Ohio Football Looks To Buck November Woes

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When Ohio Bobcats football takes to the gridiron against the Buffalo Bulls on Wednesday, the Bobcats have two obstacles to overcome: their opponent and the start of a new month.

November has been a bear for the Bobcats (4-5, 2-3) in recent years, as the team has gone 1-3 in the month in each of the last two seasons. In 2012 the ‘Cats entered the final month of regular season with high hopes at 7-1. Their 2013 campaign was also going strong at the end of October with a 6-2 slate.

A major factor of the 2012 collapse was a team riddled with injuries. By the end of the year the Green and White had lost more than a dozen players to season ending injuries.

Along with injuries, Ohio senior receiver Landon Smith blames the slumps on a lack of focus.

“We were on nice winning streaks and got content,” Smith said. “[And] I think we just got a little too content.”

This season Smith vows the Bobcats will play better in November. They have to if they want to extend their consecutive bowl streak to six games. 2008 was the last year the Bobcats missed a bowl. That Bobcats squad won just four games after starting the season 0-4.

At 4-5 in 2014, the Bobcats are entering November play with a losing record for the first time since 2008. They don’t have the luxury of falling back on a nice start to the season. They know it’s time to win some games.

“If we don’t win out we probably won’t make it to a bowl,” Smith said.

To start the month off in the right way, Ohio defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow says the coaches are cutting back on the number of reps in practice, and the length of practices. Burrow and the remainder of coaching staff believe those concessions will lead to a more rested team, and the hope is a fresh Ohio roster will translate to better performances and ultimately, wins.

Exactly a year after dropping a 30-3 road contest to the Bulls, the Bobcats get another shot at starting the last month of the regular season with a win against Buffalo (3-5, 1-3).

“It’s the most important game of the year because if we don’t win this one, we have no momentum going into these last few games and we really don’t have a shot at the bowl,” Smith said.

Fortunately for the Bobcats, linebacker Khalil Mack and running back Branden Oliver have graduated since the teams’ last matchup. Mack forced and recovered a fumble and record half a sack in the Bobcats loss in Buffalo in 2013. Oliver gashed the Bobcats defense for 253 yards on 34 carries and two touchdowns. Both are starting on teams in the National Football League this year.

Burrow and his defense have to prepare for a Bulls offense that still ranks in the upper half of the NCAA in scoring at 30.3 points per game. The Bulls offense is led by quarterback Joe Licata, whose 2125 passing yards, 64.6 completion percentage and 20 touchdowns all rank him the top-33 in the FBS.  

Without Oliver Buffalo’s running attack is still a threat to the Bobcats’ defense, which has surrendered large rushing totals at times. Anthone Taylor leads the charge with 951 yards, good for 20th best in the FBS, and nine touchdowns.

As always, the Bobcat defense’s first mission will be to shut down the run. If they’re successful, they can get the Bulls into predictable passing situations.

With quarterback Derrius Vick back under center, Ohio’s offense has a chance to capitalize on a Buffalo defense that allows 33.1 points per game.

According to Ohio linebacker Jovon Johnson, the Bobcats can’t get caught playing catch-up like in previous games this season.

“We just need to come out strong,” Johnson said. “We need to come out with a lot of energy at hit [Buffalo] in the mouth.”

With the start of weekday Mid-American Conference games airing nationally across the ESPN family of networks, Ohio will have 10 days between Wednesday’s contest and its last game with the Western Michigan Broncos. 

The extra time has been a positive, giving Ohio more time to prepare. Buffalo has gone through the same layoff, and the Bobcats will need to be ready for an equally prepared Bulls team.

“They’ll have a great game plan with time off,” Burrow said. “We know they’re going to come up with something different.”

Kickoff for Wednesday’s game is set for 8 p.m. at Peden Stadium. The game will be aired on ESPNU.