by the star system, which I hate anyway. We could care less if they have stars by their name. All we care about is how they play and how they act. They’re good guys, they like to play football, and they do what you ask them to do. People with that mentality have success.”
Adjustments for Ohio
Ohio’s promising season looked poised for disaster at the midway point. The Bobcats sat at 3-3 after an ugly non-conference slate and sluggish start to conference play. Then, the same defense that allowed 33.8 points per game during the first six games amended its errors to allow 19.5 per contest in the final half of the season. Replacing nearly the entire front-seven was a struggle, but the midseason improvement was transparent and overall, boosted the team to an 8-4 record.
“I think we focused a lot on communication and getting guys experience,” Ohio senior outside linebacker Evan Croutch said. “A lot of guys came in with little experience and they progressed all year long. Us focusing on communication and staying on the same page helped us out.”
Another factor which led to the Bobcats’ late-season surge was the brilliant play of running back A.J. Ouellette. Although Ouellette has been a staple on Ohio’s offense since 2014 and is the third leading rusher in school history, an upgraded version of the senior was seen in the Bobcats’ final quarter of the year. Ouellette rushed for 533 yards and scored five total touchdowns in the final three regular season games of his college career.
“I’ve just been clicking,” Ouellette said. “At the beginning of the season, I was running a little different, but Coach asked me to run with a different style. The game slowed after I ran the way he wanted me to. And then the o-line started dominating. They have all year, but the way they’re communicating up front and the way they’re seeing blitzes come, they’re picking things up that I didn’t even see.”
But Ouellette’s finest work occurred in a career-best game which featured 212 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in a 52-17 rout over MAC East champion Buffalo. The game came as a surprise, like Michael Jordan’s flu game, because Ouellette was vomiting on the sidelines in between drives.
“Going into that game, I didn’t feel too well, but I didn’t know how bad I was until the game started in that first series,” Ouellette said. “Every yard felt like I was running 100 yards. Credit to their safety who popped me right in the stomach — that caused me to go to the sidelines. Threw up one good time, felt a little better. Later in the second quarter, I threw up again but then after that, I felt really good.”
Texas is a major football state with 12 FBS programs, and both coaches have dabbled in the area for recruiting purposes. The Frisco Bowl is one of seven bowl games in the Lone Star State and one of four in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area (Cotton, First Responder, Armed Forces). However, the Frisco Bowl is unique in the fact that it is held in a soccer venue, Toyota Stadium, which seats slightly over 20,000.
“I don’t think necessarily that’s a soccer stadium,” Long said. “When the two football teams get out there, that’s a football stadium. And we have 10 players on our team from Texas, so it’s nice to be close to their home.”
Many Ohio players, unfamiliar with the area, have spent time in between practices becoming acquainted with Texas culture.
“I went out last night and bought boots, I got jeans and I already got the cowboy hat,” Ouellette said.
While boots and cowboy hats well represent the state, many Texans are adamant about their love of Whataburger. Ouellette reviewed the famed local burger joint.
“One day after practice we had In N Out Burger. That was the first time I had that but I heard Whataburger was better,” Ouellette said. “A couple hours after that, I had to go and try it. My favorite part was the spicy ketchup. I’m a big spicy guy and I like ketchup so when you mix the two, it was pretty good.”