Idaho (0-2) at Ohio (1-2) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Peden Stadium (24,000) -- Athens, Ohio. Television: None. Home Record: Idaho 0-1, Ohio 0-0. Away Record: Idaho 0-1, Ohio 1-2. Neutral Record: Idaho 0-0, Ohio 0-0. Conference Record: Idaho 0-1, Ohio 1-0. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: The Idaho Vandals will try to bounce back from two tough early- season losses as they travel to Athens to face the Ohio Bobcats in a non- conference tilt at Peden Stadium Saturday.
Idaho had its first game of the season rained out at Florida, so the first contest the Vandals played was on Sept. 6 against ULM, which the Warhawks won, 38-31. This past weekend, Idaho opened its home slate with a loss to Mid- American Conference program Western Michigan, 45-33. The Vandals, of the Sun Belt Conference, take on their second straight MAC squad this weekend.
The Bobcats started their season strong with a Mid-American Conference win over intrastate rival Kent State, 17-14. But since then, it's been downhill for Ohio, which has dropped two consecutive contests to Kentucky (20-3) and Marshall (44-14). The Bobcats have two more non-conference games on the slate before they head into conference play.
The two sides have only met twice on the football field in their program histories, with each side taking a decision. The last time they clashed head- to-head was back in the 1976 season.
Offense hasn't been an issue for Idaho through the team's first two games of the season. In fact, the Vandals have registered 64 combined points against their two opponents. It's been the team's defense that has let it down, allowing 83 points in two games. Quarterback Matt Linehan has played well in his two games under center, accounting for 362 yards and three touchdowns in the team's loss to WMU Saturday. In two games played, Linehan has 686 passing yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions.
The problem with Idaho's offense has been an absence of a running game to complement Linehan's strong passing ability. Jerrel Brown is the team's leading rusher with 161 net yards through two games, and the Vandals have just two rushing scores (one from Linehan). As a team that averages 81.5 rushing ypg, Idaho could use a bump in production from its backfield.
Linehan's success as a passer depends on the work his receivers and pass catchers do to get open. So far they've been able to create separation to help Linehan out. Quarterback-turned-receiver Joshua McCain leads the team so far this season with 15 catches for 221 yards and three scores. Both Deon Watson (12 receptions, 153 yards, TD) and Richard Montgomery (nine receptions, 161 yards, TD) are over the 100-yard receiving mark in the two games.
Again, it all comes back to defense for Idaho, which surrenders an average of 208 rushing ypg, 301 passing ypg and 509 total ypg to opponents. Those numbers are directly related to the 41.5 ppg the Vandals have allowed through the first two contests this season. Opponents are 6-of-7 in red-zone opportunities in that span.
Defensive back Jordan Grabski led all Idaho players in tackles against Western Michigan with 11. He ranks third on the team with 15 total stops in the team's first two games, which is five tackles behind team leader Marc Millan. The linebacker has registered 20 tackles (six against WMU) and four tackles for loss, and adds a quarterback hurry to his season stat line.
Ohio's narrow win against Kent State in the first week of the season provided fans with a glimpse of relief and joy, but since then the Bobcats have provided the complete opposite. Ohio's offense is averaging a mere 11.3 ppg through the first three contests, and is managing a relatively meager 345.7 combined offensive ypg total. It starts with the team's quarterback situation, which is shaky at best. Derrius Vick got the majority of the reps against Marshall (18-of-29, 200 yards, TD, INT) in the lopsided loss, but J.D. Sprague saw time as well, and passed for a touchdown and 36 yards in eight attempts.
The running game hasn't been much more consistent, although Daz'mond Patterson at least has the starting running back job won. But it wasn't Patterson who led the team in rushing against Marshall. It was Vick, with his 11 carries for 51 yards. In three games played, Patterson leads the Bobcats with 141 rushing yards and an average of 47 rushing ypg. Ohio has yet to score a touchdown on the ground.
If Idaho can take away Landon Smith (11 receptions, 97 yards, 2 TD) and Brendan Cope (eight receptions, 165 yards) from whichever quarterback is under center, the Bobcats may be in trouble in the passing game. They have been the most reliable targets for Vick and Sprague this season.
Defensively, Ohio is allowing opponents to more than double its point production from week to week so far. Through three games, opponents have scored 78 points (26 ppg average) and have racked up 467.3 combined ypg against the Bobcats (that's an average of 6.2 yards per play). This is a defense that has also forced only one turnover in that span (one interception, no forced fumbles).
Linebackers Blair Brown and Travis Daugherty each led the team with seven tackles in the team's loss to Marshall, and each recorded one tackle for loss. Fellow linebacker Jovon Johnson paces the squad with 26 total tackles this season, adding 2.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup. Brown is second with 23 stops, 1.5 tackles for loss and a half-sack. It's a strong core of defensive players, but the secondary needs work considering it's part of a unit that allows 294 passing ypg.
After playing against two very strong opponents, Ohio will be looking forward to returning home and getting an 0-2 Sun Belt team. But Idaho is only 0-2 because it ran up against two teams with exceptionally strong offenses, and the Vandals haven't proven to have a defense capable of stopping anyone yet. This will be the week for Idaho to prove its worth defensively. The Vandals should get the job done and outplay the Bobcats on the offensive side.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Idaho 34, Ohio 23Game Date and Time
Saturday, September 20, 7 p.m. (ET)