After enduring two 10-loss seasons in his first three years as coach at Ohio, Brian Knorr went into full makeover mode in the offseason.
Say goodbye to the triple-option offense that was installed under former coach Jim Grobe in the mid-1990s. Instead, the Bobcats will build from the ground up by taking to the air. New offensive coordinator Phil Earley, who spent the past four years at Nevada, has been hired to run a one-back passing offense.
"I think it's just got everybody excited because it's so different from what we ran before," senior Ray Huston said. "Not to say anything bad about the old offense we ran, but it's just something new that guys can learn and hopefully be successful in."
Huston, along with Stafford Owens and Phillip Fountain, will leave the Ohio backfield in 2004 for new positions. Both Huston and Owens will become slot receivers in the new passing game, while Fountain heads across the line of scrimmage to shore up the linebacker ranks.
OffenseAusten Everson and Ryan Hawk, a transfer from Miami (Ohio), will battle for the right to run the Bobcats' new attack. Hawk led Ohio with 765 passing yards and four touchdowns last season despite playing most of the year with an injured throwing elbow. He has a slight edge because of his familiarity with the new offense, which is similar to what Miami runs. The coaching staff initially planned to redshirt Everson in 2003, but injuries to Hawk and Fred Ray forced the freshman into action.
Wide receiver Scott Mayle emerged as a pleasant surprise as a deep threat last season, catching 25 passes for 515 yards with four scores. Anthony Hackett hauled in 26 passes.
DefenseRavaged by injury, especially at linebacker, the Ohio defense will look to rebound in '04. Five of the top eight linebackers suffered season-ending injuries in '03, including three preseason starters. Inside linebacker Dennis Chukwuemeka anchored the Bobcats' 3-4 scheme and led the team with 100 tackles. End Kevin Carberry will be looked to for leadership up front.
The secondary will feature a significant position change for the second straight year. After Rob Stover made the jump from outside linebacker to strong safety last season, Chip Cox will go from cornerback to safety this year. That will open up the cornerback spots for T.J. Wright and Dion Byrum. Pressed into duty as a freshman last year, Wright led Ohio with three interceptions.
SpecialistsOhio must improve its kicking game after a dismal 2003 season. Incumbent placekicker Greg DiMarino will battle Craig Donahue and freshman Brooks Rossman for the starting job this season. Matt Miller, who had offseason shoulder surgery, will be the punter.
Final AnalysisThe Bobcats' ability to finally get things right under Knorr, who has a 7-28 record in three seasons, will largely depend on the success of the new offensive scheme. Both Everson and Hawk should be more comfortable in the passing-based offense. If the offensive line stays healthy and the running game can provide some balance, the Ohio offense could put up big numbers.
All the offense in the world, however, won't earn many victories if the defense doesn't improve. Crippled by injuries and a lack of depth, the Bobcats routinely broke down in the second half of games last season. That must change.
If a significant improvement in the win column isn't seen this fall, coordinators and graduating seniors might not be the only ones getting replaced come 2005.