ATHENS, Ohio – Whenever Ohio has crossed the goal line at Peden Stadium this season – and it’s been often – a rousing chorus of “Oklahoma!” would be no less appropriate than the playing of the school fight song. Odds are a native of the Sooner State figured in the scoring.
From quarterback Tyler Tettleton to running back Beau Blankenship to wide receiver Donte Foster, the Bobcats are awash in impact Okies. Tettleton and Blankenship were teammates at Norman North, the heart of Sooner country. Foster hails from Guthrie, just north of Oklahoma City. They form the nucleus of a superbly balanced offense that has the unbeaten Bobcats on the cusp of a national ranking and seeking their first 6-0 start in 44 years.
Tettleton’s abilities are well-chronicled. The son of former major league catcher Mickey Tettleton was third-team All-Mid-American Conference last year as a sophomore and led the Bobcats to victory over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. He’s already just two TD passes shy of the school career record.
It’s Blankenship, a junior transfer from Iowa State, who’s the revelation who magnifies the challenge facing the University at Buffalo (1-3, 0-1) at noon today (Ch. 49). A battering ram of a back, the 5-foot-9, 202-pound Blankenship rolled Massachusetts for 269 yards and two touchdowns last week. That total ranks fourth on Ohio’s career list and has Blankenship positioned to become the first Ohio back since 2007 to rush for at least 100 yards in six consecutive games.
“He’s north and south,’’ UB coach Jeff Quinn said. “When we get our pads on him we got to take him down to the ground.”
Blankenship owes his workhorse stature to circumstance. He was second to Ryan Boykin in carries among non-senior backs last season but became the focus of the running game when Boykin was sidelined by injury. Ohio coach Frank Solich said Boykin will be back 100 percent this week, giving the Bobcats a 6-2, 220-pound alternative to Blankenship, who carried 43 times last week.
“We haven’t been able to play him hardly at all so far this season because of a hamstring,” Solich said of Boykin. “And so we’re anxious to get him back. I think he can help us and take a little bit of the load off Beau. But Beau relishes that type of game. He loves the carries. He loves the toughness part of the sport.”
Blankenship hunted for a new program after seeing very limited time as a freshman at Iowa State. His high school connection with Tettleton brought Ohio into the picture.
“Beau and Tyler kept in touch,” Solich said. “Beau was not entirely happy with the way things were working out for him and I think it seemed pretty clear to him from Tyler’s experience here that this would be a place to look at. When he contacted us, obviously we moved forward with him.”
UB’s preseason and early-season talk of a MAC championship falls quiet with a loss today. The Bulls can’t afford to fall two games behind the East Division-favorite Bobcats, a deficit that in essence becomes three games since Ohio would own the head-to-head tiebreaker. It’s a hefty challenge. UB has won just one road game in two-plus seasons under Quinn and likely again will be without their own workhorse running back, Bo Oliver.
“It’s definitely an important game,” UB linebacker Lee Skinner said. “I don’t think we put a whole lot of pressure like that on it, like it’s the rest of the season, because we saw how crazy it was last year, The MAC, it’s always wide open. You want to go 1-0. You want to win the game.’’