ATHENS, Ohio -- Fifteenth-year Ohio football head coach Frank Solich met with the media today as the Mid-American Conference East Division-leading Bobcats (3-4, 2-1 MAC) visit Muncie, Ind., to take on West Division leader Ball State (4-3, 3-0 MAC) on Saturday (Oct. 26). Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET at Scheumann Stadium.
Saturday's contest will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network, with Jim Barbar and John Gregory on the call. The game can also be heard on the Ohio Sports Network from Learfield IMG College. Russ Eisenstein returns for his 12th season as the "Voice of the Bobcats." Ohio Alum Rob Cornelius has been a part of the broadcasts for two decades. WXTQ (Power 105) in Athens returns as the 11-station network's flagship. The broadcasts are also available online through TuneIn.com/OhioBobcats and on the TuneIn app.
On what has allowed Ball State to perform so well offensively:
"They have a really good offensive line. They have good size and good movement in their athletes. It starts there in terms of their running game and, obviously, pass protection, too. They've got the skill to go around that. They have good receivers. Those guys are physical. They block down field. They have a quarterback that can run and throw, which more people seem to be trying to get, and these guys have been trying to get one. Offensively, they're a complete offense. They'll cause you a lot of problems because of their speed, a lot of motion, and a lot of things that lends itself to creating some big plays."
On how different Ball State is compared to a year ago:
"This one is a complete football team in terms of the three units. I talk about us wanting to be good in all three units, I see them as being good in all three units. Defensively, they're hard to move the ball against. We're going to have to be really hitting on all cylinders and be good at trying to get some runs going and lead into some throws. I don't think we can be one dimensional against them. I think they're too good for that. So, they've got all three units. Their special team unit is really good. You combine that, and you have winning football."
On how often redshirt senior punter/kickoff specialist Michael Farkas' squib kickoff is called:
"We really call a squib, and in that, though, he will aim at guys and hit one or so. He's been pretty good about it, but it's not something that I grab him by the shoulder and say go in and hit this guy in the helmet. We squib. He's done this before where he's aimed and hit and we've gotten the bounces, which has been good. What you wouldn't want is for the ball to bounce the other way and them to have the ball on their 40-yard line with a 1st-and-10 situation. There's a little bit of risk that goes into it, but we don't tell him, 'Don't aim.'"
On his reaction when a squib kick hits the helmet of the opposing team:
"Well, it happens so quickly that either you have a great shot at the ball, or you don't. The reaction is a little delayed until you see where the ball ends up. In saying that, it's not a surprise that he hit somebody. He's pretty good at that. Again, I'll have to check with him because I did not tell him to zero in on somebody there. We call a squib kick, and then we kind of go from there."
On senior quarterback Nathan Rourke getting national recognition:
"It's great for him, and it's good to see a guy like him get the kind of recognition that he deserves. He's been doing this for three years, and he's been a huge part of what we've been about offensively and a huge part of our record. You don't go places without a quarterback in terms of offensive football. We've been fortunate to ride his shoulders for a while now, so it's never a surprise when he has special games. It's been great. I hope that he can continue to do what he's been doing, and I think he will. He doesn't put undue pressure on himself. He's a perfectionist and wants things to go right and perfect, so that's in him, but he's able to bounce back off of things if something doesn't go right. That's not only good for him, but it's good for the players around him to see that also."
On how important it is to find a way to win in close games:
"It's huge. We're around halfway home in terms of our season, and, when you really look at it, they've all been decided by a few plays. It's hard to be that kind of a team and have it work every week for you. You want to find a game or two where you can separate and maybe take a breath, but that's not been the case. We've played a really good schedule. I think when you look so far, the non-conference schedule is playing out to be very good football teams if you look at their records and what they've accomplished. We played both teams that were in the MAC Championship last year in the conference race, and we played a team that was at this point in time winning our conference. You're probably going to have close ballgames, so you have to understand that and make sure that you're not doing anything that's going to keep you from winning those games. That's the important thing."
On what needs to change defensively for the game against Ball State:
"I'd like to see them be able to control the ground game and do a good job against the passing game, just be a total defense. That's kind of what we're working toward. We're trying to become that, and we're taking it a step at a time. Injuries have not been helpful to us in that regard. We had our two interior guys banged up for a while now. Our starting MIKE backer was out last game. That enabled Keye Thompson to get some playing time as we moved him to WILL and that ended up being a good thing getting him on the field. He's showing to be a good player, which we thought he would be. He's got size, strength, speed and toughness. When something goes bad, sometimes some things go good, so him getting a chance to play was a good thing for us. That's just going to make sure that we have more depth at the linebacker position. We have a couple other guys like that maybe still need to be looked at in that regard. As far as defense against those guys, they're a multiple unit. They do a lot of good things, so slowing them down will be key. Saying you're just going to stop the team that's leading the MAC in scoring may be a reach, but we'll see. We'll do the best we can. I know we're improving, and if we keep improving, we'll be what we want to be."
On how the incorporation of more depth in the secondary contributed to second half stops:
"I think it helps, and we have to continue to find ways to do that. We did a lot of subbing at the interior line. There are a lot of guys that played football there. We've always subbed at the rush end spot quite a bit, but in the secondary and the corners, a lot of them are getting playing time, which will help all of them. I think we're a team that's kind of molding itself into the defensive unit we want to be and getting plenty of guys experience to the point when you come down the stretch, if you have someone get banged up here and there, that you don't suffer too much from it."
On any players injured and ruled out for the season:
"We've had a few guys lost for multiple games, but as far as saying that they won't be able to come back this season, I'm not ready to say that on any of our guys."
On the offensive line's performance and its contribution to senior quarterback Nathan Rourke's performance:
"That's a good point, and that should be brought up and talked about because they did do a great job. You're talking about a defensive unit that was not a big defensive unit other than their nose guard. He was a huge human being, but the other guys weren't exceptionally big, but they were strong and were really quick. When you have those guys up front, controlling them on pass rushing is difficult to do because they can do a lot of stunts and get places with real quickness. That was a real test for us, and I thought that we passed that test well. I think Coach [Allen] Rudolph did a great job throughout the course of the week in drilling his offensive lineman, picking up the schemes and the movement, while helping and designing ways to control some things in pass rushes, so that was big in the contest. Nathan's got a lot of movement about him. He can scramble and throw on the run and those kind of things, but you want to be able to sit in the pocket. When you have designed throws that are going to be deep throws and you're going to have a shot, you don't want your quarterback scrambling out of the pocket when that guy is coming open and then the throw is either too late to him or you can't throw it at all. Being able to sit back in the pocket like he did on quite a few of those throws was big in the contest."
On senior quarterback Nathan Rourke's improvement in the pocket this year:
"I think that has been an improvement and some of that again comes back to line play and some of that comes back to his sitting in the pocket and deciding when to scramble or not scramble. He's done a great job of that. Would I like to see him, maybe when things are being covered fairly well, take off? I love him when he's running, and he can make the big explosive play that way and get the first down that way. We're not discouraging him or encouraging him to do either, we're just saying, 'Hey, you're in the pocket, you're going to have good protection, sit there, throw, go through your progression and deliver the ball. If you're forced to scramble, do what you do.' We don't try to over-coach him on that. We just let him do what he does."
On how the defense adjusted to the tempo of Kent State's offense:
"It was a big adjustment. They had concerns about it. There were times when it was such a hurry-up that they weren't able to sub. There were times when they didn't want to necessarily get into a defense that, when you're in a hurry-up, that last resort you just stay in the defense or just have one certain call, that can hurt you. There are two ways of doing this thing. It's really to play hurry-up the way like they do, and you can be really successful with that, especially if you can wear down the opponent and keep control of the ball. When the other team's offense can keep control of the ball and keep their defense off the field, then that really doesn't have that much effect on you. We're a little different in that we have the ability to play hurry-up football. We do that a lot with two-minute drill and those kind of things. In the scheme that we use, we're trying to fit the plate of the defense. We're looking for ways to figure out what's happening, what the front is going to be, what the blitz might be, and we have options that we can go to at the line of scrimmage. Usually when you're in hurry-up, you're going to go with it, but we try to fit the play to what the defense is showing us, and we try to get them to move before the snap to kind of give us hints and clues. That has worked very well for us. I think you've seen both schemes work very well in that game. They had 74 snaps, we had 74 snaps. The idea of fast football is to wear down the opponent right now, get the defense to where they've got their hands on their hips and breathing heavy, you can't sub and you're beating them down. We were able to control the ball enough offensively by the way that we operate that they did not beat our defense down, and that was huge. The time of possession was close to 10 minutes in our favor, and that's huge against the hurry-up team. We didn't have a turnover, which really helped. If you have two or three turnovers in that game, and their offense is back on the field, then that's a problem"
On how it felt for the defense to make big plays:
"You know that there are going to be some critical plays that just have to be made in the ballgame, and there were three or four or five that were made. We had some athletes that just stepped up and made those plays. If you don't make those plays, you're fighting from behind, you've got some trouble. The fact that they made those plays was huge for us."
On potentially tying the record for most wins by a MAC head coach on Saturday:
"I give zero thought, to be very honest with you, and I'm not trying to demean anything. I just don't think about it. You telling me that I have 109 wins, that our staff has 109 wins, our program has 109 wins this coming game if we win it, I didn't even know that. Those things kind of come with the game if you're in it long enough and you do a pretty good job then some things are going to happen. I don't dwell on that kind of stuff. I don't set a goal with that kind of thing in mind at all. It'll be great for the program to accomplish that during my time and Coach [Tim] Albin's time and the guys that have been there for most of those years but I'm thinking of other things."
On the last Saturday game of the year coming up:
"You know Saturday game days are going to come to an end at some point. You try to look forward a little bit and make sure you've got things planned out the way you want them to be planned out and hope that you've made good decisions on when to practice, how to practice and how to make it all work. It always comes back to the players, and I've said this a hundred times, having their legs, being fresh, being able to run, not being banged up in the shoulders, and being able to hit people. We like to think that we X and O everybody and that's what always wins ballgames. I think our staff is great at X's and O's, and if you don't have that, you've got problems. A lot of it comes back to the attitude of your team. If you've got the talent, the attitude of your team and keeping them as fresh as they can be, they've got to know what they're doing, so that enters the picture to in terms of getting enough reps."
On the state of the conference:
"I always felt that our conference was pretty balanced. There were a lot of teams that were pretty good, sometimes going down the road there's a team or two that falter here or there. Generally, you're talking about hard-fought football games, and last year we got on a streak there. We won some games by quite a margin. I don't know that you see that a ton in our conference. There's too many people that can end up beating you. The quality athlete that we get, those other schools are able to come up with quality athletes, too. It's going to be anybody's season, anybody's game. You just have to be fortunate enough to have athletes to win games and enough luck to keep them somewhat healthy as you go through the season, have a staff that knows what they're doing and preparing their guys, knowing you're going to be in a lot of close ball games, so you just have to get ready for it."
On how close we are to seeing what the team is fully capable of on a consistent basis:
"I think for the most part you're seeing it in special teams, except on some plays here and there, but for the most part, when you take it quarter by quarter, we're not usually getting beat in that area. I think offense, we're starting to come into our own and lot of people are making plays, so I think we're in-tune to be a complete offense, and that'll get really tested this week. Defensively, it's been a situation where we've been growing, trying to find ourselves and become the defensive team we should be and can be. We're still maturing into that, so that's kind of where we're at."