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Toledo Looks to Remain Perfect in the MAC on Thursday Evening

Legendary head coach, Frank Solich and the MAC East leading Ohio Bobcats invade the Glass Bowl on Thursday evening. The stadium will be rocking under the lights in some Midweek MACtion. Our Tom Mauter has the full preview.

Tom Mauter, staff writer, Rocket Digest, tjmauter@comcast.net

October 25, 2016

The path to the MAC Championship is going through Toledo . While the Rockets are tied for first in the MAC West with WMU, the top two MAC East teams begin back-to-back contests with Toledo over the next two Thursdays.

First up are the Bobcats of Ohio (5-3, 3-1) coming to the Glass Bowl. The following Thursday, the Rockets travel to Akron to take on the Zips (5-3, 3-1in InfoCision Stadium. I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. As Coach Candle always says, “it’s one game at a time.” And, as the Rocket players add, “every game is a playoff game.”

First, it is Coach Frank Solich’s rough and tough Bobcats facing the Rockets Thursday on national TV (CBS Sports Network, DTV: 221 DISH: 158 and ESPN3.) Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. ET.

Ohio on Defense

The foundation of the Bobcats is their defense. They have allowed an East division low of 194 points in eight games and a league low 68 points in four MAC contests.

Ohio’s strength begins up front in a 4-3 alignment. They lead the MAC and rank 6th nationally in sacks, 3.71 per game. That works out to 26 sacks in seven games. The Rockets have given up six sacks while the Bobcats have yielded eight QB sacks. 

OU is ranked 31st nationally in TFL, racking up 7.0 per game, third in the MAC. The Rockets are fourth in the MAC, averaging 6.8 TFL per game. The Bobcats lead the MAC in rushing defense allowing an average gain of 3.12 ypr and just 115.1 yards rushing per game. The Rockets are giving up less than 4.5 ypr and 146.7.0 yards per game. 

Senior DE Tarell Basham (6’4”, 262#) is having an All-MAC season with 10.0 TFL, 7.5 sacks, and five QB hurries. He has forced two fumbles, and broken up a pass and deflected another. Twenty of his 33 total tackles have been solo. Logan and the Rockets’ OL will have to keep tabs on #93 on every snap.

Opposite Basham, RS junior DE Kevin Robbins (6’4”, 246#) is having a stellar season with 5.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks. Add in two forced fumbles, a pass deflection and a pass break up and a pair of QB hurries, and this may be the most disruptive pair of defensive ends the Rockets have faced this year.

In between, NT RS junior Cleon Aloses (6’0”, 301#) and DT senior Casey Sayles (6’3”, 288#) have combined for 8.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks and 3.0 QB hurries.

Combined, this is a stout unit that is difficult to run against and likes to spend time in the opponents’ backfield.

The starting trio of six-foot linebackers are the top three tacklers for the Bobcats. OLB Blair Brown, the fastest of the group, tops OU in total tackles with 69, fifth best in the MAC. He also has 7.5 TFL, second to Basham, and a pair of sacks. Quentin Poling and Chad Moore have combined for 10.5 TFL and three sacks along with eight pass break ups, nine pass deflections and five QB hurries.

 The Achilles’ heel of the defense has been in pass coverage. Per Coach Stolich, “teams are about to move the ball on us . . . . They have been able to hit easy throws, and that is why the percentage is so high." The Bobcats rank 79th nationally and eight of 12 in the MAC in pass yardage allowed. They are giving up 238.9 yards per game via the pass including 16 TD passes. These stats improved factoring in the Kent State game with the Flashes completing a just dozen passes for 101 total yards.

The Bobcats have been hit with injuries at the safety position causing a platooning of defenders. The current three man rotation features strong safety Kylan Nelson, red shirt senior free safety Toran Davis, and redshirt freshman Javon Hagon, playing both free and strong safety. Tyler Tupa has moved from safety to CB to help with pass coverage. He did miss the KSU game due to an illness and is listed as questionable Thursday but was mention by Coach Solich in his Monday presser. CB Mayne Williams incurred a head injury in the Kent game and is also listed as questionable for the Toledo contest. The platooning keeps on happening.

Before you conjure up images of Logan Woodside going off for 500-plus passing yards, know that every OU defensive back has an interception with Hagan and Nelson having two each. Bobcats are tied for 20th nationally in INTs, third in the MAC behind Miami and CMU, with 10 picks each.  Then again, BYU is in a four-way tie for first in the nation with 14 picks. 

The other turnover factor – fumbles – favors the Bobcats too. OU is tied for eight in the nation with eight fumble recoveries along with 10 other teams including Kent State. Eastern leads the MAC with nine.

So does this look like a game where the Bobcats’ defensive will dominate? Not necessarily. Total yards allowed on defense by both schools are very close. OU is allowing 354.0 yards per game while the Rockets are averaging 357.1 ypg. 

I suggest the better offense will have the upper hand.

Ohio on Offense

The OU offensive scheme is not fooling anyone. The offense is predictable, and defenses know the Bobcats are going to run on most plays. Running the ball 335 times while going to the air on just 160 occasions makes the modus operandi clear - pound the ball on the ground, chewing up yardage and the clock.  They want Woodside and friends to spend time on the bench and, when on the field, have a long distance to cover making field position critical to Solich’s game plan.

Injuries have also been a problem at the running back position. Star back A.J. Ouellette played in only the opener and is out for the season with a foot injury. Maleek Irons incurred injuries, missing several games, requiring DB Bo Hardy to switch to running back. Things are now back to near normal.

Running backs Dorian Brown (5’11”, 207#) and Maleek Irons (6’0”, 224#) now give the Bobcats a potent 1-2 punch on the ground. Irons, back from injuries, is back to his fast and powerful form. In five games he has a team high four rushing touchdowns. Brown has a team best 5.7 ypc and leads all rushers with 428 yards. Papi White (5’9”, 171#) brings speed to the backfield along with being a good passing target. When the OL is in sync opening lanes, the ground game excels. When the O-line falters, the ground game dissipates. 

The Bobcats’ passing game hasn’t been much help, at least in three of OU’s last four MAC outings. HC Stolich made a change at starting quarterback in the Kent State game. Redshirt freshman Quinton Maxwell (6’3”, 223#), in his first collegiate start, replaced senior Greg Windham (6’1”, 215#).

Both QBs have seen playing time this year, with Windham starting the first seven games and Maxwell subbing in three contests before Saturday’s start.  Windham is the better runner while Maxwell has the stronger arm. While he is making good progress, from Stolich’s perspective, Maxwell lacks the experience and chemistry with his receivers. Still, he is completing 65.6% of his passes, connecting for three touchdowns with as many INTs.  To this point, his passing game has been short to mid-range with a long of 48 yards. Against the Golden Flashes he completed 11 of 19 passes for 127 yards and a pick. WR Sebastian Smith bailed Maxwell out with three one-handed catches out of his four receptions and 58 yards. 

WR Jordan Reid has 31 catches, second best to Smith’s 36 receptions. This senior pair of 6’3” wide receivers has combined for six of the Bobcats 11 touchdown catches. Third in receptions, with 18, is RB White who is a threat in the short passing game as well as being a risk deep.  White has two TDs on the ground and one through the air. RS freshman Kyle Belack is the fourth leading receiver with a touchdown among his 14 grabs. These four receivers are all averaging more that 11 yards per catch. 

Tight end Troy Mangen has a dozen catches good for 9.5 yards per grab and a TD. Another RS freshman, WR Elijah Ball has eleven receptions, a 11.5 ypr average and one touchdown. The only other receiver with double-digit receptions is RB Maleek Irons with ten catches for 65 total yards.

Ohio Special Teams 

The Bobcats are excelling in their punt game. OU ranks ninth in the nation and first in the MAC allowing just 29 yards of return yardage on 14 punt returns; that’s an average of 2.07 yards per return. The OU punt return yardage, on the other hand, has been limited. Papi White has averaged a bit more than one yard on a half a dozen punt returns.

Kyle Belack, has taken over returning kickoffs for OU. He has returned seven kickoffs for a 21.6 ypr average. The Rockets have one of the lowest averages on kickoff returns in the nation with just 16.68 yards per return (122 out of 128.)

In kickoff coverage, the Rockets are 21st in the nation, third in the MAC, yielding a bit more than 18 yards per return on 39 returns. The Bobcats are giving up an average of nearly 20.5 yards per kickoff return.

Bobcat punter Michael Farkas is averaging 41.5 yards per punt with 13 of 42 punts being fair caught. His punts are high affording good coverage.

Louie Zervos handles both kickoffs (one in ten go for touchbacks) and field goals, connecting on 17 of 21 with a long of 47 yards. He has been money inside the 20 yard line. Three of his misses have come from between the 20 and 30 yard line. From the 30 to 40 yard line he had been four of five. One field goal attempt has been blocked. He started this year making 13 of his first 14 attempts. In MAC play he has been four of six. 

Aside From The Kent Game

The Bobcats have struggled over the years against Kent State, particularly at Dix Stadium. Most of those years were against a Brian George coached defense.

Ohio’s motto is “No Limits” which has been tested by playing nine straight weeks without a bye week. And, of course, this is a short week with a travel day.

Players To Watch

  • #93 DE Tarell Basham who is playing as good of defense as any MAC player
  • #21 RB Maleek Irons and his ability to gain yards on the ground
  • #7 DB Javon Hagon, although a RS freshman, is improving every game 

What To Look For:

  • ·      OU to work hard to establish their running game.
  • ·      OU defense to focus on attacking the Toledo LOS
  • ·      Woodside to attack the secondary over the top
  • ·      If #10 CB Randy Stites, OU’s best cover back, is playing with air cast on his right hand; he was hurt in KSU game and did not return for second half with lower leg injury. His absence will only help the Rockets’ aerial assault
  • ·      Any affects from a first half, mid-section injury against Kent, on #7 Blair Bair’s play at LB position
  • ·      Speed edge rush from the defensive right side by #23 DB Kylan Nelson in passing situation
  • ·      Jon’Vea Johnson to have multiple receptions including a touchdown
  • ·      How well the OU linebackers perform in pass coverage as the three starters are 6’0” (with two reported elsewhere as 5’11”)
  • ·      #48 Louie Zervos to have multiple field goal attempts
  • ·      How well the Rockets’ O-line handles the Bobcats front four will go a long way determining Toledo’s success
  • ·      Bobcats to record multiple sacks against Woodside
  • ·      Rockets to continue pressure on Ohio QB that was on display against Cooper Rush
  • ·      #7 QB Maxwell to look to move his feet around rapidly looking to run in reaction to Toledo pressure and containment
  • ·      Maxwell deep throws to be few and primarily down the sidelines
  • ·      Rockets streak of creating turnovers to continue
  • ·      Hunt to be limited to less than 100 yards on the ground for second straight game

Game Weather Conditions 

Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE

  • Temps in the lower 40s with 87% humidity with winds WNW 10 to 15 mph; 10% chance of rain.

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