By Pete Nakos
OhioBobcats.com Feature Writer
ATHENS, Ohio-- For Dave Johnson, Saturday's season opener against Hampton is an opportunity for the Bobcats to show some new offensive wrinkles; Ohio plans to line up under center for a few plays for the first time in years.
It will provide a chance for him to show off Ohio's stable of running backs and strong offensive line. It's something the Bobcats weren't able to do last year as A.J. Ouellette was sidelined due to a season ending injury and other running backs were forced to take time off.
So, for Johnson, the first year run game coordinator for the Bobcats, there's a lot to be excited about.
"It's good, there are a few new things we've done," Johnson said. "There are a few things I've kind of emphasized and have incorporated. Just to put an emphasis on the things we believe in."
The core Johnson is talking about is what head coach Frank Solich has centered his program around at Ohio: to play rough and tough football, to run the ball down the opponent's throat.
That's what Johnson hopes to get back to, as the Bobcats have one of the strongest offensive lines in the Mid-American Conference, led by center Jake Pruehs, who was named to the Outlander Watch List this preseason.
"It's going to set the tone for the year," Pruehs said on the importance of Saturday's game. "When people look at us on that Monday and look at their scouting report, like wow, they're up to something."
Last year, Ohio struggled at times with red zone efficiency. It never had problem finding a spot to setup in the opponent's 20-yard-line, but the Bobcats did have trouble scoring. The best example: Ohio kicker Louie Zervos made 29 field goals last season, the most in school history.
In 14 games played in 2016, the Bobcats took 60 trips to the red zone, scoring 49 times. Of that, 27 of those 60 trips resulted in touchdowns, 45 percent of the time Ohio scored a touchdown.
Johnson says that if this team wants to reach its goal of getting back to the MAC Championship Game and winning, it needs to start putting more points on the board by being affective with the football.
"We got in there a ton last year, we led the league in visits to the red zone," Johnson said. "We just didn't score a lot of touchdowns, we kicked a lot of field goals, which was good for our kicker. We want to score more touchdowns, we have to be more efficient on first and second down. Stay ahead of schedule is critical so third is manageable."
Hampton's front seven includes a few Division I transfer students, so as Pruehs said, the offensive line will have to be hitting caps hard.
Saturday's weather calls for rain all day, which drew smiles from Ouellette and Pruehs. They'd like nothing more than to set the tone by running the ball hard against the Pirates.
"It's all about executing," Johnson said. "You can have some fancy plays drawn up on paper, but if guys don't fit up correctly, we don't get hats on hats and people are free, then it won't be very good."