Photo Caption: Daz Patterson eludes tacklers during a game for the Bobcats last fall.
Ohio is going to need a number of players to step up if they want to defeat Louisville Sunday. Many predict that the seniors will be the ones who make the difference, and they most certainly can.
Yet the Bobcats have a secret weapon that may be hard to spot, especially when he's surrounded by his much larger teammates.
Sophomore running back Daz'mond Patterson stands at just 5-foot-7 and may be an afterthought when looking at Ohio's veteran-heavy roster. This diminutive spark plug, however, could be the "X-Factor" in determining whether the 'Cats pick up a huge Week 1 win.
Patterson's versatility begins at his natural position of running back, where he had an effective freshman campaign in 2012, averaging 5.7 yards per carry when relieving Beau Blankenship and Ryan Boykin in the backfield. Even with such good stats in his first year with a new offense, Patterson said he's now even more comfortable with the Bobcats' style of play.
"I feel a lot better about it this time," he said. "Right now I feel like I know the system and everything going on. I have time to think about other reads."
Though some may be skeptical about Patterson's lack of size, he uses it to his advantage. His quickness and low center of gravity allow him to make cuts that larger running backs can't. It has become commonplace for him to make opposing defenders look silly with his agility. This ability comes from Patterson studying a Hall of Fame running back with a similar build.
"I try to model my game after Barry Sanders," he said. "He was a pretty shifty guy, and he used the line to his advantage. As long as you've got the strength and the weight, you won't go down easy."
Patterson also put in work during training camp at the slot wide receiver position, which has been a new experience for him. Besides the long hours catching passes from the jug machine and Bobcat quarterbacks, he has received plenty of help from older players when learning the new position.
"It's part of the reason why I feel so comfortable," he said. "We sit and talk about stuff during film. They know a lot about the game and what to expect on Saturdays."
But perhaps the biggest role Patterson can contribute is through special teams as a kick and punt returner. He led Ohio with 582 return yards in 2012 and reeled off a 100-yard kick return touchdown that played a pivotal role in Ohio avoiding an upset against Buffalo last year.
Head coach Frank Solich said he was impressed with Patterson's ability to grasp a tough position easily as a freshman.
"That's not an easy thing for a young player. He got through that year doing some very good things for us," Solich said. "I think he has put more and more things together. He is driven more; he knows what it takes to be special in the return game."
Patterson also said he understands just how big a great return can be in shifting the tide of a contest.
"It can change the momentum, especially if the other team is coming off a touchdown," he said. "You get the guys pumped. It really changes the whole swing of the game."
No matter what position he's asked to play, Patterson appears ready to make a difference for the 2013 Bobcats, and it would not come as a surprise if he starts doing so against Louisville on Week 1.