KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Ohio enters Neyland Stadium on Saturday looking for the program’s first win over a ranked opponent, but to underestimate what Coach Frank Solich has accomplished there would be a mistake.
Jason Arkley has covered Solich and the Bobcats for some 12 years with The Athens Messenger, and earlier this week he took time to chat with SEC Country about Ohio’s noon game at No. 15 Tennessee (TV: SEC Network).
Q: How has the Ohio program grown under Frank Solich?
JA: “I’d say 2005 through 2009 was the real building block era. The last four years haven’t been the best. From 2005 to 2011, it felt like Ohio was getting better and better, but 2011 was the last time they got to the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship Game. In 2012 they started the season 7-0 and were ranked in the top 25, and then they had injuries and lost a few games. Since that point, they haven’t been able to recapture that momentum. Solich has the program on solid ground, but I know Frank is frustrated of not having won a MAC championship yet.”
Q: Can you put what Solich has done at Ohio into perspective?
JA: “The breakdown is along these lines, you had 35 years of Ohio football before Frank where they had four winning seasons. They had never been to a bowl game. In 12 years under Frank they have had only two losing seasons and he’s been .500 or better the last seven years. It has been obvious he has made the program matter, and it has been more prominent in the university and in the communities. An indoor practice facility was built. He has made Ohio feel like a real FBS program. Before, it was just an afterthought.
Q: What does this Ohio football team do best?
JA: “Two things stand out about this group. Their front seven is senior heavy, it’s a solid group, good athletically. They should be able to contain or stand up to most run games, Obviously Tennessee is a big test with its size and athleticism. The other thing is depth at the skill positions. They have more explosive players at receiver than they’ve had the past few years. They have excellent depth at running back. Papi White is an explosive guy, and Dorian Brown and Maleek Irons are bigger guys. Injury-wise, the leading rusher, AJ Ouellette is out with foot injury, leading receiver Sebastian Smith is questionable with a groin.
Q: What is the Bobcats weakness?
JA: The weakness, coming into the season, was a lack of experience at quarterback. Greg Windham is a fifth-year senior who had not started a game before this season and had 53 attempts before the season started. But so far, so good, and he threw for 393 yards and four touchdowns in the opener, and he showed last week he’s not a one-trick pony and rushed for 146 yards (and a touchdown on 16 carries). There are a lot of options for him built into every play. The glaring weakness on defense is the secondary after they lost their top four cornerbacks from a year ago. They have four new cornerbacks, none of which had started a game before this year. They are decent athletically, but there’s not enough experience and that showed in the opener against Texas State. I think Tennessee will make an effort to take some deep shots against those cornerbacks.
Q: How much longer will 72-year-old Frank Solich coach Ohio?
JA: Frank says he’ll know it when he feels it, but he’s driven to win that Mid-American Conference championship. Ohio is also looking to replace its school president, and that’s the person who hired Frank 12 years ago. But Frank is fit, he’s energetic and he loves his players, his kids as he calls them. He enjoys his job and he’s a driven guy.