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2021 MAC Football Positional Previews: Ohio Bobcats skill positions

This crew, led by All-MAC RB De’Montre Tuggle, is good enough to win a MAC championship.

NCAA Football: Ohio at Pittsburgh
De’Montre Tuggle headlines a talented group of Bobcats in 2021
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio returns experienced, talented groups at RB, WR, and TE; in fact, on the whole, this group rivals the talent of any group in the MAC.

The high-end talent at RB, WR, and TE could produce perhaps three or four All-MAC players in 2021, and will field a number of other talented players who will win a lot of battles.

The quarterbacks are a highly-talented group too, but most players are inexperienced at the college level. Ohio’s starting quarterback Kurtis Rourke has been in the program for a few years but will be making just his fourth start and fifth appearance for the Bobcats when the season kicks off against Syracuse in September.

We take a look at the groups starting with quarterback.


Quarterback

At current, Ohio’s quarterback room is redshirt freshmen Kurtis Rourke, senior Armani Rogers, and freshmen CJ Harris and Kadin Beler.

Last year, Kurtis Rourke was the starter and Rogers saw some work in select packages, an arrangement which will likely continue, at least at the beginning of the season as Ohio faces their non-conference schedule.

I’m not sure exactly how long it will take, maybe the end of this year or sometime next year, but I think Rourke may wind up as one of the league’s best passers in fairly short order.

Rourke has only started three games as a Bobcat, two against Akron and Bowling Green, but the early returns are promising. Kurtis, the younger brother of former Ohio U legend Nathan Rourke, did not have enough passing attempts to qualify for an NCAA ranking in 2020, but his passing efficiency of 164 would have been good for 13th best in the FBS, had he qualified, as he completed over 68 percent of his passes in the 2020 campaign for three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Rourke has a good poise in the pocket, moves well to avoid pressure, and can make all the throws. He has a very good deep ball and showed some solid zip and touch too in 2020. Rourke made some good decisions pulling the ball and gashing Bowling Green on the scramble last year, as well.

That’s not to say everything is perfect.

Rourke had a few red zone throws into double coverage vs Akron that were good lessons. And to maximize the effectiveness of the ‘Cats offense, Rourke will need to continue to develop the zone read and option components of his game. Rourke showed the ability to run last season, and execution of these components improved the more playing time he had, so I would expect improvement to continue.

Armani Rogers, a UNLV transfer and by far the ‘Cats most experienced QB, will get some opportunities in 2021 to show what he can do. In just three games with the Bobcats in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Rogers has made clear he is an unbelievable athlete with keen awareness of the zone read and option components of the Bobcats offense. With linebacker size (6’5”, 225 pounds) and wide receiver speed, he is tough to catch let alone tackle.

Under Rogers, the running game will be a nightmare for opponents in 2021. Ohio’s bread and butter in the running game is inside zone and Ohio’s offense has killed opponents in recent history with it as the main component of the rushing attack. For instance, in 2019, De’Montre Tuggle and O’Shaan Allison were first and second in the MAC in yards per rushing attempt with 6.4 and 6.3, respectively. Ohio’s offense dropped video game numbers on opponents on the ground in 2020, when Tuggle averaged 7.3 yards per carry.

Add Rogers and a bad situation gets worse for opponents who now have to defend the entire line of scrimmage or risk giving up big plays. If opponents overplay the inside zone, Rogers will kill them on the edges of the defense.

With opponents focused on stopping the running game with Rogers under center, Rogers should also have some really good opportunities in the passing game.

Rogers is such a dynamic weapon that its tempting, even at risk of injury to the second QB, to design ways to get him on the field at another position when Rourke is at QB. I don’t know that the Bobcats would do that, but I would be tempted.


Running Back

If I was building a MAC team in 2021 and had my pick of any RB unit, I’d take Ohio’s (although Central and Western Michigan’s units would certainly be in the running). Ohio’s RB unit is talented, deep, experienced, and has one of the MAC’s best players in De’Montre Tuggle.

A rare blend of patience, agility, vision, strength, and balance, Tuggle has all the tools to win the MAC Offensive Player of the Year award in 2021. He wasn’t the fastest guy on the squad last year, but with the ball in his hands, he really sorts through the chaos well, weaving through traffic and hitting another gear when he is in the clear. It’s this sense of game speed which makes Tuggle an especially dangerous back.

Tuggle is an elite runner, above-average receiver, solid pass blocker, and special teams return threat. In his two years at Ohio, Tuggle has averaged 6.8 yards per carry with 17 rushing touchdowns and his 6.4 yards per carry ranked first in the MAC in 2019. On kickoff return team last year, Tuggle provided a spark against Central Michigan with a 93-yard kickoff return for touchdown to start the second half.

Given the amount talent in this group and Ohio’s emphasis on the running game, you know other backs will get some run to keep everyone fresh.

RB O’Shaan Allison should be the next man up. Allison is a talented back in his own right and is a good contrast in styles with Tuggle. Allison is more of a bruising, powerful runner but also has good vision. Allison led Ohio in rushing as a redshirt freshman with 869 yards, a 6.3 yard per carry average.

2020 team captain Julian Ross has been hampered by injuries but should contribute here and on special teams. Ross has very good speed and competitiveness, which was on display last year against Bowling Green on a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown.


Wide Receiver

The loss of Shane Hooks, an offseason transfer to Jackson State University, will hurt the roster a bit, as he was one of the MAC’s best deep threats, tying for 11th in the FBS in 2019 in yards per reception with 19.8.

Despite the loss of Hooks, Ohio will return an experienced, talented, diverse group at WR this year, which offensive coordinator Tim Albin should be able to use exploit most defenses.

Isiah Cox is one of the best receivers in the MAC and may be poised for a breakout season numbers-wise with the extra work available from the loss of Hooks. Cox is a skilled athlete that routinely makes big plays, finishing sixth and fourth in the MAC in yards per reception in the past two seasons with 17 and 20. He’s even the team’s leading special teams returner, displaying his versatility as an athlete.

This catch against Akron last year is all you need to see to appreciate Isiah’s talent (see the 2:50 mark here).

The return of 2020 captain and “super senior” Cameron Odom is big news for Bobcat fans. Odom is one of the most experienced Bobcats, with 43 career game appearances. Odom is a reliable target who will move the chains, with 71 career receptions for just shy of 1,000 yards. He is also a solid blocker, which is a must for a Bobcat WR.

Jerome Buckner has had to work through some injuries but, when available, he is one of the fastest MAC players and a real explosive threat from the slot. Tyler Walton figures will be in the mix, with 14 appearances in the past 2 seasons.

With the departure of 6’5” Hooks, I expect an opportunity to open up for a younger player to grab some time. 2021 recruits like 6’5” Aramoni Rhone and 6’3” Isaiah Davis are big targets and could get an early look to fill a role similar to Hooks. Hudl video shows Rhone should win a lot of one-on-one battles for the deep ball like Hooks did and Rhone can block.


Tight End

Ohio’s tight end room is in contention for one of, if not the best, groups in the conference.

The unit starts with twin seniors Ryan and Adam Luehrman, who are poised to have their best seasons yet. Experienced players with almost 60 combined appearances, the Luehrmans are key components in run and pass blocking schemes, and double as reliable receivers and redzone targets. At 6’4 and 250+ pounds each, they provide very visible targets for a developing quarterback.

Ryan Luehrman especially has shown capability as a target, with 35 receptions and seven touchdowns over the past two seasons.

With 2021 being the last year of Luehrman eligibility, expect some of the younger tight ends to get some run. Tyler Foster, Alec Burton, and Casey Clanton have all seen the field a bit and should have a chance to show who has the inside track for next man up for 2022.

Next week we take a look at Ohio’s front seven on defense. Ohio’s 2021 defense has the talent and depth to surprise some people.