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Know thy Opponent 2017: Ohio Bobcats

The first home game for Jeff Brohm will come against the MAC East champions.

NCAA Football: MAC Championship-Western Michigan at Ohio Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue football finally joins the rest of the college football world on September 8th. No, I don’t mean in playing Friday night MACtion. That is the night Ross-Ade Stadium will debut its new permanent lighting structures for the first night game. Yes, Purdue has had night games at home before. The media guide considers a “night game” to be any kickoff after 6pm local time. This has happened 38 times in Purdue history, with the first coming back in 1935 at Northwestern.

The majority of night games have been on the road or in bowl games, however. Here is the list of home night games at Ross-Ade Stadium with temporary lights:

Oct. 18, 1986 - Ohio State (L 39-11)

Sept. 10, 1994 - Toledo (W 51-17)

Sept. 21, 1996 - West Virginia (L 20-6)

Oct. 1, 2005 - Notre Dame (L 49-28)

Oct. 6, 2007 - Ohio State (L 23-7)

Sept. 26, 2009 - Notre Dame (L 24-21)

Oct. 1, 2011 - Notre Dame (L 38-10)

Sept. 14, 2013 - Notre Dame (L 31-24)

Purdue will play consecutive night games for the first time since 1983, when it lost at Miami (FL) 35-0 and beat Minnesota 32-20 in consecutive weeks. Purdue hasn’t actually won a night game since October 9, 2010 at Northwestern. Still, the permanent lights at Ross-Ade are a good thing. It is one of those ancillary investments that needed to be done in order to put Purdue on a level playing field with the rest of the conference.

Of course, the Boilers will be fighting a lot of negative trends in this one. Purdue is a measly 1-7 at home in night games and it has only won one of its last three games against the MAC. Even though the Bobcats were 8-6 last year and won their division in the MAC it is high time for Purdue to get back to beating MAC teams. Aside from possibly Rutgers, this is the easiest opponent Purdue will face. It still doesn’t make them easy.

Ohio Bobcats

2016 Record: 8-6, 6-2 MAC East

Bowl Result: Lost 28-23 to Tory in Dollar General Bowl

Blog Representation: The Hustle Belt

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 7-0

Last Purdue win: 33-10 at Purdue on 9/17/1988

Last Ohio win: None

Head Coach: Frank Solich (88-67 overall, 59-37 in 13th season at Ohio)

Last Season for the Bobcats:

Ohio has the rare mark of consistency in the MAC. Instead of having a young up and coming head coach that leaves after a few seasons they have had Frank Solich for the past 12 years. He landed there after six season at Nebraska where he committed the egregious sin of having only three 10-win seasons. Since arriving in Athens he has been pretty solid. Ohio has gone to 8 bowl games in 12 years and 7 in the past 8 years. They are always a decent MAC team and they have their share of wins over Power 5 programs. Last season they beat Kansas and pushed Tennessee. In 2012 they won at Penn State.

Last season was all over the place. They opened with a wild 56-54 triple overtime loss at home to Texas State. They then beat Kansas 37-21 and lost at Tennessee 28-19 after trailing only 21-19 entering the 4th quarter. In MAC play they went 0-for-Directional-Michigan with losses to Eastern (27-20), Central (27-20), and Western (29-23). The Western Michigan loss came in the MAC title game and sent the Broncos to the Cotton Bowl.

Ohio doesn’t do anything special. They just play sound football and they are good enough to push teams. In good years win the MAC East. Solich has done that four times in 12 years and the eight bowl games is nearly unprecedented since Ohio had not been to a bowl since 1968 before he arrived.

Ohio Offense

Ohio had the benefit last season of being able to work in its quarterback of the future for a few games. Quinton Maxwell played in nine games as a redshirt freshman and finished with 1,247 yards passing and 8 TDs against 4 INTs. He ended up completing 55.3% of his passes and was even a bit of a threat on the ground with 193 yards rushing and a score. He ended up starting several games, but was up and down.

Maxwell will have to show continued development, and he has several new receivers and a few decent running backs to work with. Papi White, a bit of an undersized receiver, caught 41 passes for 672 yards and 6 TDs as the No. 3 receiver last season. Troy Mangen (15-142-1) and Elijah Ball (16-212-2) at least bring some experience. Mangen is a 6’5” 260 pound tight end that could cause some trouble.

Ohio does return its tops two rushers from a year ago. Dorian brown ran for 825 yards and four touchdowns while Maleek Irons had 439 yards and five scores. That’s a nice 1-2 punch to build around, especially for a passing game that was not necessarily explosive. The ground game was pretty strong last season at 167 yards per game.

The offensive line is a bit of a mystery as to who will start, but last season it gave up just 19 sacks in 14 games.

Ohio Defense

This is where the game could turn. It is no secret that Purdue’s offensive line is expected to struggle, and the Ohio defensive line was excellent last year with 44 sacks. Unfortunately for them, five of the top seven defensive linemen are gone. Here is what the SB Nation preview had to say about their defense:

Pulling off nearly the same defensive rating last year was a feat, considering how much ridiculous turnover Ohio had to deal with in the secondary. The Bobcats came in having to replace eight of its top nine tacklers in the backfield, which almost guarantees regression in your pass defense. Then, they had to deal with an exploding two-deep — of the 10 players who made at least one tackle per game (a sign of being a regular contributor), only four played in all 14 games. The other six missed a combined 34 games.

Five of those 10 regular DBs were either freshmen or sophomores, including safety Javon Hagan and corners Kylan Nelson, Jalen Fox, and Mayne Williams. Hagan and Nelson each picked off three passes.

Ohio’s pass defense regressed only from an excellent 34th in Passing S&P+ to a solid 68th. The secondary played conservatively, and an excellent pass rush picked up some slack. Six players made at least three sacks, and Ohio ranked 19th in Adj. Sack Rate.

Quentin Poling is a long-time starter at middle linebacker that has ridiculous production. Last year he had 110 tackles 4 sacks, and 5 pass breakups. In the secondary Javon Hagan and Kylan Nelson each had three interceptions and were all over the place on pass defense. If this defense can develop a pass rush with a relatively new front line it should be pretty good.

Ohio Special Teams

The Bobcats attempted an absurd 35 field goals last season and Louie Zervos was solid, hitting on 29 of them with a long of 51 yards. He teamed with punter Michael Farkas (40.8 yard per punt average) to form one of the better special teams units in the nation. There wasn’t a really good returner as their counterpart, but Farkas and Zervos are more than good enough to play in the Big Ten.

Game Outlook

This is the first home game of a new era. It is a night game and the debut of our new lights. Even though the opponent is not a huge name, it is still a huge game for Purdue. Say what you will about Darrell Hazell (and we said a lot), He was at least 4-0 in home openers in his four seasons. Too bad he was 5-33 in any other game.

Most Purdue fans have accepted that the season opener will be a loss against a really good Louisville team. That is what makes this game so big. It is an opponent Purdue should be able to beat, or at least be competitive with. There is a reason the Big Ten and the MAC have a Big Brother/Little Brother relationship. The Big Ten is supposed to be better in these matchups. That hasn’t been the case for Purdue in a very long time. After Joe Tiller kicked the MAC around for 12 years Purdue is only 4-5 the last 8 seasons against said conference.

That has to end. The first step up the ladder to respectability is getting back to winning games over MAC teams at home. Hazell got his ass flat out kicked by Northern Illinois and Central Michigan. Danny Hope lost games he shouldn’t have to Toledo and Northern Illinois, and that is part of the reason he was fired. If Purdue wins this game it is at least a step in the right direction, and probably more than Hazell ever did in 4 years.

Way Too Early Prediction

I am starting to get on board with what coach Brohm is doing. He is shifting guys around and trying to cover weaknesses as best as possible. We wouldn’t have five graduate transfers and a wealth of JuCos coming in if he wasn’t trying to fix a ton of issues on the fly. He is at least doing SOMETHING, which is more than we can say about the previous regime. I think it bears fruit, at least at home on one night. Purdue 31, Ohio 24