Ohio coach Frank Solich has always been a tough bastard, and I think a little of that rubs off on his team.
Back in the 1960s, Solich was a small man amongst giant Cornhuskers. He was a little over 150 pounds, and a little under 5’8, but somehow was tough, mean and quick enough to start at fullback for a Nebraska team that prided itself on being big. His diminutive size but fearless running style caught the eye of Sports Illustrated – back when sportswriting was an art, not a race.
When Coach Bob Devaney first announced his intention of using little Solich at fullback this season many people felt that he finally had cracked under the strain of keeping Nebraska at the top of the Big Eight. But now that Nebraska has won six games without a loss this season, incredulous fans are convinced that Frankie (it is an old Nebraska custom that when they really take someone to their hearts, he gets the extra syllable) Solich is worth his weight in first downs, and heaven help the stranger who lets out even a small snicker.
Solich later brought his toughness to the sidelines of Memorial Stadium where he coached the Cornhuskers from 1979 to 1997 as an assistant, and then from 1998 to 2003 as the man in charge. He was fired at the end of a nine-win season, a decision that still divides loyal Husker fans.
His great Ohio turnaround is one that programs like UMass should watch with a jealous eye. He added excitement to a tired program and started from the ground up. He changed the recruiting strategy, tweaked the lifting regimen and added all-new offensive and defensive schemes. Athletic facilities were upgraded, Ohio games received more air time, and slowly but surely the wins came by the bundle.
Ohio became the hottest ticket in town … sound familiar?
On Saturday, the Bobcats are full-steam ahead. This is the team Solich was waiting for – a squad of tough guys that will hit you in the mouth on the way to another first down. The defensive line may be a little small, and the wide receivers may be a little banged up, but Ohio is still very much the class of the MAC.
UMass is improving, but the Minutemen are still a few years away from catching up with the Bobcats. Saturday will give UMass a chance to see what it could and should be in the future.
For now, the Minutemen can only hope to improve while Ohio storms ahead to the lofty goal waiting on the horizon.
An undefeated season.
- Ohio: 38
- UMass: 17