2014 CFN Preview - Ohio Bobcats
Ohio WR Chase Cochran
Ohio WR Chase Cochran
Posted Jul 9, 2014

Preview 2014 - Can the Bobcats reload and finally win a MAC title under Frank Solich? (Getty Images)

Ohio Bobcats

Preview 2014

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-  2014 Ohio Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

- VOD: Previews & Breakdowns on Campus Insiders

By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Frank Solich
10th year: 66-50
16th year overall: 124-69
Returning Lettermen
Off: 16, Def: 24, ST 5
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Bobcat Players
1. DE Tarell Basham, Soph.
2. CB Devin Bass, Jr.
3. LB Ben Russell, Jr.
4. S Josh Kristoff, Sr.
5. QB Derrius Vick, Jr.
6. OG Mike Lucas, Jr.
7. DT Cameron McLeod, Sr.
8. PK Josiah Yazdani, Jr.
9. RB Maleek Irons, Fr.
10. WR Chase Cochran, Sr.
2014 Schedule
Aug. 30 at Kent State
Sep. 6 Kentucky
Sep. 13 at Marshall
Sep. 20 Idaho
Sep. 27 Eastern Illinois
Oct. 4 at Central Michigan
Oct. 11 Bowling Green
Oct. 18 Akron
Oct. 25 at Western MIchigan
Nov. 5 Buffalo
Nov. 18 Northern Illinois
Nov. 25 at Miami Univ.
Frank Solich has carved out a nice niche in Athens. It might not be a spectacular run – there haven’t been any MAC titles since his arrival in 2005 – but Ohio has won three East titles and has earned enough respect to get to five straight bowl games and six in the last eight years. Can there be a little bit more of a boost to finally win a championship?

Everything appeared to be close to in place last season after coming up with a terrific 2012, but it was a disappointing 7-6 campaign that went deep into the tank losing four of the last five games and getting blown away by Buffalo, Bowling Green and Kent State by a grand total of 123 to 16 just when November was kicking into high gear. But it was still a winning season, and Ohio was still solid. Can it become great?

The rushing game has to become a factor again, but top backs Beau Blankenship and Ryan Boykin are gone. The passing game has to be more dangerous and more efficient, but quarterback Tyler Tettleton is done and all-star receiver Donte Foster is gone. The defense has to give up fewer big plays despite losing two key starters in the secondary, and the offensive line has to be stronger despite needing to replace the right side and three starters.

So why is Ohio poised and ready to become an even bigger factor and challenge for the East title?

The defensive front should jell into something terrific with all four starters back on the young line and six of the front seven back. Yeah, the secondary loses corner Travis Carrie and safety Xavier Hughes, but Devin Bass and Josh Kristoff have all-star potential.

The running game might have an instant star in Canadian freshman Maleek Irons, Derrius Vick is poised and ready to become the face of the program at quarterback, and there’s just enough talent at receiver to help out Chase Cochran and be fine. Throw in all-star kicker Josiah Yazdani, and all of a sudden, the Bobcats might need to be considered among the MAC favorites.

Akron might be the rising team in the East, Bowling Green is the defending champion, and Buffalo is still dangerous, but Ohio is lurking. Under Solich, it’s been proven the program will maintain a level of dependability. This year, it might be far more than just okay.

What to watch for on offense: The running game needs to be far more consistent. The line did a decent job in pass protection and keeping teams from getting into the backfield, but it failed to get things moving on a consistent basis after gaining over 2,000 yards three years in a row – rushing for 2,749 yards in 2011 and 2,643 in 2012 – but struggling with 1,742 yards and just 16 scores last season, averaging under four yards per carry. When Ohio ran for 200 yards or more, it was 4-0 and is 22-2 under Solich over the last for seasons when hitting the mark. Without Beau Blankenship and Ryan Boykin to run the ball – the top two backs last year – it’s going to take some rebuilding to be Ohio again.

What to watch for on defense: The defensive front seven should be fantastic. Last year it did a great job of getting behind the line from all angles and all sides, and now the potential is there to be even stronger with six starters back only losing linebacker Keith Moore – he was good, but he’s not irreplaceable. This is an aggressive D as is, and now it needs to be better against the run and not just disruptive. Why did Ohio stink over the final month? The defense couldn’t come up with stops, allowing 200 rushing yards or more in six of the final eight games. Blown off the ball up front and allowing way too many big, gashing plays. Being physical is the goal from the start, but the Bobcats should make up for several problems with big plays.

The team will be far better if … the offense can start hanging on to the ball a bit more and the defense can get off the field sooner. Time of possession matters for a Bobcat offense that likes to try to grind it out and run well, but that was a problem last year and it showed, holding the ball for a paltry 27:12 a game. Part of the problem was the defense’s inability to come up with enough third down stops, allowing teams to convert 44% of their chances and 57% of their fourth down opportunities. It was bad from the start, with Louisville converting 13-of-16 third down tries. However, this has always been a bit of a problem for the Bobcats – the difference last year was that the offense that didn’t pick up the slack.

The schedule: The Bobcats kick off MAC play in August with an opening day showdown at Kent State, and that starts a run of three straight road games going to Kentucky and Marshall before finally getting a home game – and an easy one. If all goes according to plan, this should be when the big wins come with four home games in five weeks and seven in nine games before closing out at Miami University. There’s Northern Illinois to deal with from the West, but there’s two weeks off to prepare and the game is at home, and there’s no Toledo to worry about. Overall, it’s not a bad schedule with Bowling Green at home and the conference road games all winnable – the slate can’t be an excuse if this isn’t a great year.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Derrius Vick. At least the hope is that he’ll be the team’s best offensive weapon, because he needs to be. There are some nice players on the line, and Chase Cochran is a good receiver, but it’s Vick who has the athleticism and talent to become the reason the Ohio comes up with a great season. No, he’s not related to anyone else named Vick, but he’s a great runner and an improving passer. With Tyler Tettleton gone it’s Vick’s offense to run, and he should be ready for the opportunity.

Best defensive player: Sophomore DE Tarell Basham. Rarely do you get a superstar pass rusher as a true freshman, but Basham turned out to be a perfect fit right away with a team-leading 7.5 sacks and the speed and ability to generate great pressure on a regular basis. A pure pass rusher, he takes the pressure off of the rest of the line, and with all four starters returning, and the attention Basham will receive, Kurt Laseak will benefit, and the veteran tackles in the interior should have an easier time.

Key player to a successful season: Freshman RB Maleek Irons. All of the pressure is on Vick, but the Bobcats’ biggest concern is at running back. Daz’mond Patterson will be a part of the rotation, and there are other options like Dorian Brown who’ll get a chance, but the hope is for Irons, a true freshman, to be everything he’s advertised to be. The Canadian star is big, tough, and really, really fast with all the tools to be fantastic right out of the box. There’s a chance he’ll be a 1,000-yard back in his first season if he’s fed the ball enough.

The season will be a success if … Ohio wins the East. There might not be quite enough to win the conference title, but it’s an attainable goal. With a favorable schedule getting all the big games at home – the toughest conference road game is at Central Michigan – and with so many home dates in a row, it’s all there for the taking. The defense has to be tougher, and the offense needs the new skill guys to rock right away, but there’s just enough overall talent to be in the championship mix.

Key game: Oct. 11 vs. Bowling Green. If you want to be the MAC champion, you have to beat the MAC champion – or something like that. Last year, with a chance to make a big statement and get back into the race, Ohio got erased 49-0 at Bowling Green. The Bobcats won three in a row in the series before losing the last two, and with the Falcons having to come to Athens, the spotlight will be on. The winner won’t lock up the East – there’s still more than half of the conference season yet to play – but it’ll play a big role in the outcome.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Penalties: Opponents 99 for 912 yards – Ohio 74 for 712 yards
- Sacks: Ohio 36 for 194 yards – Opponents 19 for 150 yards
- Punt Return Average: Ohio 9.6 yards – Opponents 4.5 yards

-  2014 Ohio Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players