The Ohio Bobcats have defeated the two most daunting teams on their schedule.
The Bobcats took down Penn State and Marshall in thrilling road victories, but according to Ohio head coach Frank Solich, The Nittany Lions and Thundering Herd are old news.
“Those games are done with, the toughest part of our schedule lies ahead of us,” said Solich.
The Bobcats (3-0) return to Peden Stadium for a game against the Norfolk State Spartans (2-1) this Saturday. And while Norfolk State may not seem like a serious opponent, Solich begs to differ.
“They’ll play very good football and they’ll be very confident in their abilities coming in, as they should be. We expect it to be a heck of a football game,” said Solich.
Norfolk State has some serious athletes on defense. The Spartans have three transfers from big time Division I schools. Linebackers Mike Privott, Brent Singleton and Lynden Trail have all transferred from Louisville, Minnesota and Florida, respectively.
The Spartans are loaded with talent on defense, linebackers Jamal Giddens and Terrence Pugh have been at Norfolk State since the start of their college careers and will share time on the defense with the transfers. Spartan head coach Pete Adrian utilizes a “rotating defense” style of play, making sure he has fresh players throughout the game.
“They can really run, their outside backers are really athletic. They’re good one-on-one football players,” said Solich. “It’s not a deal where you’re just going knock them off the ball and think it’s going to be an easy day, that’s not going to be the case.”
Norfolk State is also a threat on offense, the Spartans rallied from a deficit of 30-7 last week to force overtime against Howard. Junior quarterback Nico Flores passed for career highs in the game, airing it out for 387 yards and four touchdowns.
Norfolk State also has a good rushing attack. Redshirt freshman running back Brendon Riddick is averaging over 6.5 yards a carry and has scored five touchdowns in the young season.
The Spartans have athletic receivers, redshirt junior receiver Derrick Demps caught five passes for 123 yards and a score last week. The Spartans lost the game in OT, but showed the ability to comeback and adjust in the game.
Norfolk State’s special teams play is the team’s weakest point. The Spartans have had six kicks blocked this season, the blocks came on three extra points, two field goals and one punt. They have also allowed two touchdown returns on the season, one punt return and one kick return.
Ohio will look to capitalize on the Spartans' weak special teams play. It could be a big confidence booster for Ohio’s special teams as they have also looked a little concerning thus far. The first two games were peppered with mistakes here and there, but they seemed to have their stuff together last week at Marshall.
“We had to be functioning well in all areas in order to win the [Marshall game], as far as special teams play,” said Solich. “If we had breakdowns in special teams, I thought it would’ve cost us the game.”
Ohio comes into the game riding high, but with a few lingering injuries to be concerned about. The most notable injury is quarterback Tyler Tettleton’s undisclosed injury.
Tettleton was spotted icing his hand during the Marshall game, but apparently that isn't the issue. Solich sat Tettleton in pratice throughout this week. The quarterback suffered an undisclosed injury prior to the Marshall game, and that seems to be the problem as it continues to linger.
"He was banged up going into [the Marshall game] with an injury that bothered him, basically throughout the week. He got another type of injury during the [Marshall game]," said Solich said on Monday.
Derrius Vick is the backup quarterback for Ohio and would see the field if Tettleton doesn’t play. Vick got some reps in during the New Mexico State game and Solich was pleased with what he saw.
“I thought he did a very good job for his first time on the field. He’s shown promise in practice,” Solich said of Vick’s performance in the New Mexico State game.
Beau Blankenship will probably see fewer reps this week. He was “banged up,” going into the Marshall game, according to Solich. He could use a little rest after getting the bulk of Ohio’s carries in the first two games. Look for redshirt junior running back Ryan Boykin to have an increased workload in the Norfolk State game. Redshirt freshman running back Kyle Hammonds and true freshman running back Daz Patterson will also likely see more carries.
Boykin has been nursing a hamstring injury this season, but he should be back and fully healthy this week. His full return will help ease Blankenship’s workload.
“I think [Boykin] will be better this week and if he’s better this week he can get some more playing time,” said Solich.
Ohio’s defense looks to give the Spartans some trouble. Norfolk State hasn’t faced a D-1 defense yet this season and the Bobcats will try to confuse them.
“We kind of disguise our defense so we can jump into different coverages,” said redshirt sophomore safety Nathan Carpenter.
Although the chance of Tettleton sitting out has given the Norfolk State game a "trap game" feeling, Bobcat fans can still expect Ohio to win this game. The defense has shown the ability to adjust and make big plays throughout the season.
Vick is a capable quarterback and Ohio’s offensive line is rolling on all cylinders right now. Expect Ohio to make some big plays on special teams as the Spartans sorely lack skill and consistency there.
The game against Ohio will be Norfolk State’s fifth game all-time against a D-I school. The Spartans have lost to Rutgers (2007 and 2010), Kentucky (2008) and West Virginia (2011) in their history of playing D-I opponents.
Ohio is currently ranked 29th in the AP Poll, a win against Norfolk State, along with losses from other top teams, may move them up a few spots. If Ohio continues to win, the Bobcats could crack the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time since 1968.
The Bobcats take on Norfolk State on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Peden Stadium.