Updated Wed, Dec 26, 2012 7:57 pm
Is there one word that can describe this year’s Ohio football season to the full extent?
Success could work. They started the season 7-0 and were ranked 24th in the AP Poll before being defeated by the Miami RedHawks. At 6-0, they became the first team in the nation to become bowl eligible. Despite losing four of their last five, they will be playing in their fourth consecutive bowl game.
Then again, the season did end in a disappointment for the fans, coaches and players. Several projections had the Bobcats going undefeated and being a possible BCS Bowl buster. With Northern Illinois making the Orange Bowl, it has become apparent that Ohio – without all the season-ending injuries – could be in the Huskies’ position right now.
There may not be one specific word that describes the Ohio regular season, but there’s one that can depict every player’s mindset as they prepare for Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl.
“We came out a couple days ago, and the energy was way up,” safety Gerald Moore said. “You can tell everybody, we pretty much had a week-and-a-half off, so everybody had their legs back and things like that, so it's always good to get refreshed and get those legs back.
“Everybody's feeling real good and we're excited for the bowl game.”
Moore and the Ohio secondary will be tested this Friday, going up against a pass-happy offense in UL-Monroe. Their 296.7 yards a game through the air ranks 27th in the nation, and quarterback Kolton Browning ranks among the best at his position.
The junior has thrown for 2,830 yards (third in the Sun Belt Conference) and 27 touchdowns (First in the conference, 16th in the nation). He also leads the team with 441 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns.
Double-threat quarterbacks are unpredictable in the pocket. A defense must be aware of Browning’s playmaking ability at all times.
One of Browning’s shining moments of the season came in UL-Monroe’s 34-31 overtime victory over Arkansas, ranked eighth in the nation at the time. Browning accounted for 481 yards and four touchdowns in the game, along with a 16-yard scramble on fourth-and-1 to give the Warhawks the victory.
Arkansas, at one point a BCS National Championship contender, fell off the map after that game, but the overtime victory gave UL-Monroe a chance to see its quarterback rise to an elite level.
“When you have a great athlete at quarterback, it's always tough, but it's one of those things we have to do our best to contain him and play our game,” said Moore on Browning. “Hopefully our line will keep him contained while we protect the field.”
Of the 252 completions Browning had this season, 97 of them were to Brent Leonard, a 6-foot-2 wide receiver.
The senior is ranked among the best receivers in the Sun Belt Conference and the nation. With 1,042 yards and 10 touchdowns, Leonard has become a threat to every secondary.
“You can't really prepare for the physical-ness until you actually play them, so you don't know the type of physical player (Leonard) is or how fast he is, things like that,” Moore said. “But just watching a lot of film is very key.”
Even though this is the first time Ohio will be competing in the Independence Bowl, the bowl’s history has not been kind to the Mid-American Conference. Four years ago, Northern Illinois suffered a 17-10 loss to Louisiana Tech. Go back another four years and Miami lost 17-13 to Iowa State.
Ohio is hoping to reverse the four-year curse the MAC has suffered in the Independence Bowl.
“We're going to have to change that (streak) around. It's a huge game for us,” Moore said. “I think we'll bring our energy back, and hopefully we can get a win for the MAC.”
Already among the greatest senior classes in Ohio history, this year’s highly regarded class has an opportunity to cap off tremendous careers in a green and white uniform.
If Ohio wins this upcoming bowl game, the seniors will graduate with the most wins in program history (currently at 39 victories) and will be the first class to finish with two bowl wins.
For Moore, it’d be a great way to end his career at Ohio University.
“When I came in with these guys as a freshman, we all had the same goals and we wanted to have that best class, so the things that we've accomplished, that's a chip on our shoulders,” Moore said. “So anything we can do to be the first, that's something that will be there forever. Not many people can say they were the first at a university.”
The Independence Bowl will kickoff at 2 p.m. on Dec. 28 in Shreveport, La. The Bobcats will be looking for their second win in six games. After having over a month off and time to reflect on the season, the Bobcats have one goal that can be said in one word.