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1. Time for some new blood
Sometimes relationships just grow stale.
It only felt like quarterback Tyler Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship were Ohio starters for a full decade. Tettleton began his residence in the Ohio backfield in 2009, redshirted, and took over for good in 2011. After originally signing with Iowa State out of high school (the same Norman, Okla., high school as Tettleton, by the way), Blankenship followed the same path.
In three years, the Ohio team led by Tettleton and Blankenship (among others) won 26 games and very nearly won the MAC in 2011. Of the six bowls Ohio has attended in the last 40 years, three occurred with these two in the backfield, including both bowl wins in school history.
Things happened with these two leading the way, in other words. But things stopped happening at quite the same rate over the last year and a half. Ohio finished the 2012 season 1-4 before crushing ULM in the Independence Bowl. And after a 5-2 start in 2013, the Bobcats lost three games by a combined 123-16, rallied to beat an awful UMass team, then faded late in a 17-point Beef O'Brady's Bowl loss to East Carolina.
Tettleton's toughness was impressive, but his flaws were obvious and never really got ironed out. And Blankenship wasn't exactly the world's greatest when it came to hitting holes with quickness. The duo helped to lead Ohio to sustained heights; they also contributed to a pretty clear ceiling. After a three-year run that led to unprecedented success for a program that hadn't experienced much of it before head coach Frank Solich arrived in 2005, a new start is probably a good thing.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 104|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|1-Sep||at Louisville||12||7-49||L||30.1 - 36.9||L|
|7-Sep||North Texas||51||27-21||W||37.8 - 18.9||W|
|14-Sep||Marshall||52||34-31||W||27.0 - 29.1||L|
|21-Sep||Austin Peay||N/A||38-0||W||29.5 - 28.2||W|
|5-Oct||at Akron||108||43-3||W||30.7 - 6.4||W||7.1|
|12-Oct||Central Michigan||111||23-26||L||34.8 - 29.9||W||9.4|
|19-Oct||at Eastern Michigan||124||56-28||W||30.1 - 40.1||L||3.7|
|26-Oct||Miami (Ohio)||123||41-16||W||31.6 - 24.0||W||5.6|
|5-Nov||at Buffalo||80||3-30||L||8.8 - 38.6||L||-0.6|
|12-Nov||at Bowling Green||47||0-49||L||10.6 - 36.0||L||-10.6|
|19-Nov||Kent State||106||13-44||L||7.7 - 36.7||L||-17.3|
|29-Nov||Massachusetts||118||51-23||W||32.4 - 24.4||W||-13.7|
|23-Dec||vs. East Carolina||40||20-37||L||28.4 - 31.0||L||-15.8|
|Points Per Game||27.4||73||27.5||72|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.1||85||29.3||78|
2. Zero sum
If you've been reading all of these MAC previews (and of course you have!), you know that quite a few MAC teams followed a similar "stink early, improve late" path -- Kent State and Central Michigan, to name two. Well, if some teams are moving up, someone has to be moving down. That's where Ohio comes in.
Despite a shaky season-opening performance against Louisville, the Bobcats were legitimately strong through the first week of October, taking down two strong mid-majors (North Texas and Marshall) and crushing an Akron team not far removed from a near-upset of Michigan. Turnovers doomed the Bobcats in a Homecoming loss to Central Michigan (Ohio lost two of three fumbles, and Tettleton threw a pair of interceptions while also completing 24 of 33 for 319 yards), but they continued to play reasonably well in moving to 6-2 heading into November.
But for the second straight season, November was a nightmare for the Bobcats.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): Ohio 31.0, Opponent 23.9 (plus-7.1)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 3 games): Ohio 32.2, Opponent 31.3 (plus-0.9)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Opponent 33.3, Ohio 17.6 (minus-15.7)
Call it the curse of the phantom safety. Trailing 7-3 early in the third quarter against Buffalo, a Tettleton throwaway from about the three-yard line was somehow deemed intentional grounding in the end zone. Over the next six quarters, the Bobcats were outscored, 72-0. They gained just 405 total yards against Buffalo and Bowling Green, then put up a 204-yard stinker against a still-pretty-bad Kent State squad.
The offense rallied, gaining 996 yards and scoring 71 points in Tettleton's final two games behind center, but it crumbled again late in the bowl game, and Ohio's second consecutive late-season collapse was complete.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.6%||87||Succ. Rt. +||87.4||106|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.9||51||Def. FP+||100.4||55|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.9||92||Redzone S&P+||91.5||92|
|Q1 Rk||90||1st Down Rk||53|
|Q2 Rk||97||2nd Down Rk||119|
|Q3 Rk||77||3rd Down Rk||84|
3. The big plays were really big
Dreadful inefficiency did Ohio in at times; the running game suffered from both tentative running from Blankenship and sketchy blocking from a line that was getting shuffled every game. And I do mean every game: Ohio started a different combination of offensive linemen for each of the first eight games of the season. (Strangely, the offense collapsed as the line finally stabilized a bit.)
Frank Solich has too much Tom Osborne in him to give up on the run entirely, but it just wasn't working in 2013. It resulted in far too many second-and-nines and third-and-sevens. The big plays Ohio did manage were quite big -- despite sketchy offensive numbers overall, the Bobcats managed 15 gains of 40+ yards, 47th in the country -- and with some of the offense's biggest home run hitters returning (running back Daz'mond Patterson and receiver Chase Cochran, to name two), the explosiveness might be there again in 2014. But that won't matter unless this offense figures out how to avoid digging itself immediate holes in the ground.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Derrius Vick||6'1, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||21||45||277||1||1||46.7%||5||10.0%||4.8|
|J.D. Sprague||6'1, 190||So.||NR||5||6||62||0||0||83.3%||0||0.0%||10.3|
|Greg Windham||6'1, 210||So.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Joey Duckworth||6'3, 210||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
4. Either a four-way battle or a one-way battle
If you remember one good Ohio play from the bowl game, it probably isn't one that came from Tettleton.
Derrius Vick, manning the quarterback position for a drive early in the second quarter, stepped out of a fake run and threw an 80-yard touchdown to Donte Foster to tie the game at 14-14 20 minutes in. It was a play that hinted at what an offense built around Vick could resemble. For two years, Vick was Tettleton's understudy, an option threat who can add a dimension to the run game and a player with an arm just good enough to make things work. Whereas Tettleton attempted 778 passes to 123 rushes in the last two years (86 percent pass), Vick attempted 81 to 41 (66 percent pass). We know the run game might need help, and Vick could provide it.
At the same time, however, we don't yet know whether Vick is actually a good quarterback. Take that 80-yard bomb away, and Vick's other 49 pass attempts in 2013 (44 passes, five sacks) netted a dreadful 160 yards. In two years, he's completed 40 of 75 passes (53 percent) for 526 yards with six sacks, and most of his damage was done in a 2012 spot start against lowly Norfolk State. And not including sacks, he has rushed 41 times for 183 yards; that's decent, but it doesn't scream "Run threat!!!"
Vick is the presumed favorite for the starting job as 2014 spring practice begins, and if he plays well, there is no quarterback battle to speak of in Athens. But if he struggles, there are plenty of other candidates who could take his place, namely former walk-on J.D. Sprague, who also got a little backup time in 2013, and incoming star freshman Joey Duckworth, the highest-rated member of a pretty exciting recruiting class. It's Vick's job to lose, but there's a chance he loses it.
|Daz'mond Patterson||RB||5'7, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||38||211||2||5.6||5.6||39.5%|
|Tim Edmond||RB||5'11, 240||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||31||108||0||3.5||2.0||38.7%|
|Derrius Vick||QB||6'1, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||25||106||1||4.2||4.4||40.0%|
|J.D. Sprague||QB||6'1, 190||So.||NR||5||33||1||6.6||4.5||60.0%|
|Dorian Brown||RB||5'11, 196||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Papi White||RB||5'9, 166||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Maleek Irons||RB||6'0, 211||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Chase Cochran||WR-Z||6'2, 192||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||53||37||689||69.8%||13.1%||75.0%||13.0||259||11.7||95.1|
|Sebastian Smith||WR-X||6'3, 190||So.||3 stars (5.7)||23||12||82||52.2%||5.7%||66.7%||3.6||-80||4.1||11.3|
|Daz'mond Patterson||RB||5'7, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||19||13||120||68.4%||4.7%||70.6%||6.3||-33||5.5||16.6|
|Landon Smith||WR-F||6'0, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||19||10||112||52.6%||4.7%||41.7%||5.9||-23||6.4||15.5|
|Jordan Reid||WR-F||6'3, 200||So.||2 stars (5.2)||10||6||61||60.0%||2.5%||42.9%||6.1||-14||4.0||8.4|
|Ian Dixon||WR||5'7, 170||Jr.||NR||8||5||21||62.5%||2.0%||50.0%||2.6||-40||1.3||2.9|
|Troy Mangen||TE||6'5, 252||So.||2 stars (5.2)||5||4||12||80.0%||1.2%||100.0%||2.4||-32||1.1||1.7|
|Mason Morgan||TE||6'6, 259||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Justin Wyatt||WR||6'1, 186||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Brendan Cope||WR||6'2, 189||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Brennan Boland||TE||6'5, 250||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Robbie Walker||WR||5'9, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Mike Lucas||LG||6'4, 311||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||12|
|Lucas Powell||C||6'3, 295||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12|
|Mike McQueen||LT||6'6, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||8|
|Troy Watson||RT||6'6, 290||So.||2 stars (5.2)||4|
|Durrell Wood||RG||6'3, 344||So.||2 stars (5.4)||3|
|Nick Gibbons||RG||6'5, 308||So.||3 stars (5.5)||1|
|Seth Everhart||LG||6'4, 311||Jr.||NR||0|
|Zack Murdock||OL||6'6, 291||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Jared McCray||OL||6'5, 320||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Joe Lowery||OL||6'6, 285||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
5. Stability, please
New blood can be a good thing, but it's not guaranteed to be a good thing. For example, though leading rushers Blankenship and Ryan Boykin averaged a paltry 4.3 yards per carry in 2013, it's not automatically assured that Daz Patterson, Tim Edmond, and some young guys will fare better*. Meanwhile, it's not guaranteed that the next crop of Ohio wideouts will be able to match what Donte Foster, Matt Waters, etc., did last fall. Ohio's top three receivers averaged a strong 10.1 yards per target in 2013, and Cochran is the only of the top six targets to return.
If you've got uncertainty at quarterback, running back, and receiver, you at least need to know you've got stability up front. And at the very least, the Ohio line will have more of that than it did a year ago.
Ten Bobcat linemen finished 2013 with starting experience; three were freshmen and three were sophomores. That is a recipe for disaster, and sure enough, the run blocking was far from strong. But it does mean that six seasoned players return for 2014, and none of them are seniors. The line should improve, and then it should improve again in 2015. There appears to be a strong base of talent for new offensive co-coordinator Scott Isphording and new offensive line coach Dave Johnson.
* My assumption is that Patterson and company will indeed fare better. Edmond should be able to play the short-yardage role with reasonable success, and as long as one of three young, exciting prospects -- redshirt freshman Dorian Brown and true freshmen Papi White and Maleek Irons -- is ready to play a backup role, things should be fine, especially with a mobile quarterback and the extra dimension he provides.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.7%||52||Succ. Rt. +||95.0||75|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||31.6||32||Off. FP+||101.5||44|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||110||Redzone S&P+||75.7||122|
|Q1 Rk||96||1st Down Rk||94|
|Q2 Rk||80||2nd Down Rk||99|
|Q3 Rk||102||3rd Down Rk||89|
6. The big plays were really big
One of the Ohio offense's few strengths (the magnitude of big plays) was one of the defense's weaknesses. The Bobcats were semi-efficient in leveraging offenses into passing downs, but when they sprang a leak, it was a gusher. Ohio allowed 34 plays of at least 30 yards, 104th in the country. Between three-and-outs and a good punt returner (Travis Carrie, now graduated), the Bobcats did pretty well in the field position game. But big plays and a complete lack of red zone defense did quite a bit of damage.
The front seven had a rather drastic freshman and sophomore presence, which led to breakdowns, but to the extent that youth was a problem, it probably won't be one in 2014. The top seven linemen return (including three sophomores and a junior), as do the top two linebackers (both juniors).
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Antwan Crutcher||NG||6'2, 304||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||13||34.0||4.5%||6.0||1.5||0||0||1||0|
|Kurt Laseak||DE||6'4, 236||So.||2 stars (5.2)||13||30.5||4.0%||1.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Cameron McLeod||DT||6'5, 282||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||26.5||3.5%||4.5||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Tarell Basham||DE||6'4, 250||So.||2 stars (5.4)||13||23.0||3.0%||8.5||7.5||0||1||1||0|
|Casey Sayles||DE||6'3, 268||So.||2 stars (5.4)||11||23.0||3.0%||5.5||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Purdum||DT||6'3, 270||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||13||20.5||2.7%||6.0||2.0||0||2||0||0|
|Kendric Smith||DE||6'3, 244||Sr.||NR||11||15.0||2.0%||2.5||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Watson Tautuiaki||NG||6'2, 304||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||11||10.0||1.3%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Tony Davis||DT||6'3, 280||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||9||7.5||1.0%||1.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Trent Smart||DE||6'3, 249||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Tony Porter||DT||6'1, 289||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Kent Berger||DE||6'4, 249||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Kyle Kuhar||DT||6'5, 272||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
7. An undersized line that wasn't undersized
When you look at Ohio's line stats, you rather quickly form a mental image of a team that got pushed around (124th in Adj. Line Yards) but was able to get to the passer in passing situations (39th in Adj. Sack Rate). That suggests a quickness-over-size approach. But while the linebackers are a bit on the undersized side, the line is not. The top four returning ends average 250 pounds (not huge, but not small for a MAC program), and the top four returning tackles average 290.
Ohio's problems appeared to be as much because of overpursuit and inexperience as anything else. If this is the case, the woes could be cured to some degree this fall.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ben Russell||MLB||6'1, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||64.5||8.5%||8.5||3.0||0||1||0||0|
|Jovon Johnson||SLB||6'0, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||13||48.0||6.3%||3.0||0.5||1||2||0||0|
|Blair Brown||MLB||6'0, 220||So.||NR||7||13.0||1.7%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|William Johnson||LB||6'2, 215||So.||NR||9||5.0||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|A.J. Grady, Jr.||LB||3||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jake Schany||LB||6'3, 225||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Jarred Brumfield||LB||6'3, 219||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Josh Kristoff||SS||6'0, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||13||54.0||7.1%||1.5||0||0||5||2||0|
|Thad Ingol||FS||6'0, 215||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||38.0||5.0%||2||1||3||2||0||1|
|Nathan Carpenter||NB||5'9, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||13||34.5||4.6%||1||0||0||3||1||0|
|Devin Bass||CB||5'9, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||33.5||4.4%||1.5||0||2||15||0||0|
|Ian Wells||CB||5'11, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||8||13.5||1.8%||0||0||0||3||0||0|
|Aaron Macer||SS||6'0, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||10||5.5||0.7%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dyquan Stewart||CB||5'10, 182||So.||2 stars (5.2)||6||4.5||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Devin Jones||CB||6'1, 208||Jr.||NR||10||4.5||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Toran Davis||FS||6'0, 210||So.||2 stars (5.2)||9||4.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|James Ray||S||5'10, 188||Sr.||NR||4||4.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Mike Terpin||CB||5'10, 170||Jr.||NR||5||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Calvin Holloway||S||6'1, 203||So.||NR||4||2.5||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Blake Scipio||DB||5'11, 190||Jr.||NR||2||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Corey Quallen||S||6'1, 209||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Brett Layton||CB||5'11, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
8. A base of talent
Devin Bass defensed 17 passes while making only 33.5 tackles; as I always say in examples like this, that means he's either one hell of a cornerback or one hell of a poor tackler. Regardless, he's an upperclassman now, as are five other defensive backs who made at least five tackles las fall. Despite the loss of safety Xavier Hughes and corner Travis Carrie, there is experience in the back, just as there is experience everywhere else.
Ohio returns eight defensive starters and most of last year's second string. Last year's defense was easily the Bobcats' worst in the F/+ era (2005-13), but it should bounce back in 2014. And since a lot of the most exciting players on the defense -- sophomore end Tarell Basham (7.5 sacks in 2013), junior linebacker Ben Russell (8.5 tackles for loss), Bass -- are not seniors, then like the offensive line, the defense should improve this fall, then improve even more.
|Grant Venham||6'3, 210||Jr.||50||37.8||4||15||14||58.0%|
|Matt Green||6'2, 225||Jr.||14||42.1||0||2||6||57.1%|
|Josiah Yazdani||5'10, 200||Jr.||70||58.1||9||0||12.9%|
|Matt Green||6'2, 225||Jr.||3||63.0||0||0||0.0%|
|Josiah Yazdani||5'10, 200||Jr.||30-30||11-11||100.0%||3-4||75.0%|
|Matt Green||6'2, 225||Jr.||10-10||4-5||80.0%||0-4||0.0%|
|Devin Bass||KR||5'9, 185||Jr.||19||22.1||0|
|Nathan Carpenter||KR||5'9, 200||Sr.||14||23.3||0|
|Devin Bass||PR||5'9, 185||Jr.||8||0.8||0|
|Special Teams F/+||20|
|Field Goal Efficiency||61|
|Punt Return Efficiency||36|
|Kick Return Efficiency||49|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||35|
9. Special teams will again be strong
The special teams unit was the saving grace for a team that ranked worse than 100th in both Off. F/+ and Def. F/+. Travis Carrie is gone, which means regression should be expected in punt returns, but Ohio's punt and kick coverage units were excellent (the Bobcats seem to have mastered the art of kicking high and short and minimizing returns, and I'm not sure why more teams don't do the same), kicker Josiah Yazdani was automatic under 40 yards, and Devin Bass and Nathan Carpenter were at least decent in kick returns.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|30-Aug||at Kent State||102|
|4-Oct||at Central Michigan||106|
|25-Oct||at Western Michigan||113|
|25-Nov||at Miami (Ohio)||121|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-7.7% (82)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||107|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-2 / -1.2|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||11 (3, 8)|
10. Careful what you wish for
The offense needed a boost and could get it in the form of new skill position players and a couple of new assistant coaches. The Ohio offense should expect to improve in the run game, and the passing game could remain reasonably explosive.
Or, a new quarterback could be far too inefficient to take heat off of the run game, and the offense could play an entire season like it did last November.
For the first time in a while, there is offensive change in Athens. It's easy to get excited about the potential explosiveness of the new batch of starters, but there's no guarantee that Ohio will replace eight offensive starters without a year of a dropoff. The schedule will help ease the growing pains -- Ohio plays eight teams projected 102nd or worse -- but with an offense figuring things out and a defense trying to recover from a bad year, 2014 could quite possibly see a step or two backwards.
Solich's Ohio program is on pretty sturdy ground overall. The Bobcats have been to five consecutive bowls and have won at least seven games six times in the nine-year Solich era (they had done so only five times before Solich), and most of the key 2014 players are underclassmen, from the quarterback to the running backs to the offensive line to most of the defense. Ohio could be outstanding in 2015, but 2014 is uncertain. I'm setting the bar at a schedule-aided six wins.