If someone were to tell you that of the eight Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools in Ohio, only one program had double digit wins and an offense ranked in the top 15 in the nation last year, would you believe that it was the Ohio Bobcats? Well, it was.
Last season was a big year for the Ohio Bobcats football team. They arguably had the best year ever in the program's long history. A 10 win season, the first bowl victory ever and they exploded offensively. Last season the ‘Cats redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Tettleton became the first 3,000 yard passer in the school’s history, in his first year as a starter.
LaVon Brazill, now playing for the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL, had an amazing year as well. He set school records for receiving yards with 1,146 and receiving touchdowns with 11.
The running game, led by fifth-year senior Donte Harden and Tettleton, produced 2,750 yards on the ground. The combined effort was good enough to make Ohio the 14th ranked offense in the nation in total production at the end of the 2011 season.
“It’s just a great system we have here,” Tettleton said. “Everyone wants to win and works hard.”
That offensive system is the brainchild of Ohio head coach Frank Solich who has spent the past seven seasons building up a roster and creating a multifaceted scheme that has its roots in the option system that he ran as head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the late 1990’s.
The offense all starts with the quarterback, and Tettleton’s dual threat abilities make him the perfect fit. Tettleton threw for 3,306 yards and 28 touchdowns last year, both team records. He added on 658 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground last season.
Already through three games this year, the ‘Cats are 3-0, with a win at Penn State and Marshall. They also have the 21st ranked offense in the nation, all despite losing their top two receivers, Brazill and Riley Dunlop, to graduation.
The team’s leading rusher from a year ago, Donte Harden, also graduated. The graduations left a group of younger guys to take over the reins and help Tettleton continue to run one of the best offenses in the country.
One of those guys who have stepped up so far this season is redshirt junior receiver Donte Foster.
“Losing LaVon (Brazill) and Riley (Dunlop), I knew it was time to step up,” Foster said. “I was under their wing the first two years I got here. I feel like I had to play a bigger role and lead the younger and inexperienced guys and show them how to do it.”
Lead he has. Through three games this season Foster is leading the team in receptions with 13, tied for first with two touchdown receptions and second on the team in receiving yards with 119.
He isn’t the only receiver stepping up to fill the void left by Brazill and Dunlop, however. There are four players on the team so far with over 100 yards receiving. Five different guys have caught a touchdown pass from Tettleton.
One of those guys is redshirt senior Ryan Clark who is playing receiver for the first time since he was in high school. The conversion from cornerback to receiver seems to be going well; Clark has nine receptions for 114 yards and one touchdown so far this season.
The ability to trust in multiple receivers is part of what is allowing Tettleton to pick up where he left off last season and open the field up. Through three games this year, Tettleton has already won MAC East Offensive Player of the Week honors twice, in week one against Penn State and last week against Marshall.
Tettleton’s 781 yards through the air are good enough for 22nd in the nation, and his seven passing touchdowns have him tied for 16th. Tettleton’s abilities and efficiency allow him to effectively run such high paced offense that one opponent referred to as a “nitro” offense last season for its break-neck speed and the team’s ability to put up stats.
“As long as we keep spreading out the passes I think it will be hard to shut down the receivers,” says Foster.
With so many talented receivers playing so well, it gives Tettleton plenty of options when looking down field.
“They got to be aware of everybody, they can’t look past anyone,” says Clark on the ability to spread the field out. “Donte (Foster) has the most experience so they key on him and forget about us and that’s a big mistake on their part.”
So far this season it’s been working, with guys like Landon Smith getting left open while teams are concerned with Tettleton’s other options. On four receptions this season, Smith has caught two for touchdowns.
Of course it’s not just the passing game that has made this offense so feared; it’s the Bobcats ability to run it as well. Last season Ohio had the 19th ranked rushing offense in the nation. So far this season they are keeping up with last year’s pace and currently have the 23rd ranked rushing attack in the nation. The running attack has been headed up by redshirt junior Beau Blankenship this season.
At the the start of the week Blankenship was the nation’s third leading rusher with 379 yards. He was a key part of the running game last year and has been more than willing to step up to the challenge of taking over as the guy.
“Yeah I know it’s crazy,” Tettleton says with a giant smile when talking about Blankenship’s success so far. “I’m just so glad he gets to be here with me and that I get to experience this with him.”
The two were high school teammates back in Norman, Okla. and together are now running one of the best offenses in college football.
“Some backs are just workhorse kind of backs and they can just go and go and go and I think Beau is that way,” Coach Solich said at his Monday press conference following the victory over Marshall.
Workhorse is certainly a fitting tittle for someone who has managed to carry the ball 88 times in just three games. With MAC play getting ready to start and with the two new starters on the offensive line having a couple games under their belt there is no reason to doubt that Blankenship will continue to have success on the ground.
Oh and don’t forget about him in the passing attack either, he already has 7 receptions for 72 yards as well.
“He’s a guy that you can’t keep off the field,” Solich said. “And you’ve got to love that if you have those kinds of guys in your system.”
Coach Solich has finally got a talented, motivated young roster. And now that everything is clicking, the possibilities for this offense are scary, or as Tettleton puts it, “it’s exciting!”