December 17, 2010

New Orleans Bowl: Ohio vs. Troy

NEW ORLEANS BOWL

Ohio (8-4) vs. Troy (7-5)
WHEN: 9 p.m., Dec. 18.
WHERE: Superdome, New Orleans.
TV: ESPN (Mark Neely will do play-by-play, with Robert Smith as the analyst).
THE LINE: Troy by 2.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Ohio 1-2, Troy 1-3.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Ohio 107th, Troy 115th.
BCS RANKINGS: Neither is ranked.
OFFICIATING CREW: From Conference USA
COACHES: Ohio- Frank Solich (2-5 in bowls); Troy- Larry Blakeney (1-3 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: It all depends upon how bored you are on a Saturday night. While there will be some good individual talent on the field, most notably Troy WR Jerrel Jernigan, these teams won a combined two games over teams with winning records; both of those wins were by Miami.
KEY STATS: Ohio is 39th nationally in rush offense at 169.2 yards per game; Troy is 80th in rush defense, allowing 170.8 yards per game.

The Mid-American and Sun Belt conferences generally are considered the weakest of the 11 FBS leagues, and the conferences will have a chance to measure each other this postseason.

Saturday's New Orleans Bowl, which pits the MAC's Ohio against the Sun Belt's Troy, is one of three postseason games with MAC-Sun Belt matchups. The others are the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (FIU-Toledo) and the GoDaddy.com Bowl (Miami-Middle Tennessee).

The New Orleans Bowl also offers an offensive contrast in styles. Troy likes to throw it around and is used to scoring in the high 30s (six games with at least 35 points and nine of at least 30). Ohio, on the other hand, relies on the run and a solid defense. Ohio has allowed more than 30 points just twice this season, including a 43-7 loss to Ohio State.

Ohio got off to a slow start (1-3) before winning seven in a row. That winning streak was snapped by Kent State in the regular-season finale, a loss that kept Ohio out of the MAC championship game.

"We're looking for a little redemption and to end the season on a good note," Bobcats defensive end Dak Notestine told the Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate.

Troy had a late-season lull defensively, surrendering 184 points in a four-game stretch from Oct. 30-Nov. 20 in which the Trojans lost three times and saw their record drop to 5-5. But Troy rebounded to win its final two regular-season games, allowing just 21 points in those outings. The late-season wins enabled Troy to win a share of its fifth consecutive league title.

Troy had seven games with at least 475 yards and four with more than 500. That high-powered offense worries Ohio coach Frank Solich.

"We're going to have to keep ourselves on the field," he said. "Troy runs a very fast-paced offense. If you're not careful, you're going to get worn down by them staying on the field and continually running plays at you. Offensively, we cannot be three-and-out. We are going to have to make sure that we're getting first downs."

WHO GETS THE EDGE?

Ohio rush offense vs. Troy rush defense: The Bobcats don't have a feature back, but they do have five players with at least 200 rushing yards and three with at least 300, including two quarterbacks. QB Phil Bates is the leading rusher, and Vince Davidson is the most dangerous running back. In its eight wins, Ohio averaged 215.5 rushing yards; in its four losses, that figure plummeted to 76.5. Troy has struggled to stop the run, and the Trojans have allowed 26 rushing TDs, 20th-most in the nation. Troy has a smallish defensive front seven - just one starter weighs more than 252 - and Ohio's physical offensive line will look to simply mash the Trojans. Edge: Ohio.

Ohio pass offense vs. Troy pass defense: The Bobcats don't like to throw the ball. They have been held under 150 passing yards seven times this season and have thrown more interceptions (18) than TD passes (17). Ohio's most successful passing day this season was a 240-yard performance against Louisiana-Lafayette, which, like Troy, is in the Sun Belt Conference. Terrance McCrae is the only receiver of note; he has 32 receptions, and nine have gone for touchdowns. Starter QB Boo Jackson is, by far, the best passer of Ohio's two quarterbacks, but academic issues mean he might miss the game. Good news for Ohio is that Troy has been torched often through the air, ranking 101st in pass defense and allowing 20 TD passes. Troy Es Jonathan Massaquoi and Mario Addison have combined for 20 sacks, but Ohio has allowed just 17. Edge: Even.

Troy rush offense vs. Ohio rush defense: The Trojans have been adequate running the ball. They have used a committee approach at tailback and have three players who have rushed for between 375 and 550 yards. WR Jerrel Jernigan is a weapon on sweep plays. Ohio has been stout against the run, ranking 15th nationally in rush defense (115.0 ypg). The Bobcats have allowed 15 rushing TDs, and six of those came in the first three games. In addition, they've allowed more than 140 rushing yards just three times. Ohio's defensive backs are excellent in run support. Ohio starting DT Ernie Hodge might miss the game for academic reasons. Edge: Ohio.

Troy pass offense vs. Ohio pass defense: Redshirt freshman QB Corey Robinson has had a nice first season, throwing for 3,339 yards and 24 TDs. He also has thrown 15 interceptions, including nine in the second half of the season. Jernigan heads a deep receiving corps, and he is one of three Troy receivers with five TD catches. Ohio has 17 picks but also has allowed 17 TD passes. Expect to see a lot of nickel and dime packages from the Bobcats, whose corners can be exploited. E Stafford Gatling (6.5 sacks) is one of the better pass rushers in the MAC, but he's the only Bobcat with more than 3.5 sacks and Ohio has just 24 as a team. Edge: Troy.

Ohio special teams vs. Troy special teams: Ohio's Matt Weller is one of the better kickers in the MAC; he was 11-of-14 this season, including a 51-yarder, but did have three blocked. P Phil Hershey is solid, and Ohio's coverage units have been excellent. Travis Carrie is a good punt returner. For the most part, Troy has good special teams. K Michael Taylor lacks a big leg but is 15-of-20 this season. P Will Goggans averages 42.2 yards per attempt and has dropped 19 inside the 20. Jernigan is one of the nation's most dangerous return men, scoring on a punt return and a kickoff return. The kick coverage has been good, the punt coverage woeful. Edge: Troy.

Ohio coaches vs. Troy coaches: Frank Solich is in his sixth season at Ohio and this is his third bowl with the Bobcats. He and his staff have made Ohio one of the more consistent programs in the MAC. Troy coach Larry Blakeney is in his 20th season and has overseen Troy's move from Division II to Division I-AA (now called FCS) to Division I-A (now called FBS). Troy has won at least a portion of five consecutive Sun Belt titles. His offenses usually are high-powered ones and his defenses always are aggressive. Edge: Troy.

X-factor: Jackson did not make the trip with the team to New Orleans on Monday, and a school spokesman has said his final status for the game likely won't be known until Friday. If he can't go, the Bobcats' offense takes a big hit because Bates - who began his career at Iowa State - scares no one as a passer.

Ohio will win if: The Bobcats have to run effectively if they're going to win, especially if Jackson can't play. Ohio has a physical rushing attack, and the Bobcats' offensive line needs to control the game. Defensively, Ohio can't give up big plays in the passing game. A lot of completions are fine, just not huge chunks of yardage.

Troy will win if: The Trojans, first and foremost, have to sell out to stop the run. They can't let Ohio control the ball and the clock. The Trojans also need a big game - at least 300 yards - from Robinson, who set a national high school record with 91 TD passes as a senior at Paducah (Ky.) Lone Oak in 2008 (that's right, 91 TD passes in a season, against just four picks).

EXPERT PICKS

Olin Buchanan: Ohio 38, Troy 31
Tom Dienhart: Troy 31, Ohio 27
David Fox: Ohio 31, Troy 24
Mike Huguenin: Ohio 31, Troy 27
Steve Megargee: Ohio 31, Troy 28

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.




 

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