The ‘Cats (1-7, 1-3 MAC) left it all on the field versus MAC East leader Kent State but came up short. We take a look at the last Saturday of the season before we head to the first week of weeknight MACtion.
The defense played perhaps its best half of football of the season, keeping the Bobcats in the game by answering the bell early and often for most of the first half.
The ‘Cats D managed to hold an excellent Kent State offense to 17 first-half points despite three turnovers and three short drives by Ohio’s offense, consisting of seven plays for 12 total yards.
The Bobcats’ defense is also showing signs of improvement as they head deeper into MAC play.
The run defense is much better in terms of being “gap sound,” which has resulted in fewer big running plays, with the longest run by Kent this week being only 17 yards.
The tackling versus Kent State was probably the best of the season.
The group that has made the most progress this year is probably the linebacking corps, which seems to play better each week, led Bryce Houston and Cannon Blauser, who are ranked third and tenth respectively in the MAC in tackles.
Blauser finished with 14 stops against Kent while Houston finished with 11.
LB Jack McCrory has seen the field more recently and is showing up in the box score with 10 tackles over the past few weeks.
LB Kyle Kelly got some reps with first team defense and made some stops in the first half.
The good news for Bobcats fans is this linebacker group has a lot of eligibility remaining. Due to COVID, Houston and McCrory are effectively redshirt sophomores while Blauser and Kelly are effectively redshirt freshmen.
The Bobcats have been bitten hard by the injury bug this season, especially along the offensive line and secondary, and are looking forward to a Saturday off to recuperate.
The starting corners were out this week and the number of safeties used this year rose to at least seven.
The silver lining of the situation is that the back ups get a chance to show what they can do and some have seized the opportunity.
Offensive line backups like center Parker Titsworth and left guard Gary Hoover pass protected well this week, allowing zero sacks and providing plenty of time for Rourke to throw most of the contest.
True freshman Torrie Cox Jr. had his most significant action of the season, showing up with two tackles and a pass defensed.
Despite its 1-6 record, the ‘Cats played with a ton of heart, a testament to the character and culture they have in Athens.
One example was WR Isiah Cox, who turned a five-yard out into a 29-yard play after breaking five tackles (including a sweet spin move). Cox’s effort set the Bobcats up with first and goal at the five, where De’Montre Tuggle scored two plays later on a two-yard touchdown run.
Prior to the Kent game, the ‘Cats went with QB Armani Rogers for the last 10 quarters in a run-heavy offense but when the offense looked out of sync and unable to run the ball in the first quarter this week, Ohio called on QB Kurtis Rourke to provide a spark and he did, leading the Bobcats to 27-point in what was probably the best performance of his young career.
Rourke passed for more than 300 yards for the first time, finishing with 308 yards while completing 81 percent of his passes.
The Bobcat signal caller also ran the ball well, appearing much more comfortable with called runs like options and draws and with improved decisiveness in scrambling.
Also, Rourke showed he had learned some lessons from earlier games this season, like the one versus Northwestern, by doing things versus Kent like sliding to avoid hits and keeping two hands on the ball in traffic.
Rourke has a chance to be a special player if he can continue to build on the things he did versus Kent this week.
“A Couple Plays Short Here or There”
One of the things in recent years that has kept the ‘Cats out of Detroit for the MAC title game is the number of closes losses. This year, the Bobcats have lost three games against quality MAC opponents by a total of 11 points.
Going back to 2019, Ohio lost a total of seven conference games, one by seven points, five by three points, and one by one point.
Linebacker Cannon Blauser spoke after the game at Kent and had the following to say on the issue:
“Its frustrating, we want to win every week and losing by so few points sucks. But it shows we are competitive every week, coaches give us a good plan and we execute it but we are just a couple plays short here or there, a couple missed tackles, a turnover, a missed opportunity… It’s frustrating but it gives us a little bit of hope that there are just a couple things to fix and if we make those plays we are there, where we wanna be, on top.”
Punter Jonah Wieland
Wieland continues to impress this season. Building on his MAC Special Teams Player of the Week award versus Louisiana, Wieland has continuted to do well in MAC play.
Wieland nailed a 57-yarder this week that went dead inside Kent’s five.
Last week versus Buffalo, Weiland’s 64-yard punt pinned the Bulls deep in their own territory. Also versus the Bulls, Wieland side stepped a rusher on a punt that would have been blocked and got the punt off to avoid disaster.
Ohio is off next Saturday, but starts MACtion proper on Tuesday, Nov. 2, against rival Miami at a time to be determined. Kent State will face the upstart NIU Huskies on Wednesday. Nov. 3, at 7 p.m. Eastern time.