Posed with a question about Toledo, the Bobcats' upcoming opponent with a dynamite offense, linebacker Chad Moore set a benchmark for his unit: 20 points allowed.
“We think we can do that,” he said. “We can hold them to 20 points and our offense will get it rolling and we can beat them.”
Ohio (41.2 points per game) and Toledo (39) will pit fire against fire Wednesday night at Peden Stadium in a battle of division leaders that has the making of a back-and-forth, last-score-wins type of matchup.
“To think that you're just going to shut them out or slow them down is not probably very realistic,” coach Frank Solich said.
But of course, the Bobcat defense will try. And it’ll have to be better than it was last week against substandard Miami (3-6, 2-3 MAC), which racked up 448 yards and 28 points.
The main nemesis was RedHawk receiver James Gardner, who, at 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds, physically overmatched the Bobcats with his combination of size and strength.
For three quarters, he torched them for 10 catches, 166 yards and three touchdowns. In the fourth, however, Ohio kept him from doing anything else.
“Honestly, we just woke up,” said cornerback Bradd Ellis, who lined up with Gardner for much of the game. “We just played better. Sometimes it’s simple, and it sounds simple, but that’s really what it came down to.”
Ohio had similar problems earlier this year against another large receiving target, Central Michigan’s Tyler Conklin (6-foot-4, 240 pounds). Conklin caught 10 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the Bobcats’ only conference loss.
With its emphasis on stopping the run (and succeeding with just 123 rush yards allowed per game, second in the MAC), the Bobcat defense often provides limited support for the cornerbacks.
“We respect our corners a lot, and we know they have one of the toughest jobs on the team,” Moore said. “And that’s to be on an island the whole game.”
The Rockets, who average a conference-best 297 passing yards per game, will test Ohio’s secondary, which is coming off its most porous game of the season (350 passing yards allowed).
Ellis, who said that all 11 defensive players are necessary for an effective pass defense, acknowledged his “down game” and relished the chance for the secondary to bounce back against Toledo.
“This group has done a really good job all year of when people think we’re down or when people think we’re struggling, is answering that call,” Ellis said. “And that’s what we’re gonna have to do here.”