Photo Caption: Ohio University’s Matt Amicone, center, tries to makes his way to Marshall Quarterback Cato Rakeem last Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington, W. Va.
One of the Ohio Bobcat football team's mantras this season has been to take one game at a time so as not to get intimidated or, at the other end of the spectrum, not to take any opponent lightly. This method of preparation has served the 'Cats well thus far, but its impact should increasingly be felt in preparation for Saturday's home matchup with the Norfolk State Spartans.
The Spartans, who hail from the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), would be an easy opponent to overlook with Mid American Conference play beginning next week. However, nobody on this Bobcat squad appears to be taking a win this weekend for granted, especially not head coach Frank Solich.
"I don't know how (the Spartans) are perceived by other people, but I know how they're perceived by our coaches, and I know how they'll be perceived by our players once they get a chance to see them on film," Solich said. "They're capable of winning, so we're just going to have to be on top of our game and do what we've been doing in the first three games, which is taking care of the ball, forcing some turnovers and making big plays. It's not a deal where you're just going to knock them off the ball and think that it's going to be an easy day. We expect it to be a heck of a football game."
Norfolk State's 2-1 record suggests that Solich is right to be wary. They come to Athens for their first-ever meeting with the Bobcats looking to do what other FCS programs have done before them. In this regard, Ohio's redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who is one of just six signal-callers nationally who has thrown for seven touchdowns with no interceptions, echoed his coach's sentiments.
"They're a good FCS team," Tettleton said. "You look across the nation, and there's been six or eight teams from the FCS that have beaten FBS (top division) teams. So we can't take them lightly at all. They have a really good defense similar to what we're going to be seeing every week in the MAC, so we're going to have our hands full again."
Along with preparing for a talented, unfamiliar foe, the 'Cats are trying to get some of their key players, including Tettleton and running backs Beau Blankenship and Ryan Boykin, completely healthy. This includes holding these players from 100-percent practice, which is something Solich noted as tough to do, especially for his quarterback.
"Tyler has been so competitive throughout his career here. I can't get him to not practice," Solich said. "He was banged up going into the Marshall game and got another type of injury during the game. At the end of the game, he was struggling throwing the ball, and yet, was able to do enough to get it done. We're going to tie him up a little this week (in practice) and let him heal up before he goes out and goes 100 miles an hour like he usually does, whether he likes it or not."
Tettleton's health is crucial, but the return of a fully healthy Boykin following a hamstring injury will also help the offense in reducing the workload and chances of injury for Blankenship, who is another key cog in the offense.
"I think Boykin will be better this week, and if he's better this week, he can get some more playing time and spell Beau so that we can hopefully have a fresh tailback on the field for every snap," Solich said.
Although all three of these offensive players are expected to play this weekend, it will again be up to the defense to come up with big stops against what Solich sees as a very balanced Spartan offensive attack. Norfolk State divides its offensive snaps equally between passing and running the ball.
Even though the Bobcat defense will have to clean up a few things after giving up 14 quick points to Marshall last week, they were able to come back with a big fumble recovery and interception at the end of the game that led to the eventual victory. This type of effort will have to continue if the Bobcats hope to stay out of the loss column.
As the pressure builds along with the accumulation of wins, senior linebacker Jelani Woseley, who earned the nickname "The Closer" after getting late interceptions at Penn State and the aforementioned one at Marshall to seal Bobcat victories, provided a succinct and familiar response as to whether he and his teammates are taking their FCS opponent lightly.
"No, not at all. One game at a time."
• The Bobcats go into Saturday's contest ranked number 29 in the country in the AP poll. They are one of only 31 remaining undefeated teams at the FBS level.
• The Bobcat defense has allowed the fewest points in the MAC in 2012. In doing so, they have also limited opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards in all three games this season.
• Marshall's third-quarter touchdown marked the first time the 'Cats had given up a second-half offensive touchdown this season.
• A win over Norfolk State would mark the 'Cats' first 4-0 start since 1976.
• Bobcat QB Tyler Tettleton needs just four touchdown passes to become the school's all-time leader in career touchdown passes.
• Bobcat running back Beau Blankenship has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the first three games this season and currently ranks ninth in the NCAA in rushing.