Ohio Bobcats (5-5, 3-3 MAC)
Peden Stadium 8 p.m. ET on Nov. 18
By Justin Holbrock
Achieving six straight years of being bowl eligible will not come easy for the Ohio Bobcats, who have two more chances to reach the goal. The first chance comes Tuesday when OU takes on Northern Illinois - one of the MAC's top teams - in a Bobcat senior night battle.
For a team that has not beaten Northern Illinois since Nov. 21, 2009, the question on everyone’s mind will be whether or not the ‘Cats defense can rise to the challenge and stop the Huskies’ punishing ground game. The matchup pits the MAC’s third-best run defense against a Huskies squad who leads all MAC teams in rushing.
Ohio had a bye week while Northern Illinois was busy picking up its fourth straight win with a close 27-24 victory at home over the Toledo Rockets.
The Huskies’ win clinched a seventh straight year of bowl eligibility with quarterback Drew Hare having one of his best performances of the season. Hare completed 14-of-22 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown against the Rockets.
Averaging 261.7 yards a game, Northern Illinois has, by far, the best rushing attack in the MAC.
It will, however, face an Ohio defense that has held opponents to under 100 yards rushing four times this season. That includes two weeks ago against Buffalo when Ohio held the MAC’s second-best running back, Anthone Taylor, to 37 yards on 17 carries.
Passing has not been a major weapon in the Huskies’ offense. Nothern Illinois, instead, relies on the run and is second to last in yards passing per contest. With 512 attempts through 10 games, Northern Illinois has 60 more run plays than the next closest team (Central Michigan).
Ohio has not been much better through the air, but with true freshman A.J. Ouellette back to full health and quarterback Derrius Vick at the helm, the Bobcats finally have the offensive backfield they have hoped for all season.
The bottom line for this game will be how Ohio’s defense plays in the first few drives against one of the MAC’s best teams. If the ‘Cats can hold the Huskies to seven points or less in the first quarter, then Ohio has a legitimate shot to beat Northern Illinois for the first time in nearly five years.
“We’re heading down the stretch and the MAC is tightening up in a lot of ways,” head coach Frank Solich said. “They’re [Northern Illinois] one of the most dominant programs, certainly, in our conference, and they have gotten on the national scene. It’ll be a huge undertaking for us.”
“Coach has been stressing it. You’re remembered for the games in November. So far we’re 1-0,” Derrius Vick said.
Ohio has not played a home game against Northern Illinois since Nov. 21, 2009 when the Bobcats won 38-31
The last time the Bobcats played Northern Illinois was on Dec. 2, 2011 when Ohio lost to the Huskies 23-20 in the MAC Championship game
There has only been one game this season, Nov. 5 against Buffalo, where Ohio has had both Vick and Ouellette starting in the backfield
Despite fighting a high ankle sprain against Buffalo on Nov. 5, Ouellette rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns
Senior wide receiver Chase Cochran has caught 17 passes of 40 or more yards during his time at Ohio
Northern Illinois has won 41 of its last 42 games when holding opponents to 24 points or less
Senior defensive lineman Jason Meehan is tied for first in the MAC with seven sacks this season
The Huskies are tied for second in FBS wins since 2010 with 54, behind only Oregon, which has 55
Sophomore quarterback Drew Hare leads in the MAC in quarterback rushing yards, averaging nearly 70 yards a game
Northern Illinois ranks third in the country in fewest turnovers lost with just five fumbles and two interceptions
The Huskies’ six sacks allowed this season ranks as sixth fewest in the nation