Tim Albin knows what Ohio’s about to go against. Actually, he knows who Ohio is about to go against.
Sutton Smith isn’t your average All-Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Last season, the defensive end was on the All-Conference team, and it’s worth mentioning that he was a consensus All-American. He’s on a short list of MAC players to ever garner consensus All-American selection.
So when Ohio takes on Northern Illinois on Saturday, Smith will be opposite of the experienced Bobcat offensive line. It’s not like he can play every position — after all, Smith is just one of 11 Huskies on the field. But Ohio still has to know where Smith is at all times.
“He’s going to make plays his plays,” Albin, Ohio’s offensive coordinator, said. “We just can’t turn the ball over when he does. He’s going to have some plays on us. That guy’s a dynamic player.”
Ohio’s offense has faced talented defensive players this season, but Smith is the best, and it’s hard to argue that. Last season, Smith had 29.5 total tackles for loss, which led the nation, and 14 total sacks (12 of those were solo). He had three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He already has 10.5 tackles for loss this year.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, are averaging 455.4 total yards per game through five games. Ohio’s offense — led by Nathan Rourke and his stable of running backs — has been a force in the MAC for two seasons now.
Ohio’s no stranger to good offense.
As good as Smith is, his playmaking ability doesn’t occur alone. The Huskies’ defense is allowing more than 350 yards per game, but it’s deceptive. They played Iowa, Florida State and Utah during nonconference play. Most MAC teams would struggle to stop those schools. Northern Illinois held its own against all three. It all starts with Smith and their pass rush.
“We’re going to have to have no turnovers and have a running game because they’re dynamic rushing the passer,” Albin said.
Ohio’s offense is built to stop players like Smith from having an impact on games. Rourke has on nearly every play. If the Bobcats don’t like the look they get from an opposing defense, they can adapt their offense to counter it. It’s a flexible offense.
The flip side of that card is simple. Ohio won’t change what it wants to do because an All-American lines up across the line of scrimmage. Smith is a great player, yes. He receives national attention and rave reviews — and deservedly so.
But offensive line coach Bart Miller understands what he has to work with along his offensive line. The Bobcats returned four starters from its 2017 line. The five linemen this season have good chemistry, and they aren’t backing down from Smith.
“You don’t worry about certain things that are out of your control,” Miller said. “You try to make yourself the best O-line you can be. We’re playing against a great defense and a great defensive line that we have a lot of respect for, but we want to be the best offensive line in the conference.”
Of course, there’s another way to view the matchup: Guard Joe Anderson looks at it as a personal challenge. At some point, he’ll get a chance against Smith and the rest of NIU’s defensive line. Smith’s a likely NFL draft pick, and NIU has one of the best defenses in the MAC, if not the best.
“He’s a very good player, and you can obviously see that on film,” Anderson said. “I think the way we’re looking at it is that we’re a very good offensive line. We’re going to go in and play football the way we play football, he’s going to play football the way he plays football, and the best one’s going to win.”
While Anderson and Miller have faith in the offensive line’s ability to keep Smith and the NIU defense in check, Albin and the Bobcats are aware of the strength of the defensive front. Smith isn’t the only one that can cause commotion and pester Ohio’s dynamic offense.
Albin had high praise for the Huskies’ defensive line. He even went as far as to make a bold statement about what Ohio will face Saturday.
That being said, Albin, Anderson and Miller like Ohio’s chances.