At an underwhelming 1-1, Ohio finally woke up... or so it seemed after about a half of football at Nippert Stadium.
In the first 30 minutes of action, the Bobcats’ offense steamrolled a Cincinnati defense that was allowing 8.0 points per game (2nd in FBS). The leverage from a 24-7 lead against the undefeated Bearcats didn’t last long.
Cincinnati scored four second half touchdowns thanks to the brilliant play of freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder. Simultaneously, the Bearcats’ regained their defensive mojo and limited the Bobcats’ scoring to just two field goals to close the game.
Here’s what we learned from Ohio’s baffling collapse.
Ohio’s offense is awfully inconsistent
With returning Second Team All-MAC quarterback Nathan Rourke running the offense, the Bobcats were expected to have limitless potential with the unit in 2018. That potential didn’t show against Howard or Virginia, but it was refreshing to see Ohio’s offense finally clicking on all cylinders against a stout Cincinnati defense.
However, everything changed at halftime.
In the first half, the offense was defined by an unstoppable running game. Rourke and the running backs, A.J. Ouellette and Malek Irons, combined for 231 yards and two touchdowns — with the majority of those yards occurring during the game’s first half. The connection between Rourke and wide receiver Cameron Odom was solid too. The duo finished with five completions and 114 yards through the air, and Odom’s catches set up several scoring opportunities early on.
The second half was the polar opposite. Punt, field goal, fumble, field goal, punt, interception. The offense’s ineptness allowed Cincinnati’s to stay on the field and gain the rhythm it lacked in the first half. The running game struggled and Rourke was extremely inaccurate through the air, finishing with 12 completions on 27 throws. This brand of offense ruined Ohio’s upset bid and the opportunity to fly the MAC jolly roger and Nippert Stadium.
Fumbles ruined Ohio in 2017, and now, in 2018?
Ohio lost four games a year ago. Turnovers served as a major factor in all four losses, particularly fumbles. Ohio fumbled games away against Purdue and Central Michigan last fall, and yet again, a fumble served as the turning point in Saturday’s matchup.
Papi White’s fumble on one of his two catches was the mistake that lifted Cincinnati back into the game. Ohio was escaping bad field position when the fumble occurred, and Cincinnati recovered. Four plays later, the Bearcats completed a 28-yard possession and capped it off with Ridder stiff-arming his way to a 7-yard touchdown run. Ohio had potential to extend its 27-14 lead, but instead, Cincinnati trailed 27-21 and was igniting the engine on an impressive comeback.
Rourke is still a playmaker with his legs
Nathan Rourke with the improv on the broken play! Touchdown, Ohio! 21-0 pic.twitter.com/i9m3sRf6dr— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) September 22, 2018
The junior’s escapability is unmatched. Rourke continues to drive his legs and never gives up on a play. Saturday was the Canadian’s best game of the year, running for a season-high 96 yards and one touchdown. He’s comfortable moving across the entire field before throws and is never afraid to burst out to gain some yards on the ground. After a lackluster two weeks on the ground, watching Rourke rebound as a runner was very intriguing.
Ohio’s goal line offense needs work
Even though Cincinnati roared back to a 34-30 lead and Ohio’s offense couldn’t score to save its life, the Bobcats still were granted a critical opportunity to pull out the win. Thanks to a 37-yard run by Rourke and several Cincinnati penalties, Ohio pierced deeply into Cincinnati territory, earning an eventual first and goal at the 2.
After Ouellette boosted the offense forward a yard, the Bobcats’ offensive line collapsed near the goal line and allowed this to happen.
What a phenomenal meltdown by the Bobcats. This, from the six-inch line, and then an interception. pic.twitter.com/60E0mivKuc— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 22, 2018
Two Bearcats were able to get around the edge to stop Ouellette dead in his tracks. Backed up to the 4-yard line, Ohio let Rourke make a play through the air. Despite an excellent performance on the ground, he tossed his lone interception of the day — one that cost the Bobcats from their first FBS win of 2018, which would have been a huge road upset at Cincinnati.
Ohio’s losing record won’t last long
No matter how heartbreaking the defeat, one fact holds true. Luke Fickell’s Bearcats are an excellent team, one of college football’s greatest stories of 2018. Cincinnati shut out Miami (OH), put UCLA to rest on the road, and managed to stage a 17-point comeback to beat Ohio.
This was the Bobcats’ strongest performance in three games. Ohio nearly lost to an FCS program on Week 1, escaping 38-32 in the final minutes. The Bobcats couldn’t compete with Virginia (3-1) and its high-powered offense in Week 3. But Frank Solich’s team finally demonstrated its full potential over the first 30 minutes in Week 4, stifling Ridder and the Cincinnati offense while piling 24 points on a top-notch defense.
Luckily for Ohio, its schedule eases up in the next several weeks. A home game against Massachusetts should rejuvenate the team, and then Ohio will have the ability to start 1-0 in MAC play at Kent State. Northern Illinois, Ball State, and Bowling Green make up the following three games, which should all be winnable if Ohio performs the way it did against Cincinnati.