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What We Learned: Takeaways from Ohio’s 49-14 loss to the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

Taking a deep dive into all phases of the ‘Cats on-field operation after a 49-14 loss to Louisiana.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Ohio at Akron Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We took a look at the game a second time and have a good bit to say on where the Bobcats stand after three weeks.

Rushing Defense

If Ohio is going to start winning some games this year, they obviously are going no need improvement in rushing defense.

Ohio surrendered 310 yards rushing to the Ragin’ Cajuns and the Bobcat defense is averaging 254 rushing yards allowed per game this season, which has made it easy for Bobcat opponents to go on long drives capped with a lot of touchdowns.

One issue that has persisted since week one is that off-tackle contain as DEs, LBs, and/or safeties are getting sucked inside on a regular basis only for the runs to hit outside for large chunks. With no one on contain, opponents are downfield 10-15 yards before they are challenged.

Last week vs the Ragin’ Cajuns there were some additional issues, mainly where the interior line got moved off the blocks on a fairly regular basis and the defense as a whole missed a lot of tackles that killed several opportunities to make key stops.

One reason for the inability to stop the run is growing pains: the Bobcats are inexperienced and therefore learning. At least ten Ohio defensive starters or rotational guys are playing significant snaps for the Bobcats for the first time including LBs Cannon Blauser, Bryce Houston, and Ben Johnson, S Jett Elad, CBs John Gregory, Roman Parodie, and Pierre Kemeni, and DLs Aiden Malenchek, Denzel Daxon, and Michael Taylor.

The ‘Cats will continue to shuffle personnel until they find the best rotations. Safety Michael Ballentine came off the bench last week and made an impact, making a few key tackles, finishing with eight stops.

Getting the Defense off the Field

Ohio’s defense has been on the field for far too many plays, resulting in a second-half fade.

The Bobcats were on the field for 83 plays against Louisiana and were flat-out gassed by the fourth quarter; of the 49 points and 562 yards surrendered last week, 21 points and 195 yards came in the fourth.

A similar scenario unfolded in the loss to Duquesne, where the Dukes ran 79 plays and the Bobcats could not make a single second-half stop, with the Dukes scoring on every drive.

Overall, the Bobcats are doing okay for themselves in the first half, and falling off more in the second half, when fatigue sets in. Not including end-of-half drives, Ohio’s defense has played 15 first-half drives which resulted in seven punts, four FGs, and four TDs.

In the second half, 13 drives resulted in eight touchdowns, two FGs, a punt, an INT, and a missed 50-yard FG.

While the rushing defense is clearly a part of the problem of staying on the field, another part of the issue is the inconsistent play of the offense and special teams.

Against Duquesne, the offense was unable to sustain drives for a large part of the middle of the game, forcing the defense back on the field; during one stretch, Ohio’s offense had five drives, totaling 20 plays, that resulted in a total of -2 points and under 10 minutes of TOP.

During the fourth quarter versus Louisiana, where the ‘Cats gave up 195 yards and 21 points, the Bobcat offense had 3 drives totaling nine plays and minus four yards.

The special teams had a better week last week but in the first two weeks, Ohio’s offense gave up safeties when the special teams handed them field position at the one-yard line. After having made stops then, Ohio’s defense had two extra drives to defend with the loss of the possessions due to safeties.

Offense Part 1: Finishing Drives

The Bobcats 16.3 points per game in 2021 are the lowest average of any Ohio squad through three games since the 2014 season, where Ohio averaged 11.3 points against Kent State, Kentucky, and Marshall.

One reason for the low point total is Ohio is just not finishing drives. The ‘Cats drove inside the Syracuse’s 33-yard line six times, including three redzone trips, but came away with only nine points.

Against Louisiana, Ohio came away with zero points on two trips inside the Ragin’ Cajuns’ ten-yard line. On drive one, a penalty killed what would have been a first down run and the chip shot FG was missed. On drive two, an errant option pitch between QB Kurtis Rourke and RB De’Montre Tuggle was recovered by Louisiana.

Offense Part 2: Everything Else

Overall, the offensive formula that produced four straight seasons of 34 points or more per game on average did not work against Louisiana and has not been working in large measure early this season; in the past, Ohio has flourished running the ball and hitting some explosive passing plays off of the run.

Here are some reasons why things are not working as well so far in 2021.

Missing players

Ohio is missing a number of key offensive players in the running and passing game.

Ohio hangs its hat on the running game, averaging over 5.6 yards a carry in 2020 and over six yards a carry for its two main RBs in 2019 and 2018. Yet, including the 8.3 yards per carry that back up QB Armani Rogers mustered on seven attempts, the Bobcats averaged just 4.0 yards per carry vs Louisiana.

Part of the reason for the reduced production and consistency in the rushing game is the loss of key players on the offensive line. Coming into the season, Ohio figured to have two guards capable of earning All-MAC status in 2021, LG Kurt Danneker and RG Hagen Meservy. Danneker has not played since the first half of week one due to injury and Meservy has not played at all, for reasons that are unclear. It is unknown publicly when either player might return but they are likely doubtful for this week.

With the starters out and a less effective running game in the first two weeks, the ‘Cats fifth (LG Bryce Ramer) and sixth (RG Christophe Atkinson) offensive guards saw significant action vs the Ragin’ Cajuns to try to get some things going.

While Ramer and Atkinson looked promising at times, the unit as a whole is going to have trouble finding as much consistency in the running game in short order unless the starters return, as none of the current linemen have significant Bobcat game experience outside of C Nick Sink.

A big part of the offensive success in the passing game had been explosive plays. In the last three years, under QBs Nathan Rourke and Kurtis Rourke, the Bobcats averaged 8.9, 8.6, and 8.8 yards per pass attempt but versus the Ragin’ Cajuns, it was 5.1 with the long of 25 yards.

While there are several reasons why the explosive plays in the passing game aren’t materializing, such as coverage taking away the deep throws and a less-effective running game, another issue has been missing WRs.

Whether it is transfers, injuries, or disciplinary actions, Ohio has not had many of its established playmakers at WRs for part or all of the years.

For instance, Isiah Cox was fourth and sixth in the MAC in yards per catch in 2020 and 2019 respectively but has not played a snap this year.

Jerome Buckner, who had 7 catches for over 100 yards vs Syracuse, did not play last week with an injury.

Good news for Bobcats fans is that Cox will return this week according to head coach Tim Albin and Buckner may be back too.

With Cox, Buckner, Cam Odom, Ryan Luehrman, and Ty Walton, Ohio would have its best WR corp of the season.

Running Rourke

QB Kurtis Rourke running more scrambles, quarterback draws, and zone reads may be avenues Ohio will explore to move the chains more consistently.

Teams like Louisiana and Syracuse dropped into coverages that took the deep and intermediate throws away, and leaving Rourke with some tight windows.

Rourke has the physical skills to run the ball and running more may help change coverages, open throwing lanes, and pick up more first downs in the process.

Special Teams

After a few hectic weeks on the coverage units, the Bobcats seem to have found some consistency against Louisiana. The ‘Cats held dangerous returner RB Chris Smith to a harmless 18 yards on one return.

Punter Jonah Wieland was named MAC East Special Teams Player of the week with a 41.2-yard average and two punts inside the 20 yard line.

The Bobcats may be back to the drawing board when it comes to FG duties. Transfer Stephen Johnson looked good in week one going 3-4 but has since gone 0-2, missing two shorter kicks.

Last year’s kicker Tristian Vandenberg returned to duty on extra points after Johnson’s miss versus Louisiana and may be in the mix to handle FG duties next week versus Northwestern.

Arrows Pointing Up

Despite the score, Ohio had some players who played well last week. Here are a few.

RB O’Shaan Allison splits time with RB De’Montre Tuggle but may see an increase in time this week after his week three performance. Allison had 92 yards from scrimmage and a TD, with two nice plays in the passing game, including a circus catch for a 25-yard score.

QB Armani Rogers moved the offense with regularity in his series and may see more action. With the Bobcats looking to give its defense a break, Rogers moved the ball, mostly on the ground, finishing for seven carries for 58 yards.

WR Ty Walton may be emerging as a much-needed playmaker in the pass offense, with 11 recs, 94 yards, two TDs in the past two weeks.