Without ever visiting Athens, Blankenship transferred. This season the 5'9", 202-pound Blankenship, a redshirt junior whose grinding running style wears down defenses (he rushed for 109 yards on 31 carries against Penn State), is averaging 140.5 rushing yards a game, third in the nation. "It was a 17-hour drive from home to get here, but now I can't image being anywhere else," Blankenship said recently as he sat in the bleachers at Peden Stadium. "I've known about Coach Solich for a long time. My dad and I used to watch him at Nebraska. The culture here is just like I imagine it was there."
After losing to Troy 48--21 in the New Orleans Bowl in December 2010, Solich issued a proclamation to his staff: Ohio would abandon the option—and Solich's own pound-the-rock roots—and adopt the spread offense. The next spring he sent two assistants back to Troy to learn the system from the coaches who'd used it against them.
Tettleton is the ideal quarterback for the offense. "I've been around winning teams all my life," says Tettleton, who this season has completed 95 of 152 passes for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 96 yards on 34 carries. "I remember getting sprayed with champagne as a kid with my dad in the Texas locker room after the Rangers clinched their division [in 1998]. I feel like I know what it takes to get the job done."
The most important play of Ohio's season highlighted both Tettleton's mind and his arm. Against Penn State on Sept. 1, the Bobcats had the ball on their own 49-yard line, third-and-two, with 5:40 left in the third quarter. They trailed 14--10. Solich paced the sideline. The last time he was in Happy Valley, with Nebraska in 2002, he lost 40--7. He knew he had a chance to be a part of the biggest win in Ohio history, and he and Albin called for a quick slant to wide receiver Ryan Clark, a former walk-on.
Before the snap Tettleton noticed that the cornerback opposite Clark was lined up to Clark's inside. With a hand signal Tettleton instructed Clark to change his pattern to a slant and go. The coverage was tight, but the pass was Xbox perfect: Tettleton hit Clark in stride down the right side for a 33-yard gain. Four plays later Tettleton ran for a one-yard touchdown, and the Bobcats took the lead for good.
Midway through the six-hour bus ride back to Athens, Solich received a congratulatory call from Osborne. It was one of the sweetest moments of Solich's career, a feeling of satisfaction and respect that even the most lifelike video game can't reproduce. Everything about these Bobcats—the players and coaches on the bus, the fans waiting back in Athens, the whiff of long-term success—is for real.