Coach Brian Knorr used the word “character” to sum up his Ohio Bobcat Football team after the 31-29 loss to Akron last Thursday evening. “We’ll see what kind of character this team has now,” he said, referencing the MAC East standings and his team’s psyche following a last second defeat for the second year in a row to the Zips.
He couldn’t be more right. Consider the position the Bobcats are now in, having to wait until October 20th for their next East Division MAC game (Miami at home), and one sees why the Akron loss lingers like a dark cloud whenever mentioned. October 20th might seem like a year away when you glance at the daunting task Ohio Football has before it. The schedule calls for three consecutive non-league games against West Virginia, North Carolina State, and Iowa State. The first two are on the road, and all three teams won bowl games last season.
The good news is that the Bobcat offense seemed to pick up right where it left off a year ago, churning out 339 rushing yards and another 104 through the air. Quarterback Dontrell Jackson was at his zenith running the option attack, drawing defenders to him and then pitching to halfbacks Chad Brinker and Jamel Patterson, who made the most of their carries (a combined 222 yards). Evenly impressive was the way the offense kept its composure in the opener, giving up zero turnovers and only three penalties.
The bad news is that the Zips carved the Ohio defense to shreds on the ground. Granted, Akron may boast the league’s best offensive line, but Ohio defenders still appeared to be a half step slow in getting to the ball carrier. Defensive Coordinator Tim Kish will no doubt challenge his troops this week as they prepare for West Virginia’s spread offense, which features four wide receivers almost every play. Morgantown, West Virginia, is a rowdy environment for college football, and the Bobcats will need some decisive stops to ensure success on the road this Saturday. That and a big play or two.
But back to this word “character” for a moment. Following the Akron loss, the term “soul-searching” was used by a certain radio analyst covering the Bobcats, and although it seemed to be a good fit for the defense’s lack of production, the reality, in hindsight, is this: Ohio lost to Akron on a last-second field goal on the road. At no point were the Bobcats out of the game, and not once did they appear inferior to Akron. They simply needed a couple stops and three more points.
Teams that contend for championships possess character, and Ohio Football is no longer “lost in the woods” of the Mid-American Conference “searching” for answers. The real question is: can the Bobcats raise their level of play as each game unfolds? This seems to be the focus of Coach Knorr’s words as Ohio seeks the MAC pinnacle this year.
Will Ohio demonstrate its character this season, even in spite of an early season divisional loss? Can the defense play up to its billing? Will the first year coaching staff that boasts experience to spare guide their players with an effective game plan? Is this Ohio Bobcat team as good as we’d like to believe?
The answers will be on display Saturday at West Virginia.