Ohio may very well have the best defense in the Mid-American Conference.
The Bobcats have allowed the fewest points and the fewest yards in the MAC this season, and have made life difficult for every team they’ve played. Here’s a short list of the problems this unit has caused so far:
- Against Norfolk State, Ohio forced five turnovers.
- The Bobcats forced Marshall to turn the ball over three times.
- In three of its four games, Ohio has allowed less than 100 yards rushing.
- Against Penn State, Ohio only allowed 173 yards of total offense.
In summation: This defense is going to be a tough test for an improving – but still very young – UMass offense.
The Bobcats defense runs on experience. Coming into this season, Ohio returned seven defensive starters from a group that allowed only 22.1 points per game – good for second in the conference and 32nd in the nation. Time and again, head coach Frank Solich has said that this is the best defense he’s had during his time at Ohio.
Ohio is trying to win its third MAC East Division title in four year, and its defense appears to be up for the challenge.
The graduation of Noah Keller (team-best 116 tackles) left a big hole in the linebacking corps, and redshirt junior Keith Moore has been asked to fill the gap at middle linebacker.
Let’s just say that Moore has been up to the occasion.
The 6’0, 220-pound Ohio native leads the team with 29 tackles and also has two tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery. In the world of linebacking, Moore is a dual-threat. He has the speed and awareness to cover a tight end or running back, but he also has the killer instinct to get in the backfield and cause chaos. This is a kid UMass will have to keep tabs on.
Jelani Wosely is the slated starter at weakside linebacker and is pretty good in coverage. While Wosely only has 10 tackles this season, he does a good job disrupting the pass. For example, against Penn State he broke up two passes and intercepted another. Wosely, a senior from Staten Island, N.Y., is looking to pick up his tackle tally. Last year he had 53 tackles over the course of 13 games.
At strongside linebacker, there was a competition brewing between Alphonso Lewis and A.J. Grady before Grady was sidelined with a leg injury. Lewis, a redshirt senior, has a lot of experience and tallied more than 60 tackles last year, five for loss.
When Ohio lines up in its nickel package, expect to see either Nathan Carpenter or Mose Denton. Carpenter is a big-play guy and has had a huge fumble return and interception this year.
While Tyler Tettleton‘s injury is a huge blow to the Bobcat offense, Tremayne Scott‘s foot injury has Ohio fans worried about their defensive line.
Scott was picked by several preseason publications to be one of the best defensive ends in the MAC this year, and this recent setback has paved the way for Nic Barber, a 6’3, 219-pound redshirt junior. Barber is a smaller end and will definitely pose a different threat than the much-larger (6’3, 257 pounds) Scott. If Barber can’t get anything done against the UMass offensive line, prepare to see Kendrick Smith, a big sophomore out of Texas.
Corey Hasting will man the other end position and has a much more traditional look (6’1, 260 pounds). Hastings has 17 tackles this year, but 14 of those are assisted. Hasting is also a backup plan at defensive tackle if Carl Jones gets hurt or can’t get the job done. Jones has 17 tackles this year, and like Barber is a little undersized for his position (6’0, 245 pounds)
While Ohio has a relatively small line, it makes up for it at nose tackle. Neal Huynh is a 6’3, 300-pound redshirt senior that does a good job plugging up the middle. Huynh has eight tackles this year and will be an interesting assignment for UMass’ Quinton Sales.
The injury bug has plagued the Ohio secondary more than any other unit on the team.
The Bobcats lost cornerbacks Jamil Shaw and Travis Carrie for the season with shoulder injuries and are looking for guys to fill in. That may be a tall order as Carrie was supposed to be an All-MAC cornerback after finishing last year with career-highs in tackles (49), passes defended (17) and interceptions (4).
Larenzo Fischer and Ian Wells, both sophomores, have filled in adequately. Fischer has 17 tackles thus far and has broken up three passes. Meanwhile, Wells has 10 tackles and two pass breakups. Neither has recorded an interception, yet.
Josh Kristoff, a redshirt sophomore, is starting at strong safety and has tallied 15 tackles so far. Redshirt senior Gerald Moore plays free safety and is second on the team with 19 tackles. Last year, Moore was named to the CollegeSportsMadness.com All-MAC Third Team. He made made 13 starts and finished second on the team in tackles with 84.
Ohio is going to bring a 4-3 defense to Gillette that exhibits a lot of speed and experience. It may remind UMass fans of the attack-first, cover-later approach taken by UConn during the first game of the season. However, there is one major difference between the Bobcat defense and that of the Huskies.
The Bobcats definitely have a lot of speed and athleticism, but down in the trenches they have guys at defensive end and tackle that could easily be linebackers or safeties. While this hasn’t been a problem during the first few games of the season, UMass’ relatively sizable offensive line should be able to hold serve. That is, so long as the bigger Minutemen make initial contact.
UMass’ main concern will be trying to figure out Ohio’s linebackers. This group can rush the passer, stop the run and defend passes over the middle and in the flats. They are fast, smart football players that are the heart and soul of a defensive unit that has suffered some pretty tough injuries.Mike Cox is going to be busy picking up blitzes, and Mike Wegzyn is going to have yet another set of challenges to overcome.
The Minutemen can hurt this defense with the right play call. Running up the gut and short passes to the tight end over the middle might not get the job done. However, if UMass can work the edges and catch Ohio’s cornerbacks one-on-one, they may be able to put a respectable number of points on the board.