Ohio U defense

They call third down "money down," and Ohio University's opponents certainly cashed in last fall.

The 2008 Bobcats allowed their 12 foes to convert on a whopping 48 percent of their third-down opportunities. That's probably because OU's pass defense was pretty lame. Opponents completed a sizzling 59.6 percent of their passes last season.

The Bobcats were especially weak with their backs to the goal line. They allowed opponents to score on 89 percent of their forays into the red zone (39 times on 44 trips). That number is even uglier when you consider that 29 of those 39 scores were touchdowns. That means OU foes found the end zone 66 percent of the time that they reached the 20-yard line.

Basically, Ohio University's defense was a true enigma last fall. It allowed 42 points against Western Michigan and 41 against Akron but limited powerful Ohio State to 26.

The Bobcats allowed 348.6 total yards per game for the season, yet limited the Buckeyes to 272. Moreover, Ohio U led OSU 14-6 in the third quarter last September and might've won the game if not for a putrid performance by the Bobcat passing game (13 of 34 for 109 yards with four interceptions).

In truth, Ohio State was the first team to capitalize on an OU shortcoming that would prove to be a disastrous problem all season - fourth-quarter fades. Ohio U allowed just 54 points last season but allowed 111 fourth-quarter points. Clearly, the Bobcats' lack of depth caught up with them in the final period on a lot of occasions.

Whether head coach Frank Solich (formerly of Nebraska) can solve that issue remains to be seen. Regardless, he returns his top three tacklers from the 4-8 team of 2008.

Linebacker Noah Keller (6-1, 232) is back after recording a team-high 104 stops in '08. Linebacker Lee Renfro (5-10, 214) returns after registering 83 tackles to rank second on the team. Safety Steven Jackson (6-2, 192) is back after registering 71 stops, two interceptions and four pass breakups.

Unfortunately for Ohio U, the fourth-leading tackler of 2008 is gone. That would be safety Michael Mitchell, a guy with linebacker size (6-1, 220) and sprinter speed (4.39) who was the second-round pick of the Oakland Raiders last April.

The Bobcats boast three dangerous return men in Brazill (16.5-yard average on punt returns), Garrett (26.9-yard average on kickoff returns) and L.J. Flintall (28.3-yard average on 13 KO returns).

Bottom line: Ohio University's defense had an up-and-down season in 2008, so trying to project how good the Bobcats' stop unit will be in '09 is an exercise in futility.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories