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AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl: Ohio vs. LA-Monroe

The 8-4 Ohio Bobcats take on the 8-4 Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks in tonight’s AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl.  These two programs were the biggest surprises of the 2012 college football season. Both programs achieved huge upsets this season, with Ohio defeating Penn State 24-14 on September 1 and LA-Monroe defeating then-No. 8-ranked Arkansas on September 8.

“We are very excited that the hard work of the team and the staff have been noticed,” LA-Monroe headf coach Todd Berry said. “To have a historic season culminate in a bowl such as the Independence Bowl is extra special.”

The match between the two mid-major darlings provides a major contrast in styles as the Warhawks run a spread offensive scheme that picks apart defenses with high-paced passing and the Bobcats like to ground and pound with running back Beau Blankenship, who rushed for 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. The Warhawks play an aggressive 3-3-5 defensive scheme that hammers the line of scrimmage with a series of exotic stunts and blitzes. Blankenship, who is tenth in the nation averaging 125 rushing yards per game, will have his hands full if he wants to get it going tonight. “If that’s through the air, if it’s on the ground, we have to take what’s there,” Blankenship said. “Whatever we have to do to win.”

The Warhawks run a ferocious spread offense that could leave Ohio’s defense gasping for air. They know it, too; in 2010, Ohio got embarrassed 48-21 by Troy, another fast-paced Sun Belt Conference team.

“It definitely adds another element to the game,” Ohio middle linebacker Keith Moore said. “After making the tackle, getting back up, getting the call, getting everybody lined up…it’s a little stressful when they’re already lined back up ready to run another play.”

At one point in the season, Ohio was ranked 23rd in the country, but they hit a serious skid at the end of the season, losing their last three games and being outscored 106-47 in the process. That’s the main reason that the Warhawks are seven-point favorites in the match. LA-Monroe merely scores too many points for Ohio to keep up.

“They’re going to complete passes, and they’re probably going to complete a lot of passes,” Ohio defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow said. “You try to limit the yards after the catch and get as much pressure as you can while trying to mix things up.”

The Warhawks average 35.5 points a game, the 25th best scoring rate in the country, and the Ohio defense has allowed 80 points and 965 yards in the last two games they have played. Warhawks quarterback Kolton Browning had an absolutely sensational season, throwing for 2,830 yards and 27 touchdowns while also rushing for 441 yards and seven touchdowns. On Ohio’s offense, however, the passing game was decidedly less potent this season. Bobcats quarterback Tyler Tettleton only threw for 16 touchdowns, and only one in the team’s three game losing streak at the end of the season. Blankenship was sensational this year, even in the team’s losing streak, but he was the lone bright spot for a Bobcats offense that too often could not score the ball when it counted most. Ohio averaged 35.6 points per game during its first nine games an d only 15.7 points during its three game season ending losing streak.

LA-Monroe’s fast-paced, creative spread attack will prove far too much for an overwhelmed Bobcats squad, who will have uncomfortable flashbacks to their blowout against Troy in the New Orleans Bowl two years ago. Expect the Warhawks to show why they were the toast of college football at the beginning of the season; I think they win by two touchdowns, or even more. Hammer LA-Monroe at -7 here.

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