Ohio (2-2, 1-0 MAC)
2 p.m. ET Peden Stadium
By JUSTIN HOLBROCK
For the first time ever, the Ohio Bobcats will take on the Eastern Illinois Panthers this Saturday at Peden Stadium on the banks of the Hocking River. Both teams are coming off home victories last weekend.
It will be interesting to see how Ohio quarterback J.D. Sprague fairs in his first collegiate start after captain Derrius Vick went down with a knee injury last week.
Sprague will get his opportunity against a Panthers squad on the rebound after losing head coach DIno Babers (now at Bowling Green) and Walter Payton Award winner Jimmy Garoppolo (now with New England Patriots) from last year's 12-2 team. Garoppolo broke several of Tony Romo's school passing records while guiding EIU into the Football Bowl Subdivision playoff quarterfinals.
In its first home game of the season, Ohio was able to rely on two of its standout freshmen -- linebacker Quentin Poling and walk-on running back A.J. Ouellette -- to beat the Idaho Vandals, 36-24.
Eastern Illinois was also able to pick up its first win of the season last week when it demolished Austin Peay, 63-7. The Panthers attacked Austin Peay on the ground by collecting 413 yards and six touchdowns.
Just because Eastern Illinois is an FCS school doesn’t mean this will be an easy game for the Bobcats. In fact, the Panthers triple-option offense could give Ohio’s defense fits.
The offense for Eastern Illinois is led by quarterback Jalen Whitlow who leads the team in rushing with 283 yards and three touchdowns this season. Whitlow’s running ability is complimted with pass-first quarterback Andrew Manley who shares game time with Whitlow at the offensive helm.
Preparing for two quarterbacks and a triple-option threat will not be an easy task for the ‘Cats. If Ohio can find a way to stop Eastern Illinois on the ground, it can expose the Panthers questionable aerial attack that has already totaled seven interceptions.
EIU's defense has its own flaws, as well. The Panthers have given up at least 140 yards rushing in each of their previous four games.
This glaring hole in the defense works well for the Bobcats, who were able to find their identity on the ground last week when Ouellette rushed for a career-high 132 yards and two touchdowns.
“A.J. [Ouellette] certainly has earned the right to get more reps. I’ve said this before; we have the best group of running backs that we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Solich said. “We have confidence in all of those guys and how they’re used.”
“I’ve noticed that their D-line shifts a lot and they have blitzes that I haven’t quite seen so far,” Ouellette said. “This week, I’m going to try to see holes faster and wait on my blocks. I was kind of nervous I guess last week and trying to get in the hole too fast when it wasn’t quite there so I want to make those adjustment’s for the game.”
“As far as an FCS school, that’s one of the better schools around,” head coach Frank Solich said. “They’re [Eastern Illinois] an established program and they’re used to success and they’ll come in here very hungry for a win.”
Middle linebacker Quentin Poling was named MAC East Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Idaho. He recorded three interceptions as well as 14 total tackles
This is Poling’s second time in four weeks that he has been named MAC East Defensive Player of the Week. He was also named the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week by the Football Writers Association of America
The three interceptions by Poling marked the first time an Ohio Bobcat has intercepted three passes in a game since 1997 when Tevell Jones picked off three against Bowling Green
Quarterback Derrius Vick has been ruled out for Saturday’s game and is on a week-by-week basis
Senior wide receiver Landon Smith (wrist) and safety Nathan Carpenter (groin) are questionable for the game against the Panthers
The 36-24 win against the Vandals gave Ohio its fifth straight home-opener victory
The Bobcats had 25,211 fans in attendance at last week’s game, which is the third most in school history
The Panthers have won 13 straight OVC games after beating Austin Peay last week 63-7
Before the season, Eastern Illinois was ranked 11th in country in the FCS
Quarterback Jalen Whitlow set a school record for most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback with 137 yards on 15 carries against Austin Peay
Whitlow also ran in two touchdowns and completed 13-of-15 passes for 1598 yards and two touchdowns
Despite losing Walter Payton Award Candidate Shepard Little to injury, the Panthers have been productive on the ground this season and even picked up 413 yards rushing last week
The 413 yards tied the school record for rushing yards in a single game and their six rushing touchdowns were the most by the Panthers since scoring seven against Indiana State in 2007.