Note: This preview appears in the Tuesday, Oct. 1 newspaper on Page A6.
With two weeks to mull over a three-game losing skid, and prep for the start of conference play, the Bobcats were seemingly presented with a chance to change things up.
But Ohio will stay the course, Ohio head coach Frank Solich during his weekly press conference on Monday at Peden Stadium. The Bobcats (1-3) won’t have a radically different lineup, or game-plan changes, when they travel to Buffalo (2-3, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday.
“I like the people we got,” Solich said.
“We just need to execute at a better level than we have been. But we can’t wait. It has to start now.”
Ohio, preseason favorites in the MAC East and to win the overall MAC title, slumped through the end of the non-conference slate. The Bobcats have dropped the last three games in losses at Pitt (20-10), at Marshall (33-31) and then saw a 10-game home win streak snapped with a loss to Louisiana (45-25).
The reasons for the skid are easy to identify. OU is on the wrong side of the turnover ratio (negative-6), and the ‘Cats have forced just two takeaways in four games.
In addition, Ohio’s running game has been inconsistent while the defense has come up short in defending the run.
OU is third in the MAC with 5.1 yards per carry, but just sixth with 159.8 rushing yards per game. Meanwhile, Ohio is last in the MAC in allowing 5.5 yards per carry and ranks ninth by allowing 208.5 rushing yards per game.
It’s as if you took everything Ohio excelled at over the last two years, and then flipped it on its head. Solich believes his team is overdue in terms of balancing some of those specific numbers out.
There’s enough experience, and talent, in place for Ohio to start showing up better in the areas it has always emphasized. With two weeks to prepare for Buffalo, Solich wasn’t going to try to re-invent who the Bobcats are. Instead, the focus has been to get better at the things Solich’s teams typically have done at a high level.
“I think it’s important we don’t take ourselves OFF course,” Solich explained. “Things are frustrating, but we’re counting on some of that playing itself out a little bit.”
One example of riding it out is with the punt return team, and redshirt freshman returner Jerome Buckner. Buckner ranks third in the MAC with a 7.3 average per punt return.
But, Buckner has also been involved with three turnovers on punt returns — or more than a third of Ohio’s eight total giveaways. Not all three rest on Buckner’s shoulders, however, and Solich said the freshman will continue to be given the first shot in that particular role.
“He’s one of, if not the, most explosive players we have. We’re not caving in on him whatsoever,” Solich said. “His worth back there will balance out.”
On the mend?
Solich said the bye week came at a good time for Ohio. The Bobcats were without starting center Steve Hayes, and running backs Julian Ross, O’Shaan Allison and De’Montre Tuggle at the end of the Louisiana loss. In addition, a pair of defensive tackles — Brian Arp and Kai Caesar — were dinged up against the Cajuns.
Solich, in keeping with his usual practice this season, declined to get into specifics when discussing player availability on Monday.
“We should get a guy or two back,” the coach said, without further illumination.
But as for the bye, Solich was thankful it came when it did.
“Right know I don’t know if very many of those guys are ruled IN for us,” he answered when asked if anyone had been ruled out for Saturday’s game.
“But the bye did come at a great time for us. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a bye come a better time,” Solich added.
Back in the MAC, at last
After the non-conference struggles, it’s fair to ask if OU is still the MAC East favorite. Solich wouldn’t speculate on that side of it, but noted Ohio’s goal of a MAC title hasn’t been dented yet.
“That goal is still ahead of us,” he said. “This has been a great group, they’ve worked hard. They’re going to give themselves the best chance to be in a position to win.
“We just have to keep pounding away…and try to be the football team we can be.”
Ohio is 11-3 in MAC openers under Solich, and the Bobcats have won their last eight MAC openers.
And this season, the ‘Cats will be the last MAC East team to play their first conference game. Kent State (2-2, 1-0 MAC) and Miami (2-3, 1-0) already have a win under their belts, while Buffalo, Bowling Green (1-3, 0-1) and Akron (0-5, 0-1) already sit a full game back.
2019 MAC Standings
Team MAC Overall
Kent St. 1-0 2-2
Miami 1-0 2-3
Ohio 0-0 1-3
Buffalo 0-1 2-3
Bowling Green 0-1 1-3
Akron 0-1 0-5
Team MAC Overall
Western Mich. 1-0 3-2
Central Mich. 1-1 2-3
Eastern Mich. 0-0 3-1
Toledo 0-0 3-1
Ball St. 0-0 1-3
Northern Ill. 0-0 1-3