Preview: Ohio Football Goes for Two Straight

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After a season-opening win over New Mexico State on the road last Saturday, Ohio football returns home for the first of six home games in 2011. Over 15,000 are expected for the home opener, one of seven night games the Bobcats will play this season. This Saturday night, the opponent is Gardner-Webb, a FCS school from North Carolina, which won its season opener, too. Here's some keys to the game:

Stop the Pass:

Nearly everything went right for the Ohio Bobcats last week against New Mexico State, but the one area of concern was pass defense.  Aggie quarterback Andrew Manley torched the Ohio secondary for 362 yards and two touchdowns. A lot of the passing yards came on deeper passes over the top of the defense, something Ohio cornerback Travis Carrie attributes to mental lapses.

“The mental mistakes are something that killed us last game. Everyone had a mental mistake. This week that’s key to us.”

Carrie and the rest of the secondary know they have to be better this week or it could mean trouble later this season, and the unit has been working on improving its game this week.

“We came into this week with a target on our head from ourselves,” Carrie said. “Just from the standpoint that in the first half we did great, second half we got comfortable, complaisant, and we didn’t really dominate and do what we’re supposed to do.

Control a Balanced Offense:

The Gardner-Webb offense could be a more legitimate test for the Bobcats’ defense. The Runnin’ Bulldogs displayed a balanced offense in the season opener against Brevard College and run a traditional offense.

“We’ll run more of a base personnel," Ohio senior linebacker Noah Keller said. "They’ll have two tight ends, two running backs in the game at times, so I think it will be more try to line up and run it at you.”

Keller, however, didn't finish the game against New Mexico State and is questionable for this Saturday's home opener with a lingering hamstring injury.

Gardner-Webb ran for 220 yards and threw for 217 yards. The Runnin’ Bulldogs had two running backs crack the century mark – Kenny Little ran for 131 yards on 23 carries with three touchdowns, 107 of those yards and two scores came in the second half. Little also had three grabs for 48 yards, giving him 179 all-purpose yards on the afternoon. Little’s performance earned him an honorable mention for the College Football Performance Awards. The second back to rush for 100 yards was Juanne Blount who tallied 102 yards on 14 attempts. To even out the running game, quarterback Chandler Browning tossed for 217 yards. He completed a shade over half of his attempts and added a touchdown on the day. Gardner-Webb’s balance is complemented by the play-action.

“The guys up front will get it done," Carrie said. "We have to make sure we get our part done and that’s pass first run later. Once we declare that it’s a run we’ll go down there and do our job.”

Keep on Runnin’

The preview heading into Las Cruces was to run it right at a weak Aggie defensive front. Gardner-Webb surrendered 245 yards to Brevard College in the opener (the tornados are a triple-option-style team). So just like last week, look for the running game to be a staple in the Ohio playbook. That veteran Bobcat offensive line could open up some holes for Donte Harden, Beau Blankenship and Ryan Boykin. The Runnin’ Bulldogs also allowed Brevard’s quarterback to rush for 135 yards, something that should excite Tyler Tettleton, an athletic quarterback himself.      

Athletes vs. Execution

Underdogs beat FBS teams by executing better than the higher-division squad. Ohio will have the better athlete at nearly every position on the field. Gardner-Webb leaves Athens with a victory if it executes its game plan at a much higher efficiency than Ohio does. The Bobcats have the talent to get away with mistakes, but if they play too sloppy those mistakes could be costly.

The home opener against Gardner-Webb kicks off at 7 p.m. from Peden Stadium.

Two 30’s to keep in mind for this game. The Bobcats are 30-point favorites over the Runnin’ Bulldogs and the forecast for Saturday indicates a 30% chance of rain. Weather has proven to be an equalizer at times.

Listeners in Ironton and Cambridge can hear the broadcast on 89.1 FM, those in Zanesville can tune into 90.1 FM, and if you are in Chillicothe dial in to 91.9 FM. Kick off is at 7 p.m. with the hour long pre game coverage beginning at 6 p.m.