State bragging rights are on the line in Columbus this weekend, as the Ohio University Bobcats come calling on the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
The Bobcats are 1-1 on the season, having topped FCS foe Wofford (33-10) in the opener but then dropping their Mid-American Conference lidlifter last week to Toledo (20-13). Ohio, under the direction of head coach Frank Solich, is seeking is 500th all-time victory, although getting it this week against one of the truly elite teams in the nation, and one it has never beaten in six previous encounters, is going to be extremely difficult.
Solich is in his sixth season with the Bobcats, and owns a record of 33-32 coming into this contest. Ohio is 0-14 all-time against ranked opponents.
Ohio State has proven itself already this season, whipping Marshall in the opener (45-7) and then taking care of Miami-Florida (36-24) last week. Both wins came at home as the Buckeyes kick off the 2010 campaign with four straight home games. Since 2002, OSU is an impressive 54-5 in Columbus.
The Buckeyes are coached by Jim Tressel, who has amassed a record of 96-21 in 10 years at the school. Ohio State has won 55 straight regular-season, home games against unranked, non-conference foes.
Simply put, the Bobcats couldn't get anything going offensively in last week's conference opener against Toledo, logging a meager 183 total yards (46 rushing, 137 passing). Fortunately, the Rockets didn't fare much better (212 yards -- 102 rushing, 110 passing). OU's Boo Jackson completed 17-of-27 passes with a TD, but he was picked off three times.
The game was knotted at 13-13 at the break, but the 'Cats failed to produce anything substantial in the second half and it only took a fourth-quarter TD pass for the Rockets to earn the victory.
Solich was disappointed with the overall effort of his team, "Clearly one of the poorer ball games we've played in some time. We can all share in the blame a little bit. We didn't have our players prepared the way they needed to be. Across the board did not play well on the offensive side of the ball. Defense played pretty well an ok at times. Special teams was horrific, too many breakdowns."
As mentioned, the Ohio defense did its job at least in terms of yardage allowed (3.1 ypp), and senior LB Noah Keller was a man possessed as he notched 11 tackles, including the team's only sack, forced a fumble and blocked a field goal attempt.
Despite Solich's dismay, it was another solid showing by the Ohio defense, which did not allow a completed pass in the opener against Wofford. The Terriers did manage 220 yards on 51 rushing attempts though, and Keller was also the high man for the Bobcats in that game with his nine stops.
The challenge of facing a team like Ohio State this week hasn't been lost on Solich, "It's about preparing to play much better football regardless of playing a great football team. That will be a huge challenge and that challenge can be met. Regardless of playing Ohio State next we won't make any changes in regards to our preparation. It will be a huge challenge but that's what football is all about."
Heisman candidate Terrelle Pryor ran for 113 yards and threw for 233 more, scoring once each way, to lead the Buckeyes past visiting Miami last week. Ohio State improved to 21-3 with Pryor as the starter. Tressel knows that his QB was under fire from a good defensive team throughout the contest, "Those people put a little pressure on you. It's not like going against a scout team or something like that where you can stand there all day, so it will be a good moment for him to really latch into the film and try to get better."
Wide receiver Devier Posey had just four catches in the game, but they went for 105 yards, and he has now caught a pass in 16 consecutive games.
Kicker Devin Barclay tied the school record with five field goals. When the dust had settled, the Buckeyes had generated 414 yards of total offense to Miami's 352, and Ohio State had scored on 7-of-9 trips to the red zone in what was an efficient offensive performance.
Turnovers played a huge role in the game, as Ohio State came up with four INTs. Ross Homan led the OSU stand with 10 tackles, while Chimdi Chekwa came up with two picks -- the first ones of his career. Through the first two games, the OSU defense has allowed just one TD, and since 2005 (66 games) it has allowed just 93 TDs (39 rushing, 54 passing) for an average of 1.4 per game. Currently, Ohio State leads the nation in turnover margin at +3.50.
Barclay's effort not withstanding, the Buckeyes struggled on special teams as Miami returned both a punt and kickoff for scores -- the first time that had ever happened against Ohio State.
Tressel was clearly not happy about that aspect of the game, "Are we concerned? Of course. Can you win typically if that happens? No. But the good news is, our guys didn't fold and they -- they know we've got to get better at that."
The Buckeyes are better than the Bobcats in every conceivable way. But the same was true in 2008 when Ohio took a lead into the fourth quarter before falling in a 26-14 final. That said, don't expect the offensively-challenged 'Cats to produce much, while the home team goes about its business in workmanlike fashion.