Troy, Ohio feature contrasting styles
N.O. Bowl comes down to Trojans' defense vs. Bobcats' offense
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS -- Winning a share of five consecutive Sun Belt Conference championships has helped Troy build a solid reputation in the South. Yet the Trojans still wonder how they're viewed nationally. They've been to four bowl games since becoming a full member of the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2002, but have won only one.
Troy (7-5) gets its latest chance to make an impression on a national television audience on Saturday night, when the Trojans play in their third New Orleans Bowl and meet an Ohio program that has risen to prominence in the Mid-American Conference under former Nebraska head coach Frank Solich.
"Troy isn't that well known around the country, but there aren't that many schools that have won five straight conference championships,'' Trojans defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi said. "Another good performance in a bowl game would raise the profile of the program. ... It's going to give us an opportunity to play bigger and better teams.''
Ohio (8-4) came within one victory of playing for the MAC title, but fell flat in its regular-season finale, a 28-6 loss at Kent State that ended a seven-game winning streak. Despite that setback, the Bobcats still have a shot to take their first bowl victory in five tries. This is the second consecutive season that the Bobcats have gone to a bowl under Solich. Last year they lost to Marshall, 21-17, in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
"We've had a good season and a lot of great games, but we're still looking to have a finale where we put four quarters of effort into it and have a great game,'' Ohio defensive end Dak Notestine said. "We haven't quite accomplished that yet and that game against Kent State was tough. We're looking for a little redemption and to end the season on a good note.''
The game matches two teams that have contrasting styles and strengths, and which have never played against each other.
Solich, whose Nebraska teams ran the option from 1998-2003, features a similar offense at Ohio. The Bobcats have averaged nearly 170 yards rushing this season and have scored 25 TDs on the ground. Quarterback Boo Jackson, has scored seven of the 22 touchdowns he's accounted for on the ground this season.
"We're definitely looking for them to run the football,'' Massaquoi said. "They run the option. You have to be disciplined on defense. They have a couple of monkey wrenches that they throw in there. They're coached by a great coach.''
Ohio also fielded one of the top defenses in the MAC, allowing 332.7 yards and 21.8 points per game.
"The game is going to be decided between their defense and our offense,'' said Troy senior wideout Jerrel Jernigan. "Can they stop us or can we pass and run the ball on them like we've been doing all year?''
Troy head coach Larry Blakeney, the school's all-time win leader with 160, has the Trojans throwing the ball all over the place and sometimes has Jernigan running out of the Wildcat. They've piled up a lot of yards (441.1 per game) and points (32.9) to compensate for a defense that had only three players start all 12 regular-season games.
Troy allowed 372 points this season, second-most in school history. The Trojans overcame that thanks to the production of Jernigan and first-year quarterback Corey Robinson. "We've got a freshman quarterback and he's doing an outstanding job,'' Jernigan said. "Corey throws the ball and all I do is catch it. He does most of the work.''
Jernigan may be understating his importance. He has accounted for 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns from scrimmage, including 774 yards and five TDs receiving. He also has 600 yards and a TD on kick returns and 301 yards and a score on punt returns. He is averaging 165 all-purpose yards a game.
Blakeney likes to get the ball in the hands of play-makers however he can, and that has not been lost on Solich. "They have a lot of speed on their team and they utilize it very well,'' Solich said. "You know you've got your hands full.''
Ohio (8-4) vs. Troy (7-5), 9 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN
- Series Record: First meeting.
What's at Stake
Ohio is in its fifth bowl and is still looking for its first bowl victory after falling to Marshall in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl last season. Troy seeks its second New Orleans Bowl victory in three appearances, and second victory overall in six bowl games.
Ohio's running game vs. Troy's injury-plagued defense. The Bobcats, who mix in the option, have averaged nearly 170 yards rushing and have 25 touchdowns on the ground this season. Troy's defense has allowed 372 points this season, second most in school history.
Players to Watch
Ohio -- QB Boo Jackson has accounted for 22 TDs this season, running for seven and throwing for 15. Receiver Terrence McCrae has caught nine of Jackson's TD tosses.
Troy -- QB Corey Robinson passed for 3,339 yards and 24 TDs this season. WR Jerrel Jernigan accounted for 1,080 yards and seven TDs from scrimmage, including 774 yards and five TDs receiving. Jernigan also had 600 yards and a TD on kick returns and 301 yards and a score on punt returns.
Facts & Figures
Ohio head coach Frank Solich seeks his 99th career win. ... With 40 wins at Ohio, Solich is fourth on the Bobcats' all-time victories list. He'll pass Carroll Widdoes for third with three more wins. ... Ohio finished second in the Mid-American Conference's East Division this season behind Miami of Ohio. ... The Bobcats average 28 points this season, the seventh-highest scoring average in school history. ... Ohio's season-ending loss at Kent State snapped a seven-game winning streak. ... Troy has won a share of five consecutive Sun Belt Conference titles. ... Larry Blakeney is 160-82-1 as Troy's head coach, giving him by far the most wins in school history, smashing the previous mark of 44. ... Under Blakeney, Troy has had 14 winning seasons, including six with 10 or more wins. ... Troy's defense has had just three players start all 12 games during the 2010 season. The unit has lost 23 players for all or part of the 2010 season to injury or other issues.