Updated Mon, Oct 24, 2011 10:41 am
For the first time in well over a month, Ohio took care of business.
What it didn't know was that the MAC East would fall into place for it at the same time.
The 'Cats beat cellar-dweller Akron 37-20 at InfoCision Stadium to even their conference record at 2-2.
Tyler Tettleton finished 21 of 29 passing for 328 yards and two touchdowns (one interception) for his best game of the MAC slate thus far.
Ohio was balanced offensively, too. Donte Harden rushed for 123 yards on a season-high 22 carries and the Bobcats racked up 556 yards of total offense on a less-than-average Zips team.
Three turnovers still plagued Ohio, but the 'Cats converted on 10 of 14 third-downs and held Akron to four of 15 in the same category.
"A lot of times you don't overcome three turnovers," head coach Frank Solich said. "I think the third down conversions were key...we were able to keep our offense on the field."
This Ohio team is a notoriously slow starter, and it stayed true to its form on a sunny afternoon in Akron. But with less than seven minutes left in the second quarter and the score tied at three, Tettleton found LaVon Brazill - three catches, 102 yards - wide open down the Ohio sideline for 78 yards (Ohio's longest play of the season) and a touchdown to break the game open.
"It came at a good time in the game," Solich said. "Neither team had the game in control and both teams were fighting for the advantage and I did think that gave us a little bit of an advantage."
The 'Cats led 13-3 at the half, and found another big play to start the third quarter. On Ohio's first offensive play of the second half, Tettleton eluded some pressure and found Riley Dunlop in the end zone for a 36-yard score.
"I thought it was a physical football game," Solich said. "And I thought on both sides of the ball we played hard and we played well."
"We thought we were going to get the same looks (from the Akron defense)," Tettleton said. "And they had an extra week to prepare for us."
Even though Ohio made its trademark big plays, it sustained offensive drives. Ohio had three drives that lasted more than 10 plays: The 'Cats' first scoring drive spanned 11 plays and ate 3:19, a third-quarter field goal drive lasted 14 plays and 5:45 and a third-quarter touchdown drive took five minutes and 13 plays.
The 'Cats ran 80 plays and averaged 6.9 yards per play to Akron's 3.7 yards per play. Noah Keller led the much-faster Ohio defense with 10 tackles and Ohio forced its first turnover - a fumble recovery by Nate Carpenter - since the third quarter of the MAC opener against Kent State three weeks ago.
"We emphasized that in practice this week," Carpenter said. "With turnovers, it helps field position for our offense and helps them score points. It was great for our defense, everyone did their job and we executed it perfectly."
With two straight conference losses, the 'Cats had dug themselves a hole that looked incredibly bleak. Buffalo and Temple had the Eastern Division in their hands, but both the Bulls and Owls lost on "Stunner Saturday" in the Mid-American Conference.
Now, the outlook is much more sunny. The 'Cats get a week off before playing Temple on November 2. Even before Saturday's win over Akron, Ohio knew it would have to win out to have a chance at the conference title. But now, four games remain - three of them against East Division opponents - for Ohio to claw back into the race for a MAC Championship.
"As the week goes on, we'll worry about that as the time comes," Travis Carrie said.
"We don't really worry about what goes on inside the conference," Harden added. "As long as we take care of business, we control our own destiny."
The best part: the conference has helped Ohio back into the championship picture. Now, once again, the Bobcats control their own destiny in the MAC East.