What impact will moving the game — and moving travel plans — have on this game?
Spencer: I think the impact will be minimal, if there is any at all. Ohio expected to take a long bus trip regardless of the venue. While Virginia did not expect an “away” game, the Cavaliers play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which forces teams to travel hundreds of miles up and down the East Coast.
If there is any sort of advantage, I would think it leans toward Ohio. Virginia would much rather be playing a home game. Giving up one of their games in Charlottesville is far less than ideal. Ohio won’t have to play in an ACC stadium, so I would say this plays into the hands of Ohio.
Pete: There won’t be any impact, especially for the Bobcats. If anything, it’s an advantage because Virginia didn’t expect to hit the road this week.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall mentioned in the ACC teleconference that the normal walk-through he likes his team to do before home games will be altered. The Cavaliers are actually staying two nights in Nashville, and they have to stay in a different hotel both nights.
This is Ohio’s second straight matchup against a big, mobile quarterback. Do you think that’s an advantage for the Bobcats?
Spencer: The Bobcats were torched by Howard’s Caylin Newton a few weeks ago, and Virginia’s Bryce Perkins isn’t much different than Newton. Both can make plays on the ground, and their respective offenses go where they go. If Perkins has a nice game, the Virginia offense will do well. I think he’s a matchup problem for the Bobcats, solely because it will be hot in Nashville, plus Ohio is thin at defensive line.
I would say it’s actually a disadvantage for Ohio. If the Ohio front seven can take a step forward and pressure Perkins, it could be a long day for the Cavaliers. But Ohio is young up front, and one game against a mobile quarterback won’t likely make too much of a difference when it faces Perkins.
Pete: That definitely isn’t an advantage for Ohio. The defense as a whole struggled against Howard, and maybe that will change with the return of Javon Hagan and Jamal Hudson in the secondary. Still, Newton made Ohio look bad throughout the Week 1 matchup, and Perkins might be better than he is.
What it will come down to is discipline. Did the defense learn anything between Week 1 and this week? The play of Perkins could be the way to determine it.
Nathan Rourke started Ohio’s last game before being taken out after three series. Do you think he can bounce back?
Spencer: Yes. Absolutely. Since being benched three series into the season-opening win over Howard, Rourke has practiced with purpose and has been sharp. He’s running through drills, hustling around and doing everything a coach could ask from a starting quarterback. Did he struggle against Howard, a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent? Absolutely. He looked frazzled. But we have to remember he had 39 total touchdowns last season. He was on the Manning and O’Brien Award watch lists. He’s a good quarterback.
Coach Frank Solich didn’t have to reaffirm his position that Rourke was the starter just a couple days after the Howard game. But the fact that he did speaks volumes about the coaching staff’s confidence in Rourke, despite the short leash against Howard. I would expect Rourke to lead the offense the way Ohio fans watched him do it last season.
Pete: If Rourke doesn’t come back and dazzle, I’ll be surprised. It was shocking to see him leave so early and just never come back into the game. Talking to him during the bye week, he just seemed to be embarrassed about the way how things went down.
The most interesting aspect of his return to the field will be how he starts the game. There has to be some sense of urgency he’ll feel right away because he doesn’t want to be pulled or worry about a leash.
If Rourke dazzles early and the Bobcats grab a quick lead, watch out.
Last time out, the Bobcats were gashed for 645 yards of offense against Howard. Will Ohio’s defense, the front seven specifically, show any improvement?
Spencer: I think overall, the defense will show signs of improvement. The Bobcats were shredded, yes, but it was on the back of a few trick plays by Howard. With Hagan back in the lineup, at least one of those probably doesn’t happen. I think regaining another captain in the back end of the defense will pay dividends.
Along the front seven, however, the Bobcats might run into trouble. Again, the defensive line is young and thin. Temperatures are forecasted to be in the 90s at kickoff, which isn’t good for a thin unit. But Ohio’s coaches all believe the biggest jump is made from the first game to the second; if that’s the case, Ohio’s front seven could swing the game in favor of the Bobcats.
Pete: The defense should look better, if not because of improvement, then because the secondary will be back to full strength. The biggest question Solich will have is whether or not his team can force turnovers at the rate it did against Howard. Without winning the turnover battle, Ohio would’ve lost in Week 1. That could be the case this week.
Who wins and why?
Spencer: I truly feel like this game is a toss-up. Virginia’s running attack can make noise against Ohio’s front seven, but I’m not entirely confident in Virginia’s run-stopping ability. I think both teams try to limit possessions and control the clock with the run game. In the end, I have Virginia winning 27-24 in a weird but fun game. But if special teams play any part in this game, Ohio could flip that score.
Pete: Complete toss-up. Ohio’s defense could be worn down early, but the same goes for Virginia’s defense. Both teams have strong rushing attacks capable of grinding out drives. Whoever has the lead at halftime wins the game. Ohio wins 35-28, but if the turnover battle isn’t won, who knows.