Ohio’s bye week could not have come at a better time. Ohio finished the non-conference schedule with a 1-3 record which, in itself, isn’t the worst news given its schedule. However, there are definitely issues to address if Ohio is going to make the MAC title game in 2019.
1. Ohio’s defense needs to play with more consistency:
Ohio’s defensive play the last two weeks against the Marshall Thundering Herd and Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (ULL) was inconsistent to say the least. Downright strange may be a better word for it? Ohio’s defense played one half of each game (first half vs the Herd, second half vs ULL) like it had never played football together (especially on run defense) and the other half of each game like it was a championship-caliber squad.
In the first half vs Marshall, Ohio could not stop the Herd as Marshall rushed for 205 yards and scored on a total of five of six drives with three touchdowns, two field goals, and one punt. In the second half vs Marshall, Ohio forced four punts in the first five drives, with a slip by the defender resulting in a touchdown on the fifth drive.
In the first half vs ULL, Ohio’s defense, on seven possessions, allowed only ten points. Of the seven possessions, Ohio forced ULL to punt or turn the ball over on downs five times. UL’s last drive of the half was a field goal. ULL’s touchdown was the result of a fumbled punt recovered at the Ohio two yard line. Not much Ohio’s defense could do there.
Ohio could not even slow down ULL’s offense for most of the second half. After forcing UL to punt on its first drive of the second half, ULL had a six possessions which resulted in four touchdowns, a missed 37 yard field goal and a turnover on a bad snap.
But it was not just the 28 points in six possessions but how quickly UL was able to march through the defense on some of these drives:
- First TD drive, 74 yards in 1 minute, 37 seconds.
- Second TD drive, 50 yards, 2 minutes, 11 seconds.
- Third TD drive, 65 yards in 1 minute, 33 seconds.
- Missed FG drive, 55 yards 2 minutes, 38 seconds.
Ohio probably played two of the best offensive lines they will see this year in Marshall and UL so this may improve as Ohio heads into conference play.
2. Turnover Margin:
Ohio needs to get back on the plus side of the turnover margin. In 2018, Ohio ranked 5th in the FBS in turnover margin at +13 (32 takeaways and 19 turnovers). In 2019, Ohio ranks 120th in the FBS in turnover margin with -6 (2 takeaways and 8 turnovers).
3. Ohio has depth at running back
Ja’Vahri Portis, Ohio’s fourth-string RB, came off the bench vs. ULL to help a Bobcat running back group depleted by injury, contributing 39 yards and two touchdowns. Hopefully the bye week will help the health of the running back group.
4. Kicker Louie Zervos has pro skills
Zervos has always been an accurate kicker and this year is no different with Louie connecting on 86% of his attempts. Over the past year or two, Zervos’ increase in leg strength has been noticeable. Louie hit field goals of 48 and 49 yards yesterday which might have been good from 58 yards or more.
5. Ohio needs more consistency and explosiveness on offense
Ohio began 2019 looking to replace the wide receiver production lost to graduation (Papi White, Andrew Meyer.) Ohio knew that this process might involve some growing pains, given the inexperience in the wide receiver group as a whole and the lack of game reps for some of the wide receivers with the starting QB.
Through the non-conference schedule, there have been some growing pains. For instance, several catchable passes have been dropped, some of which coming on third downs have killed drives
Injuries kept wide receivers Cam Odom and Tyler Tupa out of the lineup for a few games which has not helped the process as Odom had the most game reps of any returning Ohio receiver.
QB Nathan Rourke can also be more accurate, with some passes sailing high over the top of the heads of open receivers.
Despite the growing pains, some options may be emerging which will help with the consistency and explosiveness. Tight end Ryan Leuhrman is emerging as a reliable target, with nine receptions and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Shane Hooks is emerging as a playmaker in Ohio’s offense. Against ULL, he had three catches for 96 yards and a touchdown and is averaging 22.3 yards a reception on the season.
Ohio also needs to get more explosive plays from its running game.
Ohio has had only two explosive plays in the running game in the past two weeks, a 24-yard run and a 72-yard run, both by Ohio QB Nathan Rourke.
Hopefully with the bye week, some of Ohio’s running backs can return from injury for conference play which should bolster production and explosiveness. Ohio was on its fourth-string running back vs ULL, after all.