In the next three weeks as we move closer to the start of the 2015 Gopher Football season, we here at The Daily Gopher will give a quick preview of the Gophers opponents. Next up is the Gopher's Homecoming opponent, and second of two straight non-conference games against teams from the MAC, the Ohio Bobcats.
Location: Athens, Ohio
Conference: Mid-American Conference
Notable Alumni:Thom Brennaman (Announcer), Peter King (NFL writer), Matt Lauer (TV), Jay Mariotti (Douche), Piper Perabo (actress), Mark Dantonio (Coach), Roger Ailes (Fox News Head)
SB Nation Blog: Hustle Belt (Entire MAC)
Bill Connelly Preview: Here!
Ohio had a middling 2014 season finishing 6-6 overall. They did not do anything very well, but didn't do anything really poorly either. The Bobcats used two quarterbacks almost equally, but neither impressed and took a stranglehold on the starting job. Both return to try and give something more then meh in 2015. They also were not impressive on the road in 2014 finishing 2-4....not a good sign for a team coming into a Big Ten Stadium as a homecoming opponent.
Bill C's Wisdom & Statistical Wizardry
The Bobcats don't lose a ton on offense. Two of their top three receivers from a year ago are not back in 2015. Chase Cochran and Landon Smith combined for 46 catches ad just over 650 yards, so not a huge amount of production to replace. Other than that, its all returners for Ohio. Maybe not great for an offense that was terrible at finishing drives and explosiveness in 2014.
Defensively, the Bobcats were decent, especially against the run. However, the lose the two men in the middle of their defensive line in Cameron McLeod and Antwan Crucher. They only combined for just over 40 tackles with only 3 for loss, so they should be easily replaceable. The only losses in the secondary are strong safety Thad Ingol who had 35.5 tackles a year ago, and free safety Josh Kristoff who led the team in interceptions with 2. Not a great secondary. .
The Bobcats return almost all thier starters on offense, which will need to be much improved from 2014 to make a difference. The two quarterbacks to see action JD Sprague and Derrius Vick both come back, but neither was very impressive in 2014. They may be waiting for former Gopher Connor Krizancic to try and win the spot in 2016. All of the Bobcats running backs from a year ago also return, led by surprising now sophomore AJ Ouellette who led the team with 785 yards and 7 touchdowns. Ouelette improved as the year went on, and most importantly held on to the football, something the other backs for the Bobcats did not. Sebastian Smith led the team with 31 receptions a year ago, but is a possession receiver. Ohio will try and find a deep threat early in the season, but on paper it is definitely lacking. All five offensive line starters return with a combined 93 starts between them.
Ohio returns most of its defense except for the men up the middle. Defensive ends Tarell Basham and Kurt Laseak return after combining for seven sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in 2014. All of the linebackers return including Quenton Poling who led the team with 72 tackles and 5 sacks. Sam backer Jovon Johnson led the team with 10.5 tackles for loss, and will do their best to shut down an opponents running game. In the secondary, cornerbacks Devon Bass and Ian Wells return after combining for a remarkable 19 pass breakups. However, Bobcat coach Frank Solech has a great incoming crop of freshman coming in that could also play immediately. The team MVP for the Bobcats could be their punter. Mitch Bonnstetter is one of the better punters in the nation and averaged 41.8 yards per punt with over 50% being downed inside the 20. Kicker Josiah Yazdani was automatic on PATs, and good from shirt field goal distance, but struggled going 4-10 on anything 40 yards or longer.
One of the major questions marks for the Bobcats will be who will play quarterback. Neither Sprague or Vick really won the job last season, and it will be interesting to see if one or the other can take control by the time they come to TCF. If not, that could be a major advantage for the Gophers.
Another question will be the Bobcat's depth. They return lots of starters from a year ago, but many were young players forced into roles immediately due to injury or poor performance. If these players haven't improved, then if Minnesota can wear down the Bobcats, it could be a long day for them.
The Bobcats will play their two toughest games of the year in their first four, playing host to Marshall in Week 2 before coming to Minneapolis in Week 4. We will know a lot more about Ohio after the Marshall game. if it gets ugly, that's a good sign for the Gophers.
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What Does It All Mean For Minnesota?
The Gophers will no doubt have a raucous crowd for Homecoming at TCF, and will look to use it for their advantage. Ohio appears to not be great against the pass, something hopefully the Gophers will have figured out by Week 4. Ohio was decent at bending but not breaking in 2014, so it will be critical for Minnesota to find some plays where people with the ball in their hands can make a play...sounds like a good week for Jeff Jones and the bubble screens to work for sure.
Defensively, the Gophers should be in pretty good shape. Ohio does not have a good passing game, and may not know who their qb is. Their running attach is ok, but nothing the Gophers defensive line and linebackers should not be able to handle. The key to the game will be trying to get lots of 3 and outs, and getting the Ohio defense back on the field. If they can do that and let the Gophers wear them down over time...the Gophers will be in good shape.
The Gophers have a Homecoming opponent where the should win. it may not be easy at first as the Bobcats bring in a decent defense for a MAC squad, but the Gophers should be able to wear them down with their big offensive line, and take advantage of some quick passing plays where their shifty players can make a man miss. Defensively, the Gopher should be able to play a lot of tight man coverage, freeing their safeties and linebackers to make aggressive plays and try and force turnovers. I can easily see this as one of those games where Ohio keeps it closer than it should be in the first half, but Minnesota pulls away down the stretch and cruises to a 27-10 win.