Saturday, Sept. 18
Noon ET, Big Ten Network
Ohio Stadium; Columbus
Coming off of a Mid-American Conference East Division title and the school's second bowl game in four years, head coach Frank Solich thought Ohio was on the verge of something big coming into the season.
"I believe there's a feeling on campus and in Athens that the program is positioning itself to be good year after year, and that's our goal," he said. "But above and beyond that is not just to be good year after year, we feel it's time now for our program to step up, win a conference championship, win a bowl game and end things on a very high note."
Unfortunately for Solich, the Bobcats might not yet have gotten over last year's season-ending funk in which OU lost the MAC title game to Central Michigan and then fell to Marshall in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl.
Though Ohio got off to a good start by beating Wofford at home, last week was a disaster. Projected to finish second in the MAC East, Ohio got off to a bad start in conference play with a home loss to Toledo, 20-13.
"Clearly one of the poorer ball games we've played in some time," Solich said. "We can all share in the blame a little bit. We didn't have our players prepared the way they needed to be."
Next up is Ohio State, a team the Bobcats have not beaten in six tries. However, Solich has an admirer in OSU head coach Jim Tressel, who expects a dogfight on Saturday.
"Ohio University is a reflection of Frank Solich," Tressel said. "He's hard-working, tough, disciplined. They're going to have fundamentals. I'll bet you two-thirds of his staff, maybe more, has been with him all six years. Even a couple of guys were there two or three years before him, so there's been great continuity and he fosters that environment, the people enjoy what they're doing there and they believe in their program.
"His entire playing and coaching life he's been around excellence, and I don't know how many coaches can win 75 percent of their games and all of a sudden not have a job, but he's been around excellence and he's one of the real good ones."
Head coach: Frank Solich, sixth year, 33-32 at Ohio (91-51 overall)
2009 record: 9-5 (7-1, 1st Mid-American Conference East)
Series mark: Ohio State leads 6-0
School location: Athens, Ohio
Colors: Hunter Green and White
Stadium: Peden Stadium
Fight song: "Stand Up and Cheer"
Ohio Players To Watch
QB Boo Jackson: Ohio State kept Jackson in check during the team's 2008 clash, limiting him to 9 completions in 25 attempts, but learned firsthand the JUCO transfer has playmaking abilities as evidenced by his seven carries for 55 yards in that game. Jackson is at his best when he can improvise but must cut down on interceptions, as he threw three vs. OSU in '08 and on Sept. 11 against Toledo.
WR LaVon Brazill: Brazill missed the opener against Wofford but was back for the second game, a boon for OU. He's on the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, a new honor given each year to the most versatile player in college football. Brazill caught 53 passes last year and returned three punts for touchdowns, which should put the Buckeyes on red alert.
DE Dak Notestine: He was one of the top defensive ends in the Mid-American Conference last year with 65 tackles and three forced fumbles, and a camp injury hasn't slowed him down this year. Notestine has 13 stops, including 1½ for loss, so far in 2010. The former walk-on is a second generation Bobcat, as his father Tim played football at OU as well.
LB Noah Keller: Solich, formerly the head man at Nebraska, made quite a coup when he grabbed Keller from his old stomping grounds of Kearney, Neb. Keller has been a four-year contributor and piled up 155 tackles a season ago. He can also make big plays, as evidenced by three forced fumbles, three sacks, an interception and a blocked kick over the past 16 games.
"He's a good player," Ohio State left guard Justin Boren said. "He's a physical linebacker. I know he's on a lot of preseason teams. He's definitely a good player. He is physical, real physical. He's going to meet you in the hole and he's going to hit you."
Sept. 4, Wofford, W 33-10
Sept. 11, Toledo, L 20-13
QB 8 Boo Jackson, 6-1, 205/5 Phil Bates, 6-2, 226
TB 26 Vince Davidson, 5-11, 194
F-WR 15 Riley Dunlop, 6-2, 191
X-WR 11 Terrence McCrae, 6-4, 198
Z-WR 7 LaVon Brazill, 5-11, 191
TE 88 Jordan Thompson, 6-4, 247
LT 79 A.J. Strum, 6-5, 293
LG 64 Vince Carlotta, 6-4, 302
C 65 Skyler Allen, 6-3, 290
RG 77 Eric Herman, 6-4, 317
RT 78 Joe Flading, 6-4, 290
DE 51 Dak Notestine, 6-3, 261
NG 62 Marcellis Williamson, 6-1, 327
DT 95 Ernie Hodge, 6-2, 290
DE 36 Stafford Gatling, 6-4, 249
WLB 30 Eric Benjamin, 5-11, 220
MLB 47 Noah Keller, 6-1, 245
SLB 46 Alphonso Lewis, 6-1, 206
CB 9 Julian Posey, 5-11, 187
SS 13 Gerald Moore, 6-1, 201
FS 42 Steven Jackson, 6-2, 201
CB 18 Travis Carrie, 6-0, 203
PK 49 Matt Weller, 6-0, 208
P 41 Paul Hershey, 6-3, 198
KR 9 Julian Posey, 5-11, 87/16 Ryan Clark, 5-9, 169
PR 7 Lavon Brazill, 5-11, 191/18 Travis Carrie, 6-0, 203
Five Fast Facts:
1. If the Bobcats can beat Ohio State, it would not only be Ohio's first win in seven tries against the Buckeyes, it would be the 500th victory in program history.
2. With 33 wins, Solich is tied for fourth on the program's all-time victories list with Jim Grobe (1995-2000), who is now at Wake Forest. Don Peden, the namesake of the team's football stadium, is first with 121 wins from 1924-46. The next person Solich would catch is Carroll Widdoes, who won 42 games at OU from 1949-57. Widdoes was 16-2 as Ohio State's coach in 1944 and '45.
3. OU has 34 non-offensive touchdowns since the start of the 2004 season, the last being Julian Posey's fumble return score in the team's opening win against Wofford.
4. The team captains are all on the defensive side of the ball in linemen Dak Notestine and Stafford Gatling, linebacker Noah Keller (a two-time captain) and defensive back Donovan Fletcher.
5. Founded in 1804, one year after Ohio became a state, OU is the oldest university in the Northwest Territory and the ninth oldest public school in the United States.
Offensive Personnel Report
For the first time since facing Navy to open the 2009 season, Ohio State will take on a team that runs the option.
"Anytime a team has the option in their game, they make you be very sound in what you do," OSU linebackers coach Luke Fickell said. "A lot of times, the spread is a great equalizer for spreading the field and getting people into space and doing some things, but the option is the same way. It always is a stress to you."
But while Navy is as proficient as it gets at running the ball, Ohio has struggled on the ground the past two seasons. The Bobcats also couldn't get much going through the air last year, so the team finished 10th in the MAC in total offense.
Things didn't get much better as OU committed four turnovers and was held to 183 of offense during last week's loss to Toledo.
"What we tried did not work," Solich said. "We wanted to have a better running game, but that never materialized tonight."
Trying to help out the running game, the Bobcats have a pair of mobile quarterbacks in Phil Bates and Franshaw "Boo" Jackson.
"Boo can give you the great scrambling ability, and he has outstanding vision of seeing receivers and running backs open downfield and hitting them for big plays," Solich said. "Phil is the best runner of the group, and he has a chance every time he's running the ball to take it the distance."
Ohio State fans will remember Jackson, the JUCO transfer who stepped in for an injured Theo Scott vs. the Buckeyes in 2008 and made a number of plays with his arm and legs before his three interceptions helped doom the Bobcats. He then became the team's starter for 2008, throwing for 2,355 yards to place second in the OU single-season chart, before hurting his shoulder two games into 2009 and taking a medical redshirt.
This year, the senior split time with Bates in the opener before playing the whole of the Toledo game. For the year, he has completed 24 of 39 passes (61.5 percent) for 234 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions while running for 34 yards and a score.
Bates is an Iowa State transfer who started the season opener before suffering a thumb injury. He is only 1 of 5 passing for 4 yards and has rushed six times for 48 yards.
The running back position has been a bane of OU's existence since record-setting back Kalvin McRae, a three-time All-MAC pick, left school after the 2007 season. The Bobcats ran for only 112.0 yards per game last year, which placed 102nd in the nation.
Compounding the problem, leading rusher Chris Garrett graduated after the season, leaving Vince Davidson as the top returning rusher with 260 yards.
The senior from Dayton, N.J., struggled getting untracked against Toledo, toting the ball 12 times for 22 yards. For the year, he has 29 rushes for 92 yards, an average of 3.2 yards per carry.
His top backup, redshirt freshman Ryan Boykin, motored for 61 yards and a touchdown on nine carries in the opening win, but the 6-1, 221-pounder did not have a carry against Toledo.
Junior Donte Harden (5-11, 182) scored a touchdown vs. OSU in 2008 and had 237 yards last year but has been suspended for the opening six games for a violation of team rules.
Ohio's base offense includes a three wideout set, which works out because the team boasts three solid options even after the graduation of NFL draft pick Taylor Price.
"It takes a lot of pressure off of all of us and as a quarterback you want to have that go-to guy," Jackson said. "We have a guy who can go up and get it in Terrence McRae, one of the lethal weapons in the MAC. We have great possession receivers in LaVon Brazill and Riley Dunlop."
Brazill is a returning second-team All-MAC choice and seems ticketed for an NFL chance like Price. After making 53 catches for 702 yards and six scores last season, the junior missed the first game with an injury but returned against Toledo to make six grabs for 25 yards.
McCrae, meanwhile, was a big-play option last year, hauling in 35 passes for 545 yards (a 15.6-yard average) and nine touchdowns. This year the senior has four grabs for 36 yards.
Dunlop, a junior, has stepped up to lead the squad with five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown through two games.
Adding depth, senior Steven Goulet (6-2, 193) has four catches for 29 yards. Sophomore Bakari Bussey (6-2, 206), the son of former Cincinnati Bengal Barney Bussey, has two catches for 35 yards, while redshirt freshman Mario Dovell (6-0, 200) of Columbus Whetstone has one grab for 12 yards.
Sophomore tight end Jordan Thompson has one catch for 12 yards, one year after making seven catches for 109 yards.
Solich says the offensive line has potential, but four false starts in the loss to Toledo on the heels of two against Wofford has drawn his ire. Three starters return in right guard Eric Herman, right tackle Joe Flading and left tackle A.J. Strum.
Strum has moved to left tackle this year in his junior campaign from left guard, but he's allowed three sacks and two QB pressures so far. Herman is back at right guard after starting 11 games last year as a redshirt freshman, and he's joined on the right side by Flading, a junior who was third-team All-MAC last year.
Sophomore Skyler Allen has taken over as the team's starting center and has the best grade of the offensive linemen through two games. Sophomore Vince Carlotta is the new left guard after getting his feet wet last year.
Defensive Personnel Report
Defense continues to be a calling card for Ohio. The Bobcats caused 37 turnovers last year, tied for the most in the nation with Texas, and placed second in the MAC and 28th in the nation with 21.3 points allowed per game.
The Bobcats have continued to excel, allowing an average of 216.0 yards per game in the first two contests to place ninth in the nation in that category.
"From watching film over the course of last season and the last couple of games, they really play as a unit," OSU quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano said. "They play hard. They go from whistle to whistle and they really fly hard to the football."
Part of the success has to do with Ohio's deep and talented defensive line that has three players back who started every game and another in Stafford Gatling who did so in the last eight contests. Overall, the Bobcats go eight deep along the front, much like Ohio State.
"They go real deep with the defensive line," fullback Zach Boren said. "They rotate and keep guys fresh in there all the time."
The biggest disrupter of the group is end Dak Notestine. The senior made 65 tackles, 6½ sacks and three forced fumbles last year, and he's continued to make plays in 2010 with 1½ tackles for loss among his 13 tackles in two games.
Stafford Gatling starts on the other side, and the senior is following up a year in which he had 45 stops and 7½ TFL with 12 stops and 1½ tackles for loss this year.
The backups will make their presence felt as well. Ohio is happy have the services of 6-2, 254-pound junior Curtis Meyers – who recovered a fumble for a touchdown against Ohio State in '08 – back after he missed last year. A starter before the injury, Meyers has six tackles this year. Another reserve, sophomore Tremayne Scott (6-4, 247) has five stops.
Fifth-year seniors Marcellis Williamson and Ernie Hodge hold down the starting tackle spots. Williamson is a hole plugger at nose guard who already has nine tackles after 46 along with two fumble recoveries last year, while Hodge is backing up a 48-tackle campaign in which he was chosen as third-team All-MAC with five this year including a TFL.
Sophomore backup Carl Jones (6-0, 245) has already made seven tackles with a fumble recovery, while sophomore Neal Huynh, a 6-3, 288-pounder, has four stops.
Noah Keller is the unquestioned leader at linebacker after he posed a team-high 155 tackles last year to earn second-team All-MAC honors. The premed major added nine tackles for loss to go with two forced fumbles and an interception.
"Not too many players are able to have the kind of career that Noah has had," Solich said. "He's a complete player. As a two-time captain for us, his leadership showed up immediately."
To start his senior year, Keller has 20 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.
On the outside, OU must replace starters Lee Renfro, a first-team All-MAC choice, and Errik Ejike. Those jobs have fallen to junior Eric Benjamin on the weak side and sophomore Alphonso Lewis on the strong side.
Both got some time last year, as Benjamin picked up 30 tackles while the 6-1, 206-pound Lewis had 20. This year, Benjamin, a Grove City, Ohio, native, has 11 stops thus far while Lewis has posted four along with two TFL.
In addition, senior Chad Clemens (5-11, 220) has 11 tackles, while sophomore reserve Jelani Woseley (6-2, 205) has a fumble recovery.
Moving to the secondary, there will be a Posey family showdown Saturday. While OSU boasts junior standout DeVier Posey, OU will counter with his brother Julian. A senior cornerback, Posey has moved into the starting lineup his senior year and has four tackles, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery he took to the house while DeVier was present in the stands.
His opposite number, sophomore Travis Carrie, has four tackles with a pass breakup. Senior Shannon Ballard (5-11, 185) got the start against Toledo as the nickel back and made four stops, including a half tackle for loss.
Sophomore Gerald Moore, who made six interceptions last season as a first-year player to make the MAC's third team, is one of the keys to the secondary, but he missed the Toledo contest with a foot injury. Moore is yet to compile a statistic this year.
Senior Steven Jackson – who was a starter at the beginning of last year before Moore took the job – keeps a steady hand at the back, and he has 12 tackles and a pass breakup on the year. Senior Donovan Fletcher (6-0, 196) started in Moore's place vs. Toledo and has eight tackles and an interception so far, while senior Hilton Dawson III (6-0, 204) has five stops and a forced fumble.
The Bobcats' opening opponent, Wofford, threw only four passes and completed zero, while Toledo was 13 of 20 for 110 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.