Dec. 4, 2006
ATHENS, Ohio - The Bobcats will play in a bowl game for the first time since 1968 when they take on the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles in the GMAC Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 7 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. The game will be televised live on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET.
Both Ohio and Southern Miss were runners up in their respective leagues. The Bobcats lost to Central Michigan, 31-10, in the MAC Championship Game, while the Golden Eagles fell to Houston, 34-20, in the Conference USA title game.
The Bobcats will enter bowl season at 9-4 overall after finishing the MAC schedule with a school-record 7-1 mark. Southern Miss stands at 8-5 and went 6-2 in C-USA play.
A victory in the GMAC Bowl would be the Bobcats' first-ever bowl victory. Ohio is currently 0-2 all-time in bowl games, losing in the 1962 Sun Bowl to West Texas State and the 1968 Tangerine Bowl to Richmond. A Bobcat win would also tie the school record for victories in a season (10-0, 1960; 10-1, 1968). This is the fifth straight season the Golden Eagles have gone bowling and the 16th bowl game in the school's history (7-8).
Both coaches have plenty of experience in the postseason. Ohio's Frank Solich, the 2006 MAC Coach of the Year, will be appearing in his sixth bowl game in eight seasons as a head coach, including two BCS games (Fiesta Bowl, Rose Bowl). Southern Mississippi's Jeff Bower will be making his ninth bowl appearance on the Golden Eagles' sideline since taking over in 1991.
Ohio running back Kalvin McRae (Decatur, Ga.), a two-time first-team All-MAC pick, has led the offense with 1,215 rushing yards and a school-record 15 touchdowns on the ground. McRae's season total ranks second in school history. He is 101 yards shy of taking the top spot. Steveland Hookfin currently holds the record with 1,315 yards during the 1998 season. McRae also leads the team with a career-best 29 receptions. As a team, Ohio is averaging 155.4 yards per game on the ground, fifth best in the MAC.
Senior quarterback Austen Everson (Brentwood, Tenn.) has set career highs in completions (123), passing yards (1,181), passing touchdowns (6) and rushing yards (373) this season. Everson started the first 11 games before missing the regular-season finale at Miami with an ankle injury. He started the MAC Championship Game, but re-injured his ankle and left after the Bobcats' third series. Junior Brad Bower (Burr Ridge, Ill.) has played in 10 games this season, completing 40-of-69 throws (58.0) for 424 yards and one touchdown. Redshirt freshman Josh Febus (Dublin, Ohio) has seen action in the last two games. He scored his first career touchdown in the win at Miami.
Senior Scott Mayle (Philippi, W.Va.) leads the receiving corps. Mayle has caught 24 passes for a team-high 355 yards. His 14.8 yards per catch is tops on the team. Mayle is also averaging 21.3 yards per kick return. Senior tight end Rudy Sylvan (Suisan City, Calif.) and senior receiver Will Norwood (Racine, Wis.) have recorded 23 and 21 catches, respectively. Norwood leads the team with three touchdown catches.
The Bobcat defense leads the MAC in scoring defense at 17.3 ponts per game. Ohio also ranks third in the league in rushing defense (131.3), passing defense (173.2) and total defense (304.3).
Second-team All-MAC selection Tyler Russ (Stetsonville, Wis.) is the Bobcats' top tackler with 84 total stops. The senior co-captain is also tied for the team lead with three interceptions. Senior Matt Muncy (Miamisburg, Ohio) is a two-time first-team All-MAC pick. Muncy has registered 81 tackles this season and leads the team with 15.0 tackles for loss, which ranks tied for eighth in the Bobcat record book. Muncy has 37.5 tackles for loss in his career, the fourth most in school history. His 202 career solo tackles are the second most ever by a Bobcat.
The defensive front is anchored by a pair of second-team All-MAC players. Sophomore Jameson Hartke (Centerville, Ohio) leads the defensive line with 42 total tackles. He has 11.5 tackles for loss and a team-leading 7.5 sacks, the fifth most by a Bobcat in a single-season. Hartke was chosen the Bobcats' player of the game in the MAC Championship after registering 3.5 tackles for a MAC Championship Game record 30 yards, including 2.0 sacks. In just two seasons, Hartke has already put himself into a tie for seventh place on the Ohio career list with 11.5 sacks. Junior Landon Cohen (Spartanburg, S.C.) has 39 tackles and is second on the team with 14.0 tackles for loss. He had 2.0 tackles for loss, including a sack, against Central Michigan.
Ohio's secondary is led by senior corner T.J. Wright (Beaumont, Texas). Wright, a first-team All-MAC pick, is third on the team with 55 tackles. Wright has broken up a school-record 17 passes and with his three interceptions owns the Bobcat record with 20 passes defended this season. He is also Ohio's all-time leader in both break-ups (43) and passes defended (55). Sophomore corner Mark Parson (Richmond, Va.) has 16 break-ups and one internception on the season. Wright and Parson rank sevneth and 12th in the nation with 1.54 and 1.31 passes defended per game, respectively.
Senior Matt Lasher (Copley, Ohio) has been the Bobcats' do-it-all player on special teams. Lasher is averaging 39.9 yards on 72 punts, including 29 inside the opponents' 20-yard line. He is also 13-for-18 on field goals, including a school-record 10 straight makes, and 28-for-31 on PATs. On kickoffs, Lasher is averaging 60.4 yards per kick with 18 touchbacks. The Bobcats rank sixth in the nation in punt return defense, allowing only 3.61 yards return, and second in the country in kick return defense, giving up just 14.85 yards per return. On the return side, freshman Chris Garrett (Bristow, Va.) is fifth in the nation at 15.26 yards per return.
The Golden Eagles had a four-game winning streak snapped with their loss to Houston. Four of their five losses this season have come away from home. USM has lost back-to-back games just once this season, losing at Virginia Tech and a home game with East Carolina in overtime.
Offensively, Southern Miss is scoring 25.2 points per gmae and averaging 334.7 yards of total offense. The Eagles boast a balance on offense with 173.4 yards per game on the ground and 161.3 yards per contest through the air.
Damion Fletcher leads the team, and ranks 11th in the nation, with 110.8 yards per game. Fletcher has run for 1,330 yards and nine touchdowns on 256 attempts. Jeremy Young is the Eagles' top passer wtih 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 123.8 yards per game and has thrown just five interceptions in 259 attempts. Stephen Reaves has played in seven games and accounted for 488 yards and two touchdowns. Shawn Nelson leads the receiving corps with 36 catches for 506 yards. Chris Johnson has hauled in a team-high five touchdown passes.
Defensively, the Golden Eagles allow 19.5 points and 314.5 yards of total offense per game. Gerald McRath leads the team with 91 total stops. He also has 8.0 tackles for loss, including two sacks. Martavius Prince leads the team with 13.5 tackles for loss. Robert Henderson has made 12.0 stops behind the line and is tied for the team lead with 4.5 sacks. Caleb Hendrix has intercepted a team-high four passes.
The aptly-named Britt Barefoot has handled both the punting and kickoff duties for the Golden Eagles. Barefoot is averaging 38.0 yards per punt and has put 12 inside the opponents' 20-yard line on 49 kicks. He is averaging 62.6 yards per kickoff with 27 touchbacks. Darren McCaleb, a semifinalist for the 2005 Lou Groza Award, has hit 16-of-23 field goals, including a 50-yarder. Five of his seven misses have been from 40 yards or longer.
Ohio and Southern Mississippi have never met on the gridiron. Solich owns a 2-0 record lifetime against the Golden Eagles from his days on the Nebraska sideline.
The Bobcat players have already started their two-week break between the MAC Championship Game and the start of bowl preparations. Players must report back to Athens on the evening of Dec. 14 before resuming practice on Dec. 15. Ohio will practice six times before taking another break on Dec. 23. Players report back on Dec. 27 and have three more practices before departing on Jan. 2. The squad is scheduled for three practices in Mobile before the game on Jan. 7.
For ticket information, call the Ohio Athletics Ticket Office at 1-800-575-CATS. Ohio and Anthony Travel have teamed up to create two different travel packages for fans. Click here for information.