Whether a clearly not 100 percent redshirt senior Adam DiMichele or a clearly not ready for primetime redshirt freshman Chester Stewart get the call for the Owls, neither can really compete with Bobcats’ junior Boo Jackson (that is, until DiMichele is healthy).
Jackson has fairly average stats, ranking seventh in the Mid-American Conference with 191 passing yards per game to go along with nine touchdown passes and eight interceptions on the season.
DiMichele has been superb, but the shoulder injury won’t magically heal itself. Nor will the inconsistencies of Stewart, who, despite having a strong arm, is still learning on the job.
The addition of freshman Kee-ayre Griffin to the mix has helped the Owls tremendously, as he has averaged 6.2 yards per carry and notched a touchdown in both contests where he lined up as a running back.
The Bobcats counter with a one-two punch of redshirt freshman Donte Harden and junior Chris Garrett, who collectively have four touchdowns and average almost 100 rushing yards per game.
But with redshirt freshman Joe Jones struggling to see open holes and Griffin not feature-back material, the Owls are going to have to rely on the big plays to get them yards.
And those don’t come easy.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Neither team has a player with 30 receptions, but Owls’ senior Bruce Francis’ six touchdown receptions are tied for the most in conference, and his steady hands are something the Bobcats can’t counter.
But, junior Taylor Price, sophomore LaVon Brazill and senior Andrew Mooney all have caught at least 20 balls for more than 200 yards, and this group collectively has 11 touchdowns to the Owls’ nine. And since six of those belong to Francis, the Bobcats clearly have more of a balanced unit to offer.
The Owls have 892 rushing yards to the Bobcats’ 1,099. They’ve both allowed their quarterbacks to be sacked 16 times.
But the Bobcats have been flagged fewer times than the Owls, though for more yards, indicating that the yellow flags are not so much on holding penalties and false start calls.
The Owls are third in the MAC with 13 sacks and sixth in rushing yards per game with 155.6. In addition, they’ve given up eight rushing touchdowns on the season and allow just 3.7 yards per carry.
The Bobcats counter with a rushing defense that gives up almost a yard per carry more than the Owls’ does and gives up an average of 175.1 yards per game on the ground.
Combine that with the continued improved play of junior Junior Galette and his five and a half sacks, and the Cherry and White have a clear advantage.
With the Bobcat run defense in dire straits, it’s clear the team isn’t getting a whole lot of help from the linebacking core.
Sophomore Noah Keller does have a team-leading 53 tackles, but only one of those is for a loss.
Meanwhile, sophomore Amara Kamara leads the Owls’ group with 43 tackles (three for losses), while junior John Haley has also chipped in with 43 tackles of his own (two and a half for losses).
But the Owls often lose the battle over the middle of the field, so it doesn’t appear either unit has all that much to boast about.
The Bobcats have more interceptions (10 to the Owls’ six), and while the two teams have given up the same amount of touchdowns through the air, the Bobcats surrender fewer yards (194.1 to the Owls’ 208.1).
But, the bottom line for defense is points, and with the combined efforts of the front line, the Owls have given up six fewer touchdowns and three fewer field goals than the Bobcats.
So with the Owls giving up 19.3 points per game to the Bobcats’ 26.4, sometimes numbers can be misleading.
The punting of sophomore Jeff Wathne for the Owls and sophomore Matt Schulte for the Bobcats is essentially even.
Yet, no one in conference comes close to the Owls’ 29.9 yards per kick return average, a clear advantage for the home team.
And while the Owls have kicking problems of their own, Bobcats’ senior Barrett Way is just nine for 15 on the season, so both teams will apparently have problems kicking the ball through the uprights.
Bobcats’ coach Frank Solich may not be a popular man in Nebraska, but he’s made the Ohio program relevant again since being hired in 2005.
But after a 9-5 season in 2006, Solich is just 8-11 since, including a 2-5 start to this season.
Meanwhile, Owls’ coach Al Golden continues to try to rebound a program left in oblivion, and while he’s made strides, he still has only seven career wins.
So until Golden proves he can win, he won’t be favored in many matchups.
Both teams have had their share of tough losses this season, but they’ve both hung in pretty much every game they’ve played.
Additionally, both teams are also still alive in the mediocre MAC East Division, despite each having only one conference win.
But with Ohio having three home games and one road game against Miami (Ohio) left on its schedule, the Owls need this one more.
A lot more.
That, along with the home crowd and the program’s first national television game in forever, helps give the Owls the advantage outside the lines.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.