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2019 MAC Football Week One Game Preview: Rhode Island Rams vs. Ohio Bobcats

Experienced head coaches looking for next-level results to kick off the 2019 season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 19 Frisco Bowl - San Diego State v Ohio Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Ohio Bobcats continue their non-conference Solich-era tour through the Football Championship Series (FCS) by hosting the Rhode Island (URI) Rams. Ohio has hosted an FCS opponent every year of the Solich area except for his first. This will be the first meeting between the Bobcats and the Rams in the Solich era.

Most of those meetings with the FCS have more-or-less gone as some members of the media and fans might have presumed as Ohio is undefeated in the Solich era against the FCS, 13-0.

Ohio fans may be less sure about the outcome against "Rhody" after the Howard Bison stampeded into Peden Stadium last year with another idea, taking a lead into halftime. Ohio escaped with a win on a +4 turnover differential and a 99-yard kickoff return for TD by special teams standout DL Knock.

Both Ohio (Frank Solich) and URI (Jim Fleming) feature experienced head coaches who have the proverbial program arrow pointing up for their team’s prospects for 2019.

Since Coach Solich and staff arrived for the 2005 season, Ohio has won 106 games and lost 75 while winning 4 MAC East titles and the first bowl game in team history.

Head coach Solich stated this offseason at MAC Media Day that the team still has goals to achieve, goals familiar to Ohio Bobcat fans: “we want to start playing for MAC championships on a regular basis and winning them, we want to try to break into the top 25…”

Ohio has the experienced personnel in place and depth at most positions to accomplish those goals. Every game on Ohio’s schedule is winnable.

RDI head coach Jim Fleming, a veteran of 29 college coaching seasons, will have his players ready to go. Coach Fleming is familiar with the MAC and Peden Stadium as he was a defensive coach with the University of Akron Zips for six seasons including the Zips team that won the 2005 MAC championship.

The Rams are coming off a 6-5 record in 2018, which is really much more impressive than it sounds because it is the first winning season for URI since 2001. Also, URI’s 2018 regular season schedule was one of the toughest in the FCS because they played in the Colonial Athletic Association, one of the best conferences in the FCS. URI played five teams who finished the year ranked in the FCS Top 25, so to finish the season with a winning record with that schedule says a good deal about the talent of the players and coaches on the 2018 team.


MATCHUPS

URI’s Offense vs. OHIO’s Defense

The key matchup in this game is Ohio’s pass defense vs URI’s pass offense.

Ohio’s pass defense will be tested. URI features some tall, dynamic playmakers in the passing game and Ohio struggled to find its pass defense in 2018 at the beginning of the season.

URI’s Key Offensive Personnel:

1. Aaron Parker: WR, 6’3” SR, 2018 CAA First Team, All-Conference: 2018: 61 receptions, 972 yards, 10 touchdowns. 2019 Walter Payton Award Watch List (given to the most outstanding offensive player in the FCS)

2. Kyle Murphy: LT, 6’4” SR, 2018 CAA First Team, All-Conference: versatile. Started games at LT, LG, C, RT during his career.

3. Ahmere Dorsey, WR/RB, SR: Explosive player with more than 1,000 return yards in 2018 with touchdowns on 2 kickoffs and 1 punt return.

4. Isaiah Coulter, WR: 6’3” SO. 2018: 42 receptions for 604 yards.

Ohio should be more effective to start the 2019 season returning three-time All-MAC defender Javon Hagan at safety, two starting cornerbacks Jamal Hudson (12 PBUs in 2018) and Marlin Brooks, as well as most of its depth at corner and safety.

URI will have its hands full pass blocking against one of the better defensive end rotations in the MAC. Ohio returns starters Amos Ogun-Semore and captain Will Evans, along with Austin Conrad, Chukwudi Chukwu, Sam McKnight and some younger players ready for some reps.

OHIO’s Offense VS. URI’s Defense

Ohio should have one of the better offenses statistically in the FBS in 2019 despite significant personnel losses.

Ohio lost a massive amount of offensive talent to graduation in 2018 from an offense that averaged over 40 points a game including First-Team All-MAC LT Joe Lowery (Chicago Bears), LG Joe Anderson, RB A.J. Ouellette (Cleveland Browns), and Papi White (Tennessee Titans), Second-Team All-MAC RG Durrell Wood, and current CFL Hamilton Tiger-Cat RB Maleek Irons.

Despite the losses, Ohio returns a significant amount of experienced offensive talent for 2019, starting with one of the best players in the MAC, if not FBS football, QB Nathan Rourke. In two seasons at Ohio, Rourke has passed for 4,637 yards, rushed for 1,767, and accounted for 77 touchdowns.

Rourke projects to be even better in 2019 based on an August 2019 Media Day conference with offensive coordinator Tim Albin, who noted Rourke improved noticeably in the offseason in areas of overall strength and passing ability, such as a quicker release.

Ohio returns significant experience at most of the remaining offensive positions except running back and right tackle. Four of Ohio’s five starting linemen have played in a combined 76 games for Ohio including captain Austen Pleasants LT, Brett Kitrell, LG, Steven Hayes, C and Hagen Meservy, RG.

The Luehrman brothers Ryan and Adam, 250-pound tight ends, can function like an extension of the offensive line in the running game and are tough, determined blockers. OC Tim Albin spoke of using the TE group more in the passing game and I think the idea has some traction this year. I would be surprised to not see Ohio TEs targeted in the red zone a few times this week.

Ohio also returns starter Cam Odom at WR, senior WR DL Knock, and a host of younger players like Jerome Buckner and Isiah Cox, who flashed in big moments last season.

URI returns at least seven players with starting experience on defense including a defensive line they report is deep and talented. Quality depth is usually a major factor when the FCS plays the FBS: can talented players on the FCS team stay fresh enough to compete for the entire game?

SPECIAL TEAMS

Phil Steele ranks Ohio’s 2019 Special Teams Unit as the best in the FBS and Ohio will have a big advantage if it can contain URI’s Ahmere Dorsey.

Ohio returns First-Team All-MAC punter and kickoff specialist Michael Farkas along with two-time All-MAC K Louie Zervos. Ohio is experienced and deep on the coverage units. Ohio’s defensive depth at safety and linebacker should impact the game on special teams.

URI’s Ahmere Dorsey is a legitimate weapon on punt and kick return but it’s doubtful that Ohio will give him opportunities on a regular basis to show what he can do. Ohio’s punter and kickoff specialist Michael Farkas has been special with his ability to place the ball where his team wants it on punts and kickoffs to help the coverage.

A major question for RDI coming into this game will be the status of its punt team. Ohio’s head coach Solich is typically content to play field position and URI is coming off a season where they averaged 31.8 yards per punt.

BEST OUTCOMES

Ohio: Ohio, despite the offensive losses, picks up where it finished 2018 and plays well on both sides of the ball and special teams. Ohio’s pass defense gets off to a faster start in 2019 than it did in 2018. Ohio wins without significant injuries and gets experience at offensive and defensive tackle while getting some clarity at RB. A player or two from the depth chart emerges at defensive tackle, safety, linebacker and/or TE.

URI: URI's defense is able to impact Ohio’s running and passing game early or Ohio comes out slow on either side of the ball. URI is able to make explosive plays in the passing game, on WR runs, or on special teams to take the game into the second half with a chance to win.

Prediction: Ohio 44, RDI 14