Updated Wed, Sep 26, 2012 12:51 pm
Updated Wed, Sep 26, 2012 12:51 pm
The biggest question coming into the 2012 season for the Ohio Bobcats' offense was the perceived hole at wide receiver.
Head coach Frank Solich was admittedly uncertain about the receiver position coming into the year, and with good reason. The Bobcats had lost their top two wideouts in LaVon Brazil and Riley Dunlop to graduation and redshirt junior Donte Foster was the only returnee who saw significant playing time.
Brazil set school records in 2011 with 1,150 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns while Dunlop was second on the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.
“We lost some really good receivers last year and obviously we needed some of our younger guys, and guys who have been in the system for a couple years, to step up,” said Solich, now in his eighth season at the helm of Ohio's football program.
It’s safe to say that Ohio's group of receivers has risen to the occasion.
Through the season’s first four games, the group of Foster, Ryan Clark, Tyler Futrell, Bakari Bussey and Landon Smith have combined to catch eight of the team’s 11 receiving touchdowns and have provided an array of options in the passing game.
“Last year we knew that those two (Brazil and Dunlop) would be the primary guys,” said Bussey.
But with the departure of their top two pass catchers, the receivers knew they had an opportunity to fill the void as a group.
“We made it imperative this offseason to get out here with the quarterback and work on our timing,” said Bussey.
The growing process began in the spring. As the flowers bloomed, the connection between starting quarterback Tyler Tettleton and his playmakers strengthened. Even when the suffocating summer heat wave made its way through Athens, it couldn’t stop the chemistry between the quarterback and receivers from developing.
“We were out here all summer catching passes from Tyler…we put in a lot of work,” said Foster recalling the drills in scorching 90-degree heat.
Timing between quarterback and receiver is built through repetition, which takes time. And when the game is on the line, Tettleton must rely on the trust gained during those workouts.
“Tyler knows where we’re going to be, so the offseason was a big part of our success right now,” said Foster.
The hard work is paying dividends. Ohio has the highest rated offense in the MAC, the receivers are led by Foster’s 18 catches for 188 yards and four scores.
The redshirt junior from Guthrie, Okla. has been battling a painful thumb injury that he suffered in practice two weeks ago, but has fought through the discomfort and made plays. Coming into the season, Foster knew it was his time to step up.
“I feel like I had to play a bigger role and lead the younger and inexperienced guys and show them how to do it," said Foster.
“Donte has the most experience so they key on him and forget about us and that’s a big mistake on their part,” said Clark, a redshirt senior who switched from cornerback to receiver before the season. Clark has 10 receptions for 123 yards, including the game-tying touchdown on fourth down against Marshall.
When it comes down to it, every receiving option for Ohio is a threat.
“That’s the beauty of it. The defense doesn’t know who to double,” wide receiver coach Dwayne Dixon said thoughtfully. “They’ve got to play honest defense.”
“There’s not one guy that we just go to,” said Solich, as opposed to last year’s team, which saw Brazil dominate touches and haul in over a third of the team’s touchdown receptions.
Besides being a deep, talented bunch, they are also a tight knit group that hangs out frequently and celebrates the accomplishments of the unit as a whole.
“We all hangout on the weekends whenever we have down time, we go to lunch and dinner. We just try to keep that camaraderie going,” said a smiling Bussey.
The receivers are also trying to follow a legacy of acrobatic, leaping grabs that fans have become accustomed to seeing over the past few seasons.
“We’ve got this saying ‘Flight School’ when we break (from the huddle),” said Bussey.
“(Former receiver) Terrance McCrae told me about it…he basically told us whenever the ball is in the air we got to get it, just like a flight school,” said Foster, who has made his fair share of highlight reel catches in his Ohio career.
Recently, the receiving corps has been faced with some injuries. Smith missed last week’s game with a neck injury, but is expected back soon. Last night on his radio show, Solich said that Tyler Futrell will not play this week because of a shoulder injury.
On top of that, Mario Dovell, who caught three passes in the Penn State game, was ruled out for the season last week with a leg injury.
The injuries are a concern for Ohio, but this group seems to be able to adapt to changing situations. They regrouped after losing their top two targets to graduation.
While the “flight school” will have a couple absentees this week, the receiving corps looks to put up big numbers against a struggling Massachusetts team. If the wins keep piling up for Ohio, the entire team will be flying high by season’s end.