Special to College Sports Journal from Raycom Media Camellia Bowl Senior Writer Tim Gayle
MONTGOMERY, AL. — Quentin Poling was a force in the middle for the first six games of the Ohio Bobcats’ season before leaving early in the Western Michigan game with a knee injury.
The Bobcats went on to lose the next two games, then Poling returned with a brace on his left knee and Ohio finished the season with three wins and a berth in the second Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.
Coincidence? Ohio coach Frank Solich isn’t so sure.
“There’s no question that we have better chemistry when he’s on the field,” Solich said. “He’s performed extremely well from the moment he stepped on campus. The injury this year certainly set him back. The last three games, he’s playing with a brace, probably doesn’t have his full explosiveness back yet, but he still diagnoses things so well and is such a smart football player, as well as having great toughness and strength, that he’s able to get it done even though he’s not 100 percent. And then he just makes everyone around him better.”
Poling and the Bobcats (8-4) take on Appalachian State (10-2) in the Camellia Bowl on Saturday at Cramton Bowl. Kickoff is set for 5:35 p.m. EST. The game will be televised by ESPN.
Poling, a third-year sophomore out of Spencerville, Ohio, had won three conference player of the week honors in the first six games and looked like a good candidate for Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year honors before the knee injury. More importantly to him, his early-game injury was one of several suffered in the Bobcats’ first conference loss and two more agonizing losses followed, dropping them out of contention for the conference championship.
“It was very tough, just knowing that we’re a better team than how we played in those three games,” he said. “It wasn’t so much the fact that we lost against some of the better teams in the conference, it’s just that we lost in such a bad fashion. That made it more tough to watch than anything.”
As he went through workouts at Alabama State University this week in helmets and shorts, he felt optimistic after the Bobcats’ three-game resurgence, noting that his left knee is “definitely not 100 percent, but this is the best I’ve felt since I’ve been back.”
Poling was redshirted in 2012 and didn’t get to play in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, so missing out on a bowl trip last year just made the Bobcats hungry for an opportunity this season.
“We brought back a lot of starters, so this year we definitely thought we would contend for a conference championship and have a nice record, definitely expect a bowl game,” he said. “We reached a couple of those goals but that little skid we had in the middle of the season prevented us from a MAC championship. But we ended the season strong with three wins and we’re looking to get a win here.”
He feels the Bobcats sewed up a bowl with its seventh win, so winning the regular-season finale at Northern Illinois – Ohio’s first victory over the Huskies in DeKalb in a decade – showed Poling a lot about the character of his squad.
“We had, for sure, locked down a bowl spot with seven wins, so I think that speaks for our team that we came out, even as an underdog, and won when you didn’t necessarily have to,” he said. “We easily could’ve laid down, taken a loss and gone to a bowl game anyway, but we didn’t do that so I think that showed a lot about our team and character.”
Now that character will be tested again, this time by a favored Appalachian State team eager to prove it belongs in its first bowl-eligible season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“They’re a very fast team,” Poling said. “I think their offense is built around a very disciplined and well coached offensive line. It’s going to be a big game for our defensive line and linebackers to play our gaps and fitting up the run well. That’s going to be the key to stopping them.”