Another Cat by the Tail

After a setback in the season and home opener against the PAC 10's Arizona Wildcats, Toledo has no time to dwell on the loss. This Saturday the open the conference season with a stiff road test against the Ohio Bobcats. Read on for "My View" by Rocket Digest Reporter Tom Mauter, a preview of the Toledo/Ohio football game.

While Bobcats are called Felis rufus or Wildcats, there's a significant difference between the Arizona and Ohio varieties.

The Wildcats proved to be everything I thought they would be and more last Friday. The Bobcats, while 33-10 winners over the FCS Wofford Terriers, are still a work in progress. And the work may be a bit more of a struggle with starting QB Phil Bates questionable for Saturday's game. Bates, the Iowa State transfer, injured his left thumb (non-throwing hand) early in the first half and did not play again.

While this year's team may not have all the Xs and Os figured out, their attitude is in place. Head Coach Frank Solich has the Bobcats thinking MAC East title and aiming for their third bowl game since his arrival in 2005.

OU Offense – Whether Phil Bates returns to the line-up Saturday or Boo Jackson continues at QB, the threat of the run matches the pass. Both quarterbacks are excellent scramblers, as well as gifted runners. While both are adequate passers, neither Bobcat QB will be mistaken for Nick Flores. Against the Terriers, Jackson had more rushes (nine) than pass completions (seven.) In total, the OU duo completed 8 of 19 passes with an INT. Coming into the fall the OU receiving corps was highly praised by Solich as being "as good as any in the conference." That was before last year's leading receiver and pre-season Hornung Award Watch List candidate WR LaVon Brazill sustained an injury. Brazill missed the opener against Wofford with a leg injury and is questionable for this week's game against the Rockets.

Senior wide receiver Terrence McCrae (6'4", 198#) had 35 catches last year for 545 yds (15.6 ypc) and senior Steven Goulet (6'2", 193#) tallied 21 receptions for 11.0 ypc. Junior Riley Dunlop (6'2", 191#) had 12 catches for 10.2 ypc. Sophomore Bakari Bussey (6'2", 206#) rounds out a sound group of wide outs. Last season McCrae was the go-to-guy in the red-zone, nabbing a team-leading nine TD receptions.

With eight total receptions in the opener, it was the OU ground game that provided the offensive punch. This was a question mark coming into this season, as the Bobcats finished 11th rushing in the MAC last year. Vince Davidson (5'11", 194#, 3.9 ypc, 1 TD in 2009) is Ohio's leading returning rusher. Behind Davidson, OU has little experience at RB. In the fall camp, Bobcat coaches spoke highly of running backs Ryan Boykin (6'1, 221#) and Dallas Brown (6'0", 205#). Coach Solich described Boykin, a redshirt freshman, as a "physical, physical runner," while he described Brown, a junior transfer from Arizona Western College, as being a "quick and tough runner." Their performance in the opener did not disappoint OU fans. Brown and Boykin averaged an identical 6.8 ypc on a combined 14 carries and a TD each. Davidson rushed 17 times for a 4.1 ypc average.

The key to making any offense work is the play of the offensive line. "I think we have a good offensive line," said Solich. "We have a physical group capable of really playing well . . . . If they play well, we are going to have a good chance of having a running game." The line has yet to prove itself as a top tier MAC OL. Their leader is RT Joe Flading, a candidate for post-season MAC honors. A.J. Strum, with one year as a starter, has moved from LG to LT.

OU Defense – The 2009 Bobcats made a living creating turnovers. The Bobcats had three takeaways against the Terriors, two by the special teams on punt coverage. DE Nak Notestine and DT Ernie Hodge lead the Bobcats up front in their 4-3 scheme. The trio at linebacker are led by standout Noah Keller, the MAC leader in tackles last year. The secondary fields two solid safeties led by standout Sophomore strong safety Gerald Moore, second in the MAC in INT's, and free safety Steven Jackson.

The triple option offense of Wofford proved troublesome for OU. The Bobcats performed well every other quarter against a team that threw the ball four times, with zero completions. The Bobcats gave up 220 yards (4.3 ypc) on the ground but had four pass breaks ups – that 100% stat might be a NCAA single game record.

OU Special Teams – Punt coverage improved in the opener, as it was one of the worse in the nation last year. Coverage may have been helped by a dismal 27.7 punting average by Paul Hershey. A muffed punt by Wofford was turned into a 38 yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Julian Posey, to open the scoring. Posey also returns kickoffs, while fellow CB Travis Carrie handled punt returns in place of injuried LaVon Brazill. Place kicker Matt Weller made a MAC best 21 of 29 field goals last year. He was 2-for-2 in the opener, but did miss one PAT on four attempts.

What To Look For – The Rockets offensive line will ignite a balanced run/pass attack and get the Toledo offense on track. This unit is too talented not to perform well in Athens.

The Rocket defense will build on the successes it had Saturday, particularly during the first half. Look for at least one Blue and Gold INT.

Both teams will play a short to mid range game on offense, favoring long drives over quick strike scores.

Boo Jackson's legs will be as important as his passing arm, yet he will be sacked at least twice with Alex Johnson getting one of those.

OU's habit of generating turnovers, alas, will continue forcing at least one Rocket fumble. That turnover will be matched by a Rocket takeaway.

Austin Dantin and the Rocket offense, in his words, "are very close to being great." Close, as the saying goes, comes into play in horseshoes, dancing and hand grenades. Well things blew up in the opener. It's time for Austin to dance with his stars under the lights in Athens.

Live Internet video coverage is available via All-MACcess for $7.95 with a 7:00 pm (ET) start.

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