Before each Minnesota football game, GopherDigest will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with Ohio beat writer Charlie Hatch of The Post (Athens, Ohio) to preview the Gophers' Week 4 home game against the 3-0 Ohio Bobcats.
1) Ohio is undefeated to start the 2015 season with a 3-0 record that includes an impressive home win over Marshall. How big of a surprise is it with this start to the season and what have you learned about this team through three games?
CH: You get different opinions depending on who you ask about the undefeated start. Ask a football player and they’ll say there was never a doubt. Personally, I predicted Marshall to beat Ohio. But midway through the game it was evident that the Bobcats are legitimately a solid team, at least in comparison with most of the teams on the schedule.
2) What kind of offense does Kent State run and who are the playmakers to watch? It appears that Ohio uses to quarterbacks.
CH: Ohio entered the season using two quarterbacks—Derrius Vick and JD Sprague—but Sprague got hurt on the final scoring drive against Marshall. So Vick played most of Ohio’s 35-14 win Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana, when he threw for a career-high 327 yards. It doesn’t look like Sprague will dress Saturday, so it’ll be Vick under center in Minneapolis.
3) WR Brendan Cope is averaging over 25 yards a catch, how much of a weapon has he been?
CH: The receiving corps for Ohio is weird. There’s not necessarily a “go-to” guy, which coach Frank Solich likes. Brendan Cope might haul in a decent amount of receptions for a series or two, but then not have any targets for a chunk of possession. Sebastian Smith gets a decent amount of targets, as well as tight end Keith Heitzman. There’s not exactly one receiver to lock down and contain.
4) What are the strengths of the Bobcat defense and who are a few names to keep an eye on for the game this Saturday?
CH: Ohio’s defense is definitely the team’s strongest unit. I’d say a lot of that comes from its ability to adapt to the offense it lines up against. So if Minnesota pack the offensive line in with tight ends, expect the Bobcats to stack the box. Linebacker Quentin Poling seems to be a presence, even if he isn’t involved on a tackle or a pass breakup. Ian Wells is Ohio’s No. 1 corner, who can stuff receivers at the line, which might force an opposing QB to check off receivers. LB Jovon Johnson has been hurt the past two weeks, but he’ll be a huge addition if he’s fit to play.
5) What are the keys for Ohio if they're going to beat the Gophers and what's your prediction for the Minnesota vs. Ohio game and why?
CH: I think the Bobcats need long drives resulting in points. Kent State couldn’t do that last week, but Ohio isn’t Kent State. The Bobcats have a three-headed running attack. They have options on routes. The defense is pretty consistent, so if the offense can play it’s part, that’s Ohio’s best shot.
Prediction: 27-17, Minnesota. Ohio coach Frank Solich said the majority of teams in college football have setbacks. This might be Ohio's first bump.