Welcome back to football season, Penn State fans!
It's been far too long since we had the pleasure to venture behind enemy lines to learn about our opponent. This week, Stephen Uhlmann from MAC Report Online sat down with NLD writer Derek Aschman to discuss this year's Bobcat team, and what might be in store this Saturday.
1) The Ohio QB, Tyler Tettleton, has been getting a lot of attention nationally for his gaudy numbers as a sophomore last year. For readers who don't know, Tettleton put up over 3,300 yards in the air and more than 650 on the ground. Can you speak a little bit about what his skill set is, what makes him so good, and also what a few of his limitations might be?
I think the greatest ability of Tyler Tettleton is his ability to grasp the offense and make good decisions. He was a first time starter as a redshirt sophomore in 2011 in the Pistol offense that puts a lot in the quarterback's hands. A hand-off up the middle one play could be run the same the next, but be an option run to the QB or a 30-yard bomb. He handled it well last year no matter what personnel was on the field.
One limitation I saw at times last year was him relying on one guy (LaVon Brazil) too much at times. This was especially evident in the MAC Championship game when Brazil was hurt in the 2nd half. He looks much more confident spreading the ball around this year and using his teammates to their full potential, so it may not be a concern as it was at the end of the year.
2) Even with Tettleton returning, the Bobcats have lost a few skill players on the offense - most notable WR LaVon Brazill who was drafted in the 6th round of the NFL draft last year, and RB Donte Harden. Who is expected to fill their shoes, and what is expected of the new guys? Overall, should the offense see and improvement from last year?
I honestly think the offense can and will get better. Harden was not healthy the second half of 2011, and now juniors Beau Blankenship and Ryan Boykin filled in well behind him. The two of them combined with Tettleton and an experienced line should make the rushing attack a strength of this team.
As for the receivers, while they haven't been consistent, guys like RS junior Donte Foster have incredible athleticism, however they just aren't as consistent as they departing seniors were. They have looked better in camp and the passing game may not suffered as much as once feared. Another guy Penn State will want to keep an eye on is RS sophomore Chase Cochran. He has torched the defense all fall and has emerged as Tettleton's favorite deep target.
[Editor's note: Let's check out this Donte Foster...]
[Editor's note: ... Alright. I see Donte.]
3) Last year's defense seems like it was pretty decent, only giving up an average of 22 points per game. The scary thing is that you guys have 8 starters returning. Can you speak a little bit about the strengths and weaknesses of this defense, and how they are expected to perform?
The strength is that they are battle tested. Last year injuries were littered throughout the units and different guys stepped up in different places. This also improved the depth going in to 2012, especially on the defensive line. The pass defense struggled at times in 2011, but with most players returning, they should definitely be improved.
The weakness is that they are probably going to be without two of their most talented players this year. Linebacker Noah Keller, that led the team in tackles last year and was the heart of the defense graduated. Also hurting the team is the fact that senior cornerback and captain Travis Carrie just had shoulder surgery and will miss the whole season. Replacing those two will be the key to the defense's success in 2012.
4) A lot of people are starting to think that the sky is the limit for this Bobcat team. A writer for Sports Illustrated even went as far as to say that she thinks Ohio will run the table to the BCS. How are these lofty predictions affecting the team and its fans? Considering Ohio has not won a MAC championship since 1968, how realistic are they? What are most fans predicting for the season?
A lot of people think it is possible that they go 12-0 and I don't blame them. The team knows that there is a target on their back after being picked to win the conference at Media Day, and they will carefully prepare for every game. They can't sneak up on teams like they did in past years. Even though they have not been successful in the post-season, they have had three straight winning seasons and have played in three of the last six MAC Championships.
Unfortunately, a BCS crashing wouldn't be possible in my opinion, even with a 13-0 record. Their schedule is just way too weak (all conference games are against teams that were at or below .500 in 2011) and they do not have a single vote in either poll to begin the year. It would be an huge uphill climb.
5) Final question: How do you feel about week 1? And, if you're very daring, who do you see winning? Score prediction?
I honestly have no idea. A lot of it relies on how Penn State will channel the emotion that will come on September 1. If the Lions use it positively, I don't think anyone could beat them. If they let it get the best of them, Ohio has a great chance to win. One thing is for sure, Ohio has had this game on their mind for a long time, and they are going to give Penn State their best shot with this unique opportunity to play in front of a huge audience across the country.