Former Second-Stringers Bolster Ohio Defense

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The question is raised before every football game ever played.

“Coach, what do you need to do to win the game today?”

More often than not, the coach’s answer will come down to X’s and O’s and out grinding the opponent. But, over the course of the game or an entire season, teams face adversity. Players get injured, ineligibility occurs, and sometimes performing the X’s and O’s isn’t all that it takes to get the win. Sometimes a team needs to hope for some help from unexpected sources.

The Ohio Bobcats are hoping that their trend of unexpected performances will continue after cornerback Devin Bass, safety Thad Ingol, and linebacker Jovon Johnson each busted onto the scene with their own standout performances this season. Neither Bass, Ingol nor Johnson began the season in the starting lineup, but each have earned Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors and have become staples in a defense that has seen vast improvement from the 2012 season.

“When you talk about true starters on this football team, we don’t have just 11,” Ohio defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow said. “It’s a luxury to have and [depth] helps us win games and it helps us do some things that we haven’t been able to do in the past.”

In 2012, lack of depth, particularly on defense, ultimately led to the downfall of the Bobcats, as they thrusted third- and fourth-string players into starting roles earlier than they had hoped. Once the injury bug infected Ohio on homestretch of the season, the Bobcats allowed four opposing rushers to record over 100 yards in their final four regular season games and were considered one of the worst rush defenses in college football.

Needless to say, Ohio’s revamped 2013 defense is a welcomed sight for Ohio fans, and Bass, Ingol and Johnson have provided huge roles in the change in identity. So far this year, the trio has combined for 83 total tackles and five of Ohio’s seven forced interceptions, contributions[BP1]  that have helped Ohio climb the charts to rank in the top quarter of Football Bowl Subdivision teams in interceptions and pass defense.

With their success comes development of more integral roles on the defense for each player. With that new role comes even more responsibility.

“I’ve always expected my role to be this big,” Ingol said. “After the last few games with some of the plays that I’ve made, I think some of the younger guys are looking at me to fulfill that role and make those plays consistently now.”

The Bobcats surely appreciate standout performances, but the next step is to develop consistency with that level of play and send the message that expectations remain high.

“We have enough players that when they do step up and get in there, we expect them to play well,” Burrow said. “If they’re working hard and looking for that opportunity and ready to go when it happens, then they’re going to play well.”

As Ohio puts Eastern Michigan in their rearview mirror, they turn their focus to the upcoming stretch of MAC East foes, a stretch that the Bobcats must get through unscathed to have a shot at reaching Detroit.

The Bobcats’ run took a hit last week with the injury of redshirt senior defensive end Ty Branz, leaving room for yet another young player to step in and make a name for himself.

“We have to step up and make more plays,” freshman defensive lineman Tarell Basham said. “Ty was on a hot streak and getting it done out there, so we can’t let him down.”

Bass, Ingol and Johnson will all be important pieces in the push for a MAC Championship, but for the Bobcats to complete their run, they’ll need more. Whether on offense or defense, Ohio needs to find their own standout in all five remaining contests.

Who knows who will come out of the woodwork next? But the element of surprise just makes it even more exciting.

“We expect big things from everyone on this squad,” Bass said. “We realize that we have a really good group of guys back here on the defense and we all have our specific roles and we’ve been playing so well and we’re just trying to keep that going.”

“It’s very exciting,” Ingol said. “It’s great see a guy that doesn’t play as much get out there and make a play and get that look in his eyes like a young kid on Christmas. It’s a great feeling.”