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Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton calls a play during the Marshall game in Peden Stadium on Saturday September 17. Ohio won 44-7. Ohio next plays Rutgers on September 24.

Football: 'Cats earn best start in decades

Ohio is in unfamiliar territory after its latest blowout win. But unfamiliar is not to be confused with uncomfortable.

The Bobcats have started this season 3-0 for the first time in 35 years. They received votes this week in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll for the first time in coach Frank Solich’s tenure. A relatively young defense is putting up numbers that rank among the best in the country.

And Ohio players are earning awards for their individual performances.

“Sounds great,” Solich said, specifically referring to the perfect record through three contests. “I think it’s tremendous for our players and our coaches. I’m glad to see they’re rewarded with that kind of start.”

But Solich knows that 3-0 means one thing: there are at least nine games left this season. The next one is particularly striking, as Ohio will visit Big East member Rutgers (1-1) next weekend.

“They’ve got just a couple days to enjoy it, and then they’ve got to go back to work, so 3-0 is nice, but a lot of games to be played yet.”

If Rutgers ever prematurely checked off the game against the Bobcats, there is now an eraser mark where that penciled-in “W” used to be. Ohio is ranked first in the Mid-American Conference in six statistical categories, and its numbers stack up well against some of the best teams in the nation so far.

Ohio is ranked 23rd in total offense and 20th in total defense among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The team leads the nation in third-down conversion percentage defense, allowing only eight first downs on 43 plays (18.6 percent). 

“You always want to make the players aware of why they are where they’re at,” Solich said. 

“I think we need to talk about where we’re at and what our goals are and what it’s going to take to reach our goals.”

Ohio’s secondary has recovered visibly since allowing New Mexico State to throw the ball over the middle of the field in the season opener. The team snagged four interceptions in the 44-7 route of Marshall to push the season total to eight, good for second-best in the country. 

Rutgers features a corps of receivers who will test Ohio’s corners and safeties. The Bobcats are ranked seventh nationally in passing efficiency defense.

“They’ll be challenged,” Solich said. “Not only are they good receivers, (but) they’re tall receivers. That adds an additional challenge.”

The Scarlet Knights will have to contend with redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who was named the MAC East Offensive Player of the Week yesterday.

Tettleton has accounted for 10 touchdowns and only one turnover through his first three weeks starting under center.

“I feel like I’ve adjusted really well,” he said. “We always talk about getting the playmakers the ball. When we do that, they’re going to make plays and give us a good chance to put the ball in the end zone.”

Ohio might have a target on its back now, but if the team can dodge the pressure, maybe it will dodge the Scarlet Knights.

 “I see it as motivation,” Solich said. “If we haven’t been 3-0, we certainly haven’t been 4-0.”

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