Ever wondered what happened to Frank Solich?
You remember that guy: he was the coach at the University of Nebraska for six seasons. He was the loyal lieutenant who took over the Cornhuskers from Tom Osborne, proof positive that it’s never a good thing to be the guy who takes over from The Guy. After compiling a 64-19 record as Nebraska’s head man, Solich was callously and controversially fired in favor of Beau Bridges. (Okay, no, it wasn’t Beau Bridges; it was Bridges-look-alike Bill Callahan.)
Solich took a year off, then in 2005 took over the moribund football program at Ohio University (which is, if you’ll allow the digression, quite a long way in prestige, if not geography, from THE Ohio State University). Jim Grobe turned Ohio into a good-not-great MAC team after taking over an 0-11 program in 1995, but Grobe jumped to Wake Forest after the 2000 season (and let’s face it, he didn’t exactly have the greatest record at Ohio: 33-33-1). Between Grobe and Solich came four years of Brian Knorr, who undid just about everything Grobe did, to the tune of 11-35. Solich took over last year, and went 4-7.
Things have gone better in 2006. Ohio is 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the always-exciting MAC, currently tied with Kent St. in the MAC East (and they own the tiebreaker, having upended the Golden Flashes on the road last week). It’s not a great team by MAC standards, but it’s won a conference-high four straight, including an upset win at the University of Illinois just three weeks ago. What’s gone best for the Bobcats has been their defense: they’re currently 15th in the nation in terms of passing yards allowed per game, and have picked off seven passes compared to allowing eight TDs. Ohio has traveled to Rutgers, Missouri and Illinois (as well as a silly game against I-AA Tennessee-Martin); if you just count the team’s five conference games, they’ve allowed just over 15 points and 278 total yards per game. In the typically-high-flying MAC, that’s pretty darn good. The Bobcats have eight returning starters on offense, and seem to be gelling there as well, especially on the ground: during this four-game win streak, Ohio is averaging 26.5 points scored and 210 yards rushing per game. At the same time, they’ve got the 108th-best passing offense in Division 1 football; this truly is a mini-Nebraska circa Three Yards And A Cloud Of Dust.
On the road against Eastern Michigan this week, I think that’ll work. The Eagles are 106th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (a whopping 181), and also give up 4.9 yards per carry. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a blinking red light. Eastern Michigan allowed 178 rushing yards to Western Michigan last weekend, 175 to Toledo before that, 159 to Bowling Green before that, 179 to Louisiana-Lafayette before that, 176 to Central Michigan…oh, heck, you get the point. This huge rush-defense number is no outlier: the Eagles are challenged on the defensive side of the ball. Plus, on offense, Jeff Genyk’s team has scored a MAC-worst 16 points per conference game. Three different quarterbacks have started for Genyk — Andy Schmitt, Tyler Jones and Dontayo Gage — but the team’s sacks and interceptions outweigh their touchdown passes. Overall, Eastern Michigan is 1-7, and 1-4 in MAC games.
Ohio has probably been better at home than on the road, though their only conference loss did come in Athens. Eastern Michigan has only hosted two games so far this year, and will play three of their next four in Ypsilanti. This line opened at Ohio by 4.5, but zoomed quickly to 6.5. But the trends look good for the Bobcats, too. They’re 4-0 against the spread during this modest winning streak, and 4-1 ATS in their conference games this year. Eastern Michigan, for their part, is 1-4 ATS versus winning teams, and 2-5 ATS as a home underdog. Most of all, I like the Solich running game, paced by Kalvin McRae and his 11 touchdowns, to dominate the clock and the scoreboard against the rush-defense-challenged Eastern Michigan. The march to the MAC title game continues this weekend, and I’ll take Ohio (-6.5) at Eastern Michigan.
Last Week: Ohio State didn’t even bother making it interesting against Minnesota, shutting out the hapless Gophers, 44-0. Taking the Buckeyes and giving the 27 points was the right thing to do, and thus I’m exceedingly glad I recommended that you do it. That cover puts us at 6-3 against the spread so far this year.