Ohio Bobcats have chance to clinch championship

AKRON — Ohio made a serious statement last week. This week the Bobcats have a chance to clinch a spot Mid-American Conference championship game.

“When you start out everyone’s goals are similar, and most teams in the MAC want to accomplish getting into the MAC championship game,” said Ohio coach Frank Solich. “Our team is no different, and we had those goals. We have a chance to take a big step in that direction. Akron has a chance for that also, so it’s a big game for both teams.”

Ohio (8-2, 5-1) finishes the regular season with back-to-back road games, including a showdown against the East Division’s second-place team Akron (5-5, 4-2) at 7 p.m. today at InfoCision Stadium.

Akron coach Terry Bowden said the Zips’ 34-24 loss last week in Oxford was disappointing, but his team is excited to face Ohio.

“This may be Frank Solich’s best team since I’ve been here. If you don’t stop the run, they may never pass it. You have to find a way to shut down the running game,” he said. “We’re pretty much playing Ohio, and if you win, you put yourself back in the lead in the division. This game puts you in position for the conference championship. A lot is riding on this game.”

As the Bobcats rolled to a 38-10 victory over Toledo last week, Solich’s squad looks like the favorite to win the MAC championship. The win over Toledo is Ohio’s second straight against the Rockets, and the Bobcats have won four straight entering the Akron game.

But there’s still some work to do. OU defeated Akron 9-3 last year, 14-12 in 2015 and 23-20 in 2014. While the games have been close in recent years, the Zips haven’t won since 2007.

“It’s been a low-scoring game for the last few years. We expect another hard-fought, physical football game,” Solich said. “They’re a solid football team in all areas. Both (quarterbacks) are capable of playing winning football against you.”

After winning three-straight conference games, the Zips have lost two of three including the game at Miami last week.

Akron struggled on the ground against Miami with only 55 yards, including 41 from Manny Morgan. Freshman quarterback Kato Nelson got the start after Thomas Woodson was suspended for the game.

“We went out there and played Kato Nelson at quarterback, and he did a solid job. Key for us right now is we’re not running the ball well enough or stopping it well enough,” Bowden said. “It was a tough loss. (We were) right there in the ballgame, but couldn’t quite get it done.”

Nelson responded with a solid showing. He completed 19-of-38 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown.

“If you run the ball enough then you can keep the pressure off of a young quarterback,” Bowden said. “The key is to keep a good mix of offense. Stay out of long yardage situations.”

Akron’s defense had some big moments against Miami, including interceptions by junior defensive backs Shawn Featherstone and Jordan George.

Ohio’s offense will be tough to stop. The Bobcats amassed 532 total yards last week, with 393 of those coming on the ground.

OU quarterback Nathan Rourke had another strong performance with 115 yards on the ground, including an 8-yard TD run. He also had one fumble and one interception as the Bobcats outscored Toledo 28-3 in the second half.

A.J. Ouellette had a solid performance with 70 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, but Dorian Brown had 17 carries for 142 yards and two touchdowns – one of those was a 62-yarder.

“Hoping we play a great football game,” Solich said. “Our kids have really worked at it and hopefully pay dividends.”

Ohio’s defense also came up big, holding Miami to less than 100 rushing yards – the fifth time the Bobcats have done that this season.

“This is a very, very strong defense we’re going against this week. They are doing things in the trenches is where they are playing well,” Bowden said. “They are very physical up front, and you have to be ready to play a physical ball game.”