Know Your Foe: Ohio

The voice of the Kansas Jayhawks, Brian Hanni, visits with this week’s opponent in Know Your Foe, a weekly segment from and the Jayhawk Radio Network. As Kansas prepares for its week two contest against Ohio, Hanni caught up with Bobcats play-by-play voice Russ Eisenstein.
Brian Hanni (BH): This week on the know your foe podcast we’re pleased to be joined by the ninth-year play-by-play voice of the Ohio Bobcats, Russ Eisenstein, an old buddy I had a chance to get to know six or seven years ago when the Jayhawks took on the Bobcats at the Las Vegas Invitational. Good talking to you and we look forward to having you back in Lawrence in a few days.
Russ Eisenstein (RE): Yeah, great to talk to you. I remember that game. I think there might have been 10,000 Jayhawks fans at Orleans Arena and the Rock Chalk Chant, I think started at the start of the second half. This is the first time I’ll be in Lawrence since 2000, I’m a Southern Illinois graduate and SIU was shutout in Lawrence on that day, I think 42-0. Hopefully it’s a little more competitive and hopefully its a great day in Lawrence on Saturday.
BH: Oh yes, it will be. You guys certainly had a competitive opener – three overtimes, 56-46. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, Texas State comes out with the win. From a play-by-play guy’s perspective, take us back to Saturday. What a wild finish and a hotly contested first game?!?
RE: We were on the air for six hours and 20 minutes and that was the longest I’ve ever been on the air on a football broadcast in my life. It was the longest game in Peden Stadium’s history, one of the oldest stadiums in college football, and it was the longest game, by periods, in Ohio history as well. It was 14-6 at halftime. Do the math, there were a lot of points scored in the second half and then in the overtime.
It was really unfortunate because Ohio was up by 10 and at one point it felt like the ‘Cats were going to ease out to the victory but it didn’t happen that way and there were just some crazy occurrences. I went back to pull some of the highlights to hear how it all sounded again – it was a day which I’d never experienced before and probably never will again. The unfortunate thing for Ohio too was that it was an upset. Ohio, and I think a lot of people, expected the ‘Cats to win game and it just didn’t happen that way. Texas State’s Bobcats did and hopefully they have a great season. Coming in, Ohio was the better team, but it just didn’t happen on that Saturday and now Ohio is trying to avoid an 0-2 start to its season for the first time since 2008. That year it was Wyoming on the road and a school called Ohio State that knocked off Ohio in a really tight ball game at The Shoe. We’ll see what happens this go around. 
BH: You mentioned expectations. Picked second in the MAC East to start the year and lose that opener, then you’ve got two Power 5’s on the road back-to-back with a road trip to Knoxville coming up next week, how much pressure does that put on this team this week in Lawrence?
RE: I think outside of the program the pressure is fairly high. Inside the program they have to try to temper that a little bit. This isn’t Frank Solich’s first rodeo as we know, this will be his seventh head coaching trip to Lawrence, where he’s been 6-0. Obviously he was at Nebraska for the first six of those, has experience there and a lot of wins because Nebraska’s program was really, really good for a lot of years and they will be again, and are now. He knows how to handle this kind of stuff. He’s never been too high or too low –  he is pretty much the epitome of even-keeled. But if you just take a look at the lay of the land of the schedule, yeah, when you go to Knoxville in week three, and you lose in week one to a team that you probably should’ve beat, and when you take on a team like Kansas in week two that is feeling pretty good about a win regardless of who it was against – it doesn’t matter if Rhode Island was 10-1 last year or 1-10 – a win is a win and the Jayhawks needed that. This is going to be a challenge, this will be a test. I would imagine expectations and obviously the pressure is high on this ball club if you’re having realistic views of this season and where your goals to be.
BH: Seven consecutive seasons of bowl eligibility. The continuity on this coaching staff, 12 straight years of Coach Solich and his two coordinators atop this program, says a lot about the consistency they’ve been able to churn out up there in Athens. Is it a similar style under Frank Solich offensively to what Kansas saw during his Nebraska days?
RE: No, because college football has changed so much. I think Frank Solich would like it still to be what it used to be at Nebraska. When you recruit and when you have to evolve in the landscape of football in general, not just college. You have to play a style that’s attractive to a high school junior or senior and then translate that over to college. It’s been spread out a little bit more. You’ll see the pistol, you’ll see things that Kansas fans never thought that they would see from a Frank Solich-led ball club. There will be five wide receivers. There will be multiple backs with a shotgun quarterback. Ohio under Solich is doing what so many other programs around the country are doing – the game is evolving basically to basketball on fieldturf when it comes to football. That’s what Solich and his staff are doing right now.
BH: Personnel-wise, seven starters back both offensively and defensively. When I look at the strengths of this team, that front seven defensively, with some of the pass rushing studs like Tarrell Basham, just how imposing can they be up front on defense?
RE: Ideally, this is a really, really good defense. Hopefully week one is a bit of an anomaly when you give up over 500 yards and 56 points to Texas State, but yes this defense is pretty good. This defense should keep this team in games. Tarrell Basham is a half sack away from setting the all-time standard for sacks in a Bobcat career. A lot of these records are being set now in this, the golden age of Ohio football. You are eclipsing marks that have been set in a resurgence of this program. Quinton Poling is a linebacker who might be the best in this league. He wears No. 32 and he’ll be very active on Saturday, all over the field. His football IQ is very high and the coaching staff allows him to really do what he needs to do on the field.
Defensively, the strength is on the line and the strength is in the linebacking corps. The secondary though, can be beaten as of now. They’re kind of learning on the job and they were beaten a couple times this past Saturday. Toran Davis is a player that led Ohio in tackles, a very, very smart ballplayer, had 17 tackles in the game on Saturday. As you guys know, if you have a safety that leads you in tackles, that means that teams are going a little bit deeper than you would like against you. We’ll see if some linebackers or a d-lineman can make some plays against the Jayhawks on Saturday.
BH: Offensively, we saw AJ Ouelette go down with the foot injury, what’s his status for this week? From what I notice, once he went out, three pretty capable guys backing him up, including papi white.
RE: AJ is out most likely for the season. It is a foot injury, a ligament injury in the foot. You could tell early on. The unfortunate deal about that is, he busted out for a big play on the first offensive drive for Ohio and then you could tell there was a little bit of a hitch in his giddy-up. as he was sweeping around to the right side near midfield, pulled up a little bit lame. We hoped it was a cramp – it was a warm day in Athens on Saturday. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. This is the deepest running back corps that Ohio has had and so there will be a lot of guys who are going to take carries. Greg Windham at quarterback can run and will be given that opportunity to run, much like (Montell) Cozart does with Kansas. I don’t know if he is as shifty as what you see from your quarterback, but Greg will be able to run. Papi White is a guy that can swing out. He had a big touchdown catch on a screen near the end of the ballgame last week. Maleek Irons is really sturdy, he’s got a Big 12-like body. The problem was he couldn’t hang onto the ball often, early in his career. He’s getting a little better now. Dorian Brown will get a lot of carries too. He’s got a good, athletic body as well. This is a team that will be able to run. The unfortunate thing is AJ Ouelette, a captain and an emotional leader, former walk-on, that’s a lot to lose. He’ll be there, most certainly to guide these guys, but Ohio’s running back corps is one back light moving into Lawrence in week two.
BH: What would you say are the biggest keys from an Ohio Bobcats perspective?
RE: They have to score early. When a MAC school takes a Big 12 school on, on the road, scoring early and regaining that confidence, particularly after last week, that’s going to be huge. This team is going to have to come up with multiple sacks and then win the turnover battle. A lot of the things that you see normally when a non-Power 5 school goes to a Power 5 school are going to have to apply this go around. I think they’re heightened that much more and you have to have that happen earlier because of what happened last week and this one being on the road.
BH: Before we let you go, can you give us some famous Ohio Bobcats alumni, whether it be from the sporting realm or otherwise, as our Jayhawk fans try to familiarize themselves with the program?
RE: Yeah, Matt Lauer has said good morning to a lot of folks on national TV, he’s a Bobcat and obviously has gained huge prominence in the television world. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt is a Ohio graduate too…he would probably be the biggest sports figure. Much like Kansas this is a great school and these are two great athletic-tradition-rich schools on their levels so it should be a lot of fun on Saturday.