Junior cornerback Mark Parson has a chance to be a first team all-MAC selection this season and started the year off with two interceptions. The ref seemed to think he was out of bounds on this play, robbing him of what would have been his second interception of the evening against Gardner-Webb. The refs took forever to review this play as well. Okay, first you the wrong call when it's right there in front of your face and then you spend like 10 minutes reviewing it and still don't get it right. That's pretty ridiculous.
Ohio 36 Gardner-Webb 14
Overall, I would give the Bobcats a solid B rating in this game. They did some things remarkably well(special teams), and some things remarkably bad(offensive line), and some things in-between the two extremes(passing offense). Let’s get down to the nitty gritty shall we!
The game ball goes to: backup running back Josh Abrams: Rarely in my 23 years of existence have I seen a player change the complexion of a game on special teams like Josh Abrams did on Saturday night against Gardner-Webb. The punt blocking assassin blocked three punts against the Runnin’ Bulldogs, giving the Bobcats a much shorter field on two occasions and recording a safety on the other. Without his three blocks, a very scrappy Gardner-Webb team likely would’ve made this game much more interesting than it was down the stretch. Abrams’ three blocked punts were one shy of an NCAA and MAC record. His impressive performance was enough to earn him MAC East Special Teams Player of the Week honors. I simply couldn’t be happier for the senior, because Abrams had been one of the Bobcats’ best practice players for the past two years, it is just nobody outside the program ever heard about it. He’s a special teams’ demon and had three blocked punts in 2006. He currently has six blocked punts for his career, moving him even closer to the NCAA record of 10.
The NCAA single-season record for punt blocks is seven and I would look for Abrams to break both records as the season progresses for the Green and White.Teams will likely scheme against him starting next week with Louisiana-Lafayette, but I’m not sure if there is any way you can stop him. His blazing 4.30 speed makes him a nightmare to block coming off the edge and I feel sorry for any special teams’ coach that tries to stop him. Abrams also had a touchdown on the ground. Did I mention that he was also usually the first “gunner” down the field on punt coverage units for the Bobcats?
He racked up a tackle on a punt coverage play as well. He made a splash in his first contest as a senior and I’d look for the “special teams’ demon” to be wreaking havoc against opposing teams all season long. He also knows how to fire up the fans, jumping on the fence at Peden Stadium before the game to get everybody fired up. He is also a leader on the team, yelling at his teammates before the kickoff as they sway back and forth in a circle. No player on the team is as popular on Ohio University’s campus as Josh Abrams, who is a “local celebrity” in the eyes of many, including myself.
Speaking of the Bobcat ground attack: running back Kalvin McRae was back to his old ways. He pounded and pummeled the Gardner-Webb defense to the tune of 142 yards and two touchdowns. He carried the rock 24 times and averaged an impressive 5.9 yards per carry. His longest run was only 20 yards, but McRae once again displayed the tremendous field vision, cutting ability, and pure power that will make him a highly coveted running back in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Kalvin “Big Play” McRae had an excellent performance even though the offensive line was clearly missing dominant left guard Paul Johnson. The 6’2”, 318 pound behemoth is a key cog in the Bobcats’ rushing attack and the offensive line wasn’t quite the same without him on Saturday night. They were the victims of a few holding penalties and false starts, and never really dominated the Gardner-Webb defensive line the way they should have. Out of all the units, the blocking from the big boys up front was clearly the worst, but I look for the offensive line to bounce back once Paul Johnson makes his return to the lineup.
McRae gave Bobcat fans, players, and coaches a scare when he hobbled off the field in the second half with an injury. Not to worry, it was a minor injury and McRae should be ready to go for Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday(7 p.m. ESPN Gameplan). The season for the Bobcats would be entirely different if they lost what I like to call the “beating heart” of their offense. In 2006, McRae rushed for over 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season, becoming the first Bobcat in 30 years to accomplish such a feat. He strapped the Bobcats’ offense on his back and along with dominant defensive play and stellar special teams’, helped to carry the Bobcats to a MAC East crown and GMAC Bowl appearance.
Make no mistake about it folks, McRae is the engine, he is the catalyst of this Bobcat offensive attack, he’s the man that makes them go. It all begins and ends with Mr. McRae on offense for the Green and White. Even though teams are likely to crowd the line of scrimmage with extra defenders and “stack the box”, I would still look for McRae to rush for over 1,500 yards this season. He currently has 3,106 rushing yards for his career, placing him third all-time in Ohio football history and only Kareem Wilson(3,597) and Steveland Hookfin(3,972) stand in front of him.
I’d look for Ohio’s career rushing yardage record to fall to the Decatur, Georgia native this season as long as he stays healthy. His two touchdowns also gave him 31 touchdowns on the ground for his career, placing him second in Ohio history behind Kareem Wilson(49). That record might be out of reach for McRae, but after finishing his career in Athens, McRae will have bruised and pummeled his way through defenders and into the hearts of Bobcat fans everywhere. He’ll wrap up his career as one of the most decorated players in Ohio football history.
I was most surprised by the performance of two players: punter Matt Schulte and quarterback Brad Bower: Schulte had been one of the most inconsistent performers in fall camp for the Bobcats, launching a 40 yard punt one second, then shanking a five yarder the next. He was constantly having problems with his constituency, but rest assured Schulte had a top-notch performance on Saturday night.
The Cincinnati native averaged 42.5 yards per punt on six attempts, including a 58-yard punt which just seemed to rocket off his foot. His performance drew praise from head coach Frank Solich. "I was pleased with Matt Schulte also,” Solich said. “And I had not been pleased with Matt through most of fall camp so it was good to see him come on and punt the ball better."
The Bobcats will need performances like that one from Schulte all season long and let’s hope he develops some consistency, because he’s displayed the potential to be a solid punter for the Green and White.
Quarterback Brad Bower wasn’t one of my favorite signal-callers and to tell you the truth I was downright scared that Bower was once again commanding the Bobcat offense. Heading into the first game, the Illinois native hadn’t done much to win over fans, coaches, or fellow teammates. His inconsistency and bad-decision making were still plaguing him for most of fall camp and while he had won the starting job, he hadn’t won it by very much. While Bower didn’t have the best performance on Saturday night, he certainly didn’t have the worst, either.
He completed 15 of his 25 passes for 180 yards and one interception. He definitely had his bad moments as well, poorly tossing an option behind running back Kalvin McRae who couldn’t recover the loose ball. The miscue not only killed the Bobcats’ offensive drive but also helped to give Gardner-Webb more hope late in the contest. Bower easily could’ve had another interception in the end-zone because he underthrew a ball that was dropped by a Gardner-Webb defender. The much-maligned signal-caller still impressed me when he made several beautifully placed throws that were uncharacteristically dropped by tight ends David Carter and Andrew Mooney.
Mooney and Carter normally catch most of the passes thrown their way during practice and I would look for a big season from both of those guys. They are easy targets for Bower to find across the middle of the field and they can both get open with tremendous ease. Both players are very fast for their size.
Speaking of David Carter….the best pitch and catch of the entire contest came when back-up quarterback Theo Scott rolled to his left in the end zone and fired a 36-yard strike to tight end David Carter.
Carter juggled the ball, but hauled it in with one hand, making it the most impressive snag of the night.Theo Scott is the man I like to call “the great improviser” because of his ability to create and improvise when the pocket collapses. Sometimes he does have problems with dancing, but when Scott decides to take off with the rock in open space he’s a threat to take it the distance every time. I would love to see the Bobcat’s use Theo’s running ability more.
Another receiver who had a good night was California native Chido Nwokocha(pronounced Woe-ko-cha), who caught a pass from Brad Bower and streaked down the sideline for a 34-yard touchdown. I would look for a solid year from Chido, who has great hands, runs solid routes, and has decent speed in the open field.
Speaking of the receivers, I liked the rotation of receivers that new receivers coach Dwayne Dixon used against Gardner-Webb. He always seemed to have an interesting mix of players in there. Dixon has tremendous energy and is an amazing coach.
You can always hear him bellowing the words, “Great daaaaaaaay toooo get betttttaaa” when the receivers are stretching before practice. He is constantly teaching and is a high energy guy. One time when Jameson Hartke picked off a pass during a scrimmage, Coach Dixon ran across the field and lowered his shoulder into the All-MAC defensive end, sending Hartke stumbling and nearly sent him to the ground.
Coach Dixon’s energy and enthusiasm for the game of football are infectious. He coached three of the greatest receivers in college football history in Ike Hilliard, Jacquez Green, and Reidel Anthony at Florida. The Bobcat players’ are extremely lucky to have the staff they have in place, one I truly believe is the best in the MAC and one of the best in the country.
One more note about the receivers is that true freshman Matt Donahue had an impressive debut, snagging two balls for 30 yards. The kid has had a tremendous fall camp and really came out of nowhere, because he was a late signee for the Bobcats. He is one of those players that the ball just seems to stick to his hands. The Nebraska native will be a dangerous asset for Brad Bower to hit in the open field, because his superb hands coupled with his lightning quick speed will be downright lethal. Look for a big season from the fab frosh.
Another freshman I would look to have a very big year is a player that I think could very well end up being the best linebacker in Ohio football history. His name is of course, Noah Keller, and Bobcat fans that have seen his high school highlights probably understand why I would dare to make such a bold assessment. If you need to see them click on the link here: http://www.cstv.com/allaccess/player/06-oas-mediaplayer.html?content=http://mfile.akamai.com/9192/wmv/cstv.download.akamai.com/8108/open/ohio/06-07/video/m-footbl/02feb/020707-fb-Signing-Day2.asx&school=cs&. Keller was one of my favorite Ohio football recruits entering fall camp and the fab freshman has not disappointed.
The two-time Nebraska state shot put champion is blessed with a tremendous amount of lateral speed(4.65 forty time) and is a ferocious hitter. He drew rave reviews from Coach Solich during his radio show last Tuesday for the great instincts he has displayed so far. He delivered a bone-rattling hit against a Gardner Webb player that drew oohs from Ohio’s cornerbacks reviewing film from Saturday night’s game.
The former Nebraska Defensive Player of the Year is a “heat-seeking missile in pads” and is destined for greatness on the gridiron. He’s already become the second string middle linebacker and will add some quality depth at the position, behind the team’s emotional leader Taj Henley.
Keller is still learning the nuances of pass coverage and ran into some rough spots during fall camp, but rest assured the kid from the land of the Cornhuskers is oozing with potential.
Another linebacker who I have been very impressed with is the pride of Tyler, Texas, nickel back Errik Ejike. The Texas native has very impressive football instincts and is tremendously fast. He’ll be an excellent weapon for defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow to deploy during nickel coverages, because Ejike is an excellent cover man.
He’s got a tremendous nose for the football and that will only help him make more and more plays as the season progresses for the Bobcats.
Another impressive performance at the linebacker position came from Kentucky native Lee Renfro. The former safety showed why coaches decided to switch him to linebacker in the first place after he racked up 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and one sack. That stat line is very impressive and it is enough for me to give him my vote for Defensive MVP of the game. I’d look for Renfro to add some high quality depth at the linebacker position this season for the Green and White.
Linebacker Jordan Meyers lead the team in tackles and stuffed the stat sheet for the Bobcats. He racked up 7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 sack to pick up where he left off during the 2006 season in which he led the Bobcat defense in tackles before going down with a leg injury against Missouri. Meyers is a “heat-seeking missile in pads” with an excellent nose for the football an amazing amount of lateral speed.
Linebacker Taj Henley calls Meyers one of the best linebackers he has ever played with and that is saying something because Henley attended Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. FUMA is well-known for producing some of the nation’s top football talent year in, year out. It is practically a whos who of college football when you list Fork Union Alumni but here are a few names of some people who have attended there: former Virginia receiver Billy McMullen and former Tennessee Titans’ running back Eddie George. Did I mention that the coach of their post-graduate team, John Shuman, is rather legendary in Virginia football circles?
Shuman sends 24 to 36 kids to Division 1 football programs across the country each year and has had more than 50 players go on to play in the NFL or other professional leagues.
Ohio’s promising young cornerback Julian “Joonie” Posey took advantage of his first taste of playing time as a Bobcat. The redshirt freshman has improved vastly in the past couple of months under the tutelage of cornerbacks coach David Brown and had an excellent showing Saturday.
Posey is a cornerback that is bursting at the seams with athleticism and is starting to get the football IQ to go with it. On Saturday, he was third on the team with five tackles and had one impressive pass breakup.
The Cincinnati LaSalle product dove in front of the receiver and swatted the ball to the ground.
The corner back who had the best performance and would be a candidate for Defensive MVP honors was junior Mark Parson. Big things were expected from Parson this season and the All-MAC candidate did not disappoint in his 2007 debut, snagging two interceptions. One of them was called out of bounds, but the replay seemed to show that he was in bounds when he made the leaping grab on the sideline.
If he puts up staggering numbers like he did last season, Parson will be on the radar of NFL scouts across the country. He still has some spots where he can improve, but I still think Parson will have a huge year, because his football IQ is increasing more and more every day. Coach David Brown is a tremendous teacher in the film room and has an extensive amount of knowledge about the cornerback position.
Under Brown’s tutelage I would look for Parson to make sure the opponents’ top receiver is locked down for the Bobcats. A first-team All-MAC type of season from the Richmond, Virginia native is a very good possibility.
Game ball for the worst call of the game goes to: This one is a tie between the referee who called Parson out on the second interception and the referee that called a holding penalty on cornerback Thad Turner.
The defensive stat that I expected from this game the most: 65 rushing yards allowed by the Ohio defense. The Bobcats’ front four did a tremendous job in clogging up the rushing lanes like they have all fall camp. There were no surprises here.
Limiting the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs to just 65 rushing yards was very impressive and they will be tested on Saturday when they face one of the best running backs in the Sun Belt in Tyrell Fenroy. This kind of peformance will be expected from the Bobcats’ front four for most of the season, because when you have athletes like Landon Cohen, Ernie Hodge, Jake Williamson, and Jameson Hartke on the defensive line, then you expect dominant numbers.
The defensive stat I least expected from this game: 264 yards of total offense allowed by the Bobcat defense. The Bobcat pass defense was getting eaten alive all evening by quarterback Devin Campbell playing pitch and catch with his receivers.
Many of the cornerbacks missed a few tackles during the game and Mark Parson was a victim on a few plays. Donovan Flagler had a solid evening and Gardner-Webb was able to move the ball with ease because of Campbell’s ability to utilize the three-step drop when the corners were playing loose coverage.
Gardner-Webb failed to capitalize on a few drives for two reasons: one was one of the worst calls of the game in which a Gardner Webb receiver hauled in a pass inside the five yard line, landed on the ground, and then the ball came loose. The referee ruled the pass incomplete, which was a bad call in my opinion. The second was because of band hands by the Garder-Webb receiver, who caught the ball then coughed it up in mid-air, allowing Ohio safety Ervin Jackson to snag his first interception. Jackson was just in the right place at the right time and it really seemed like a gift from the Gardner-Webb receiver.
Safety Steven Jackson’s presence on the field will be welcomed with open arms, because he provides much more “high-quality depth” at the safety position. Neil Jereb simply doesn’t have the athleticism of somebody like Jackson, who had a phenomenal year last season, posting impressive numbers in the few games that he saw action(Kent State, Eastern Michigan). Jackson sat out Saturday night and the Bobcat secondary simply didn’t look the same without Mike Mitchell or him out there.
Jackson could have a very big year for the Bobcats as long as his turf toe is not a chronic problem for him. Another man who should also help the Bobcat defense because of his tremendous ability to rush the passer off-the-edge is standout sophomore Ernie Hodge. The 6’2, 271 pound defensive lineman is a freak of nature and is amazingly fast for somebody his size.
That’s not even mentioning he has the strength of an ox and was one of the strongest players on the squad in the team’s annual “Samurai Bobcat” competition over the summer. Hodge was blessed with an amazing amount of athleticism and if he stays out of trouble, the NFL will come calling some day. He’s a freak.
Another reason I think the defense allowed so many yards was that Ohio’s coaches were rotating a lot of players in and out of the game in order to get a variety of players game-experience. It is hard for any defense to maintain consistency when you are constantly dealing with different players being on the field at different times.I’d look for the Bobcat pass defense to improve as the season progresses and the secondary will bounce back from this performance.
Hard hit of the night award goes to: linebacker Errik Ejike. The hardest hits in football usually come on special teams and Saturday night was no different as Errik Ejike eyeballed a Gardner-Webb defender who was trailing Chris Garrett down the sideline on his punt return. Ejike then lowered the boom on his unsuspecting victim and dropped the player to the turf. It was a bone-rattling hit and it is too bad Garrett’s electric punt return that he returned for a touchdown was called back because of Ejike’s penalty.
Garrett made some moves on that return that looked like something out of a video game, dodging defenders and breaking tackles from nearly every direction. The Bobcats should find more ways to get Garrett the ball in space, because with his speed(4.29 40 yard dash) and amazing acceleration, he’s a threat to take the rock to the house every time his hands touch the pigskin. He’s electric and I like to call him “lightning in a bottle”, because while he may be small, he’s super-explosive. Garrett can put the pedal to the floor and leave defenders in his wake in an instant.
Another special teams player that had a good performance was the transfer from Washington, kicker Michael Braunstein. Braunstein had been pretty inconsistent in practice for most of fall camp until the week leading up to the game. He was looking sharp in practice and did not disappoint on Saturday, connecting on field goals of 21 and 43 yards. He also averaged more than 57 yards a kick on the seven kickoff attempts he booted throughout the game. Hopefully he keeps his consistency up and makes the transfer worthwhile for both parties.
Hats off to the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs passing attack: They made this game much closer than I thought it was going to be and they had their fair share of opportunities, but were robbed by some very bad calls and some mistakes.
News and notes: Cornerback Idris Lawrence is a very physical corner and had an excellent fall camp, but had to have been disappointed when he didn’t reel in an interception that hit him right in the hands. Lawrence also recovered one of Abrams’ blocked punts, to help give the Bobcats excellent field position.
Lawrence also delivered one of the most jarring hits I have ever seen in football in fall camp when he laid a punishing hit on Josh Abrams. Bobcat fans should look for a very solid season from the physical corner, who might be small in size but plays with a big heart.
Freshman running backs Vince Davidson and Donte Harden looked very impressive in their first few weeks of college football dancing around the Bobcat defense with ease. Davidson had one of the nicest moves in fall camp when he had a Bobcat defender in his hip pocket and put it in the spin cycle to his right side. It was pretty sweet.
This is the first Ohio Bobcat football column I’ve written for the 2007 season and let me finish it off by paying tribute to Herb Evans, a former film staff member for Ohio football who passed away this summer. Herb was one of the biggest Ohio football fans I have ever met in my life and the man truly loved what he did: filming Ohio football. Herb didn’t ask for money and he didn’t ask for any type of recognition. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what this world is all about. Herb just loved being a part of the team. Everybody around Ohio football knew Herb, at least in the administration. He had been around Ohio football for longer than I have been alive and he served as an inspiration to me. I loved hearing his knowledge about the old Ohio football teams, because Herb had been around so long. Herbie, rest in peace my man, you will be missed. Like BC said, at least you went out on a good season—2006 MAC East Champs. Here’s to hoping that 2007 is even better!