It was easy to tell Nathan Rourke was going to be a special player after his first exposure to college ball. In a 59-0 win over Hampton of the FCS, Rourke entered the game as a backup to Quinton Maxwell and finished with 72 passing yards, 50 rushing yards, and a hat trick of rushing touchdowns.
His impact on the ground game was enough to earn the community college transfer MAC East Offensive Player of the Week, an award he’d capture three times in his inaugural year as a Bobcat.
The option quarterback’s ability to create rushing touchdowns near the end zone didn’t dwindle after the Week 1 performance. Rourke finished 2017 with four games of three touchdowns and three games of two touchdowns. Out of all FBS players, he ranked third by compiling 21 rushing touchdowns, only trailing running backs Devin Singletary and Rashaad Penny.
Rourke nearly closed in on the 1,000-yard mark, achieving 912 yards on the ground. He’s the closest replica of Jordan Lynch the conference has seen since Lynch finished third in Heisman voting in 2013. And just like Lynch, the Canadian junior has more talents on the field than acting as a glorified running back.
Completing passes at a 55.1 percent mark, Rourke isn’t the most pinpoint accurate passer in college football. But oftentimes, he makes good decisions to stay mistake free. Rourke didn’t toss his first career interception until his sixth game. Going over 100 attempts without a pick is rare for a first-time starter, but Rourke adapted to the role immediately.
On a run first, speed option-loving team, he doesn’t typically post 300-yard, 3-touchdown games through the air, but he is capable. His best performance as a traditional quarterback fell on Halloween night last year, lighting up the Miami RedHawks defense for 294 yards and three scores in a 45-28 victory. On this midweek night, Rourke demonstrated his full offensive dominance, responsible for all six touchdowns Ohio registered.
He capped off the season with the program’s first bowl victory since 2012, pulverizing UAB in the Bahamas to the tune of 41-6. Rourke fared 12-of-18 with two passing touchdowns in the victory, securing a 9-win season for the Bobcats and creating enough momentum to land Ohio as the overwhelming favorite in the MAC preseason poll.
Now as a junior with a year of experience under his belt, Rourke can even further develop as a dual-threat quarterback. His running abilities are almost near the pinnacle compared to other college QBs, but Rourke has room to improve as a passer.
There was a period from October 14 to November 24 where Rourke completed just 49.4 percent of passes — the same period where all seven of his interceptions transpired. Ohio still finished 4-3 during this stretch, as Rourke often tormented opposing defenses with his rushing abilities.
Improvements on accuracy and pocket passing could allow Rourke to lock up MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors and possibly toss his name into the Heisman race. Jordan Lynch and Nate Davis are the only two MAC quarterbacks to receive votes in the last 10 years, and if Ohio finishes 11-1 or 12-0 behind Rourke’s impressive numbers, don’t be surprised if he captures a few of the voters’ eyes.