For the final time this season we cross over enemy lines to get our opponent’s take on UAB’s upcoming game. James Jimenez of SB Nation’s Hustle Belt gave us the down low on the Ohio Bobcats.
In looking at both Ohio and UAB’s seasons, one could assume both teams feel like they left a few wins on the field. How motivated do you think the Bobcats will be for this bowl knowing they were very close to playing in the MAC championship and possibly a higher profile bowl?
That’s really a difficult question to answer. I haven’t really seen a lot of excitement for this bowl from an Ohio standpoint, though part of that is because of the particular bowl selection, not so much the match-up. If you look at the expectations for the Bobcats prior to the start of the season, they weren’t supposed to be here. The loss to Akron was perhaps the most perplexing of the losses the Bobcats took; they’re a lot better team than the record indicates, but at times, I feel like the pressure of not winning a MAC championship since 1967 gets to them.
That said, Ohio is really competitive in bowl games recently and I think they’ll be ready to play the villain to UAB’s fairytale story to try and get a monkey off their back. They haven’t won a bowl game since the 2012 Independence Bowl vs. ULM, so they’ll be ready to play once the whistle sounds.
What’s the status of Ohio’s backfield injuries and how do you think it could shape the outcome of this game?
The backfield should be completely healthy coming into this game, but with limited media availability leading up to the game, it’ll be hard to predict. AJ Ouelette, your likely starter for the Bobcats, is a power back who loves contact. He’s accumulated 980 yards on 184 carries for seven rushing touchdowns on the year, averaging 5.3 yards per game. Dorian Brown, his primary backup, is the change-of-pace back, using his speed and running awareness to fool defenses. Brown actually has as many touchdowns as Ouelette on the ground (seven) on only 84 carries, picking up 605 yards in 11 games. Julian Ross, who had some promise in garbage time carries, and Dylan Wears could also get some looks, while receiver Papi White Jr. will be a threat on jet sweeps and reverses.
Oh, and don’t forget Nathan Rourke (aka Air Canada), who has an astounding 21 rushing touchdowns from the quarterback spot.
The Bobcats’ Pistol offense is predicated on forcing the defense to make commitments quickly, so if they choose wrong and Ohio finds a hot hand, it could be a long day for the Blazers.
Given both teams like to run the ball, how do you think Ohio will fare against a big, fast UAB defensive front?
Ohio has struggled against teams who focus on stopping the run on defense in the past, and that really does affect the rest of the playbook. The offensive line has actually fared pretty well this season and I think it’ll be a good match-up in the trenches. But I’m not sure if Ohio has seen a defense this big since its game vs. Purdue earlier in the season. I’ll be watching for how the line blocks UAB in the first and third quarters to get a gauge on how the game is going, since that’s how the game will likely be won or lost.
What’s an aspect of the Bobcat’s game that you feel may not get enough attention whether it be on the offensive or defensive side of the ball?
The play action pass. When the run game gets going, the Pistol offense can be extremely deadly, due to the nature of the formation. Rourke has shown great ability as a true dual-threat option, with 2,900 total yards and 36 total touchdowns on the season. He isn’t afraid to throw the ball down the field and is generally pretty careful with the ball, throwing only seven interceptions in 12 appearances (he took over starting duties in week four, but played in every game.)
Papi White Jr. is a speedster at receiver whose sheer athleticism makes up for an undersized frame, while Cameron Odom and Andrew Meyer are both possession options. UAB will have to find a way to confuse Rourke and be honest in their match-ups lest they leave themselves prone.
What’s your projection for the outcome of this game?
As much as I’ve enjoyed UAB’s comeback season, I’ve also watched some of the games and noticed some goofy or lucky results, so that leaves me with a bit of optimism as a MAC fan. Ohio has been a very steady team over the past few years and I’ve got a lot of faith in Frank Solich’s ability to break the game open from a play calling standpoint. I want this game to be close for the sake of entertainment purposes, but I can’t help but think this could be a game where the winner runs away early.