Updated Mon, Dec 23, 2013 11:54 am
For the fifth-consecutive season, the Ohio Bobcats are going bowling, but this year, the ‘Cats will square off with arguably the strongest bowl opponent in the program’s history.
The Bobcats will appear in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg on Monday against the East Carolina Pirates, the Conference USA-East division runner-up. The Pirates own a 9-3 record, but their first two losses came by a combined eight points, including a 15-10 loss to ACC power Virginia Tech.
“They’re a great team,” senior Beau Blankenship said. “We’ve seen them before and watched them and they have some great wins this year. We’re excited to play a team like that.”
Even though East Carolina couldn’t defeat the Hokies, the Pirates can still boast two big wins against ACC foes North Carolina and North Carolina State. East Carolina’s success against top opponents this year came mostly through their ability to throw the ball, as the Pirates rank 10th in the nation in passing yards with 331.5 yards per game and also come in at 11th in points per game, lighting up the scoreboard with an average 40.4 points per game.
The potent Pirates offense is led by quarterback Shane Carden, a junior that has thrown for 3866 yards and 32 touchdowns in the 2013 season. Carden has tallied multiple touchdowns in eight of East Carolina’s games this season and has eclipsed the 300-yard mark on seven different occasions in 2013.
“You don’t have great passing stats without having a quarterback that’s poised, an excellent thrower, knowledgeable about the game and reads things well,” head coach Frank Solich said.
When studying East Carolina, much of the attention is fixated on the offense, but Solich also pointed out the Pirates’ success on the defensive front as well.
“They’re a big, physical defensive front,” Solich said. “They operate out of both the three and four man front and their interior guys have excellent size and strength.”
While Ohio received the bid, many around the MAC question the decision by the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl to select the Bobcats over the Toledo Rockets. Ohio and Toledo both finished at 7-5, but the Rockets’ losses came to tough competition such as the Florida Gators, Missouri Tigers, Northern Illinois Huskies, Ball State Cardinals and Akron Zips. Toledo can also boast wins against Central Michigan, Bowling Green, and Buffalo, three teams that Ohio lost to.
Many around the conference and the nation believe that the Bobcats do not belong in a bowl contest, as they enter the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl as a two-touchdown underdog to the Pirates. While many have been critical, Ohio does not believe that it has anything to prove.
“I think we’re here for a reason and if we weren’t picked here, obviously we wouldn’t deserve it,” senior Tyler Tettleton said. “I think what we’ve done here over the past four to five years really helped.”
“I don’t know if pressure to play well is going to enter into it for me,” Solich said. “Playing well is part of what I want to do and it’s a part of my make up. I would like to think its part of our team’s make up.”
A win over the strong East Carolina squad would not only secure the program’s third-straight bowl win, but it would also send one of Ohio’s most successful senior classes out with one of the best victories of their tenure. Some have called the senior class’ final legacy into question after a sluggish November that slid the Bobcats out of contention for the MAC title, but a win in St. Petersburg is what the class would like to be remembered by.
“It’s going to be good to get another shot,” Blankenship said. “We’ve had some ups and downs this season, but this feels like a fresh start to end this the way we want to.”
The Bobcats and Pirates kick off from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday at 2 pm.