Of the many great things about sports, perhaps the greatest thing is their unpredictability. All the pre-season and pre-game analysis for teams that should be great, or players who should be stars, it all goes out the window once the game begins. It's the unpredictability of sports that leads to underdogs taking down the favorites, and for walk-ons like A.J. Ouellette becoming heroes.
Ouellette rushed for 87 yards and 2 touchdowns in Ohio's 34-19 victory over the Eastern Illinois Panthers, despite exiting the game early in the third quarter. It's true that the Panther's defense wasn't exactly the '85 Bears, but it's still impressive to see a walk-on, true freshman climb his way up the depth chart into a starting spot and succeed.
Ouellette uses his height-perceived by many college recruiters to be a physical flaw- to his advantage. He breaks tackles by getting low to the ground, and the Panthers struggled to wrap up his legs, allowing him to gain yards after contact. He also showed off his speed, dusting the EIU defense on a 65-yard touchdown run. Ouellette was injured on the Bobcats' first drive of the second half, limping off the field on his own. Here's hoping the injury is not serious, as Ouellette should be exciting to watch down the stretch even if the Bobcats are not.
One player who deserves more credit for the Bobcats is quarterback J.D. Sprague. Sprague was behind center almost every play, and though his passing stats don't look great on paper- 15-for-28 for 143 yards and two interceptions- Sprague had his best performance of the season. His passes were either on target or close, although he has a tendency to leave his long passes in the air a bit too long (leading to those interceptions). Sprague also demonstrated that he's as much of a mobile QB as Derrius Vick, rushing for 69 yards and a pair touchdowns. His second touchdown was especially impressive, as Sprague darted back and forth, slipped out of tackles to avoid the sack and then raced to the outside for the score. I had my doubts about Sprague coming into the season, and this start does not erase them all. But it can be easy to forget that he's just a sophomore and he's following the greatest quarterback in school history.
As for the game details beyond these two players, Ohio took care of business. The Panthers threatened to put 7 on the board on their first drive, but the Bobcat defense held the line inside the 7 and EIU was forced to settle for a field goal. The Bobcat offense drove 78 yards on their first possession and responded with an Ouellette 1-yard touchdown run to take a lead they would not lose. It was 24-10 by halftime and the Panthers never seriously threatened again.