Before the Bowl: Ohio’s Offense

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In what’s been an up and down season for the Ohio Bobcats, perhaps no unit has been as inconsistent as the Bobcat offense.

At some times, Ohio looked as if they had the firepower to hang with any Mid-American conference power. At others, the Bobcats were predictable, safe and unproductive.

As a unit, the Ohio offense scored 26.5 points per game and averaged 393 yards per game. Ohio was eighth in the MAC in both scoring and yardage.

To be fair though, Ohio was dealt a tough hand at the beginning of the season. Two weeks before the start of the season, presumed starting quarterback JD Sprague left the team after deciding he could not medically compete. Then, on his third rush of the year in the season opener, starting running back AJ Ouellette injured his foot, an injury that resulted in surgery and a lost season.

Following Sprague’s retirement, redshirt senior Greg Windham was named the starting quarterback and in the first game against Texas State, looked as if he should have been the starter all along. Against TSU, Ohio scored 54 points and put up 630 yards, both season highs, in a triple-overtime loss. Windham threw for 393 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Windham again had a tremendous game in the second game of the year, a 37-21 win over Kansas. Windham only threw for 167 yards but added 146 yards and a touchdown on the ground on only 16 attempts. Redshirt junior running back Dorian Brown tore up the Jayhawks as well to the tune of 122 rushing yards.

Unfortunately for Ohio, Windham came nowhere close to replicating that production for the rest of the regular season. The Bobcats were able to score 19 points against Tennessee in their third game but lost.

In Windham’s six starts excluding the Texas State game, he averaged only 148.2 passing yard with a 4-3 touchdown-interception mark. In Ohio’s win over Miami, Windham was 7-18 for 56 yards with an interception, although he added a rushing touchdown.

After struggling in his start against Eastern Michigan on Oct. 15, Windham was replaced by redshirt freshman Quinton Maxwell. Maxwell finished that game 188 yards, a touchdown and an interception and started Ohio’s next six games.

In Maxwell’s first three career starts, the Bobcats went 3-0, including their first win at Toledo since 1967. Maxwell only averaged 169 passing in those three wins but also threw only one interception while scoring five total touchdowns.

The running game stepped up big in those three wins though as Ohio cruised to 211 yards per to help out the young quarterback. Against Toledo, Brown dominated the rocket defense with 212 rushing yards and a touchdown and averaged 7.3 yards per touch.

In their final game of the regular season, the Bobcats only managed nine points in a win over Akron to clinch the MAC East title. As impressive as some of Ohio’s offensive players were at times, no one was as consistent as redshirt freshman kicker Louie Zervos.

Zervos set the NCAA record for most made field goals by a freshman with 26 and connected on 84 percent of his field goal tries. Zervos scored all of Ohio’s points in their division-clinching win.

In the MAC Championship, Ohio faced their toughest test of the year against then No. 17 Western Michigan. Maxwell fumbled on the first drive and struggled to get the ball moving, only throwing one pass, a pass that fell incomplete. Windham relieved Maxwell mid-way through the first quarter and played one of his best games of the season. Windham’s three passing touchdowns kept the Bobcats in the game and even had them ahead at times. With the game on the line though and with a chance to upset the Broncos on the final drive, Windham threw an interception that ended Ohio’s title hopes.

Brown also struggled mightily against WMU with only eight yards on 10 carries. Against Troy, Ohio will need Brown to return to form and will need consistent quarterback play out of Windham or Maxwell. It would not be surprising if both played against the Trojans.

The Bobcats will also need production out of their receivers, especially Sebastian Smith. Smith, a senior, came into the season with huge expectations but left Bobcats fans wanting more. Smith caught 54 balls for 877 yards so it’s harsh to say he disappointed but Smith was practically invisible in multiple games. While he had games with 156, 108 and 123 yards, he also had games of 12, 30 and 33. His 33 receiving yards in the opener against Texas State came before he exited with an injury and he sat out the Kansas game. Inconsistent quarterback play definitely played a role in Smith’s own inconsistent performances but a big-time game in his final collegiate game will wipe all of that away.

Still though, if Ohio wants to beat Troy the key will be the running game. In their eight wins, the Bobcats average 204.6 yards on the ground. In their losses, that number falls to 127. Unfortunately for the Bobcats though, their rushing yards per game decreased each month as the season went on. However, with three weeks to prepare, maybe the Bobcats’ fresh legs will reverse that trend.

Ohio and Troy kickoff in Mobile, Ala. in the Dollar General Bowl at 8 p.m. ET on Dec. 23. The game will be shown on ESPN.