SHREVEPORT - The Ohio University Bobcats and the University of Louisiana at Monroe Warhawks will face-off in the 37th installment of the Independence Bowl, set for Friday, Dec. 28, at 2 p.m. ET.
Both teams had impressive seasons, as the Bobcats and Warhawks gained national attention for their play.
The Warhawks, coached by Todd Berry, finished the season 8-4 and are going to their first bowl game since becoming a member of the FBS in 1994. They jumped onto the national scene after Arkansas 34-31 in Little Rock to open the season. They converted on fourth down on six of seven attempts, including the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
In the following weeks, the Warhawks lost a close 31-28 overtime thriller at Auburn and fell in a 47-42 shootout to Baylor at home while setting setting a stadium record for attendance in the game.
The ULM offense, which averages 442.7 yards per game and 35.5 points per game, is led by junior quarterback Kolton Browning. Browning finished the regular season with 2,830 yards passing and 27 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 441 yards and seven touchdowns, despite missing almost two full games due to injury.
Junior receiver Brent Leonard emerged as Browning’s top target, hauling in 97 catches for 1,042 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The ULM defense picked off 15 passes, which ranks 22nd nationally and first in the Sun Belt Conference. They rank 31st nationally out of 120 FBS teams listed on NCAA.org in turnovers gained with 24.
Ohio, coached by Frank Solich, finished the season at 8-4. Like the Warhawks, the Bobcats also jumped into the national spotlight at the start of the season after going to Penn State and beating the Nittany Lions 24-14 in Happy Valley. They began the season with a 7-0 record, which was their best start since 1968. They spent time in the AP, USA Today and BCS rankings this season, and rose to as high as No. 24 in the Congrove Computer Rankings.
The Bobcats are led on offense by junior running back Beau Blankenship, who ranks 10th nationally in rush yards per game at 125. He finished the year with a school –record 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns on 293 carries. He also added 177 yards receiving and one touchdown to rank 25th nationally in all-purpose yards per game 139.8.
Junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton has been efficient all season, completing 62 percent of his passes for 2,513 yards and 16 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
On defense, junior linebacker Keith Moore has set the tone, as he lead the team with 89 total tackles, including 3.5 for loss and a sack. He also has two interceptions, two passes broken up and a fumble recovery.
This will be Ohio’s first appearance in the Independence Bowl, though it will be the second appearance for Solich, who coached Nebraska in a 27-23 loss against Ole Miss in 2002.
Ohio snapped a 5-bowl losing streak in last year's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl when Tyler Tettleton's 1-yard with 13 seconds left secured a 24-23 win over Utah State. It was also Ohio's first-ever bowl win as the Bobcats improved their record to 1-5 in these postseason games.
This will be the first meeting between the two teams.
Ohio underachieved a projected 11-1 record by the Congrove Computer Rankings while Louisiana-Monroe far out-performed the computer's forecast of a 5-7 campaign. Thus, it only makes sense that the computer would give the Warhawks a 2.36-point advantage over the Bobcats.