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2021 Mid-American Conference Football Week 4 Game Preview: Ohio Bobcats vs Northwestern Wildcats

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A couple of ‘Cats looking to play a complete football game. 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 Syracuse at Ohio
QB Kurtis Rourke looks to get the offense on track this week for a chance to upset Northwestern
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ohio (0-3) and Northwestern (1-2) face off looking to improve their early season performances as they head towards conference play.

So far this year, both squads have had some long stretches where they disappear on offense and/or defense, with predictably bad results.

The Bobcats were shellacked by Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns 49-21 last week, partly due to a fourth-quarter fade, where they were outscored 21-0, with 195 yards allowed, mustering little offense with three drives of three and out for minus four yards and a drive that netted five yards as time expired.

Meanwhile, Northwestern’s 30-23 loss to the Duke Blue Devils last week was a mixed bag, where the Wildcats gifted Duke a 30-7 halftime lead with four turnovers and a porous defense, only to get on track in the second half, shutting Duke out while scoring 16 points.

We take a look at some game notes, followed by a look at each squad heading into Saturday’s contest.


Game Notes

  • Time and Date: Saturday September 25th at 12:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: BTN
  • Location: Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois
  • Weather: Partly Sunny, 63 degrees at kickoff with 13 MPH westerly winds.
  • Line: Northwestern (-14.5) per Odds Shark

Ohio Bobcats

SNAPSHOT

  • Points Per Game: 16.3 (120th out of 130 teams, FBS)
  • Yards Per Game: 301 (118th)
  • Points Per Game Allowed: 35.3 (113rd)
  • Yards Per Game Allowed: 435 (106th)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

  • QB Kurtis Rourke, Season: 432 yards passing, 3 TD, 65 percent pass completion, 1 INT
  • QB Armani Rogers
  • RB O’Shaan Allison, 222 total yards from scrimmage, 1 TD
  • DE Will Evans, Season, 9 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 PD
  • S Jett Elad, 21 tackles, 2 PDs

The Bobcats had their worst performance of the season last week vs the Ragin’ Cajuns, gaining 250 yards and scoring 14 points while allowing 562 yards and 49 points.

If Ohio is going to get back on track, it is going to need strides offensively, with the defense still finding its way due to a large number of inexperienced players in the linebacking corps and among the rotational defensive line and secondary players.

The passing game may be the most effective tool Ohio has to beat the Wildcats, with the return of some key players this week and an offensive line that is currently pass blocking better than run blocking.

Ohio’s WR corps could return to close to full strength this week, which would be an obvious boost to the passing game. Playing in his first game of the season, Ohio’s number one receiver Isiah Cox will reportedly return. Jerome Buckner, who had seven catches for over 100 yards in week one versus Syracuse, may also return this week from injury.

Add to the mix WR Ty Walton, who has come on strong in the last few weeks with 11 catches for 94 yards and 2 TDs, and super seniors WR Cam Odom (over 1,000 career yards receiving) and TE Ryan Luehrman (career 458 yards receiving, 7 TDs), and the Bobcats should have a capable receiving corp.

RB O’Shaan Allison also provided a spark last week in the passing game with two catches for 44 yards and a TD.

The Wildcats were beat for a few big gains last week in one-on-one coverage, and Ohio has some players like Cox who can win those types of matchups, with Cox finishing fourth and sixth in the last two seasons in the MAC in yards per reception.

Despite the offensive line shuffling the deck to combat injury and ineffectiveness in the running game, including using its sixth guard and 3nd tackle extensively last week, the Bobcats are pass blocking well, ranking seventh in the FBS with less than one sack allowed per game.

The QBs may be able to provide a spark on the ground.

QB Armani Rogers will see some definitely see some series this week, after keying a few drives last week with some nimble runs, finishing the day with seven carries for 58 yards

One key to making the whole offense go perhaps is QB Kurtis Rourke running more to open inside running lanes, passing lanes, and to move the chains, be it on scrambles, QB draws, or zone reads.

There are multiple times this season where Rourke looked to have the option to pull the ball from the RB and run to daylight on the edge. And with Rourke’s success as a deep passer in 2020 and the Bobcats drawing less attention in the running game, teams have dropped seven or eight into coverage a good bit in 2021, taking away deep and intermediate routes. Running instead of throwing into tight windows might result in some key first downs and coverage changes.


Northwestern Wildcats

SNAPSHOT

  • Points Per Game: 22.7 (104th FBS)
  • Yards Per Game: 364 (89th)
  • Points Per Game Allowed: 24.7 (72nd)
  • Yards Per Game Allowed: 412 (96th)

Players to Watch

  • RB Evan Hull, 262 yards rushing, 51 yards receiving, two TDs
  • WR Stephon Robinson Jr., 11 receptions, 149 yards, 1 TD
  • LB Chris Bergin, 31 tackles, .5 sack
  • DL Adetomiwa Adebawore, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 INT, 2 PDs
  • S Brandon Joseph 52 tackles, 6 INTs last year

NOTES

The Wildcats offense is in a state of flux at the QB position, where starter Hunter Johnson threw three INTS and fumbled last week before being replaced with dual-threat Senior Andrew Marty, who sparked the Wildcats’ offense, gaining 205 total yards with two passing and one rushing touchdowns.

Unfortunately, Marty was injured in the fourth quarter and his status for is questionable for this week’s game.

With the QB issue in the air, Northwestern will likely run the ball a lot against the Bobcats rushing defense because the Wildcats have been solid in the rushing game at times and Ohio has struggled, allowing an average of 254 yards per contest.

The Wildcats have used three running backs, led by Evan Hull, rushing for a combined 465 yards for 5.9 yards per carry and two TDs in 2021.

Ohio’s defense has struggled to contain the run in 2021, particularly the off-tackle run, and that is just where Hull had some success in last week’s game versus the Dukes behind two pulling offensive linemen.

Ohio may see an old friend in former Bowling Green Falcon star RB Andrew Clair, who has 12 carries for 77 yards for the Wildcats this season. Clair’s status is questionable though after he was injured late in last week’s contest.


Prediction

If there was ever a time for Ohio to catch the Wildcats in a relatively vulnerable state and to wave the “pirate flag” in an upset victory, this would be the time. Northwestern has struggled on both sides of the ball at times in 2021, clearly not playing its best football for four quarters in any game this year.

Also, the Wildcat QB situation is in disarray after last week, where the starter had four turnovers and the backup was injured.

Unfortunately for Ohio, the Bobcats have struggled on both sides of the ball coming into this one, allowing over 35 points per game while scoring 16. Ohio has some offensive personnel to start playing better and can stay in the game with some explosive passing plays against a Wildcat team scoring only 22 points a game.

With both teams working though some things, the edge has to go to the Wildcats, who play at home and have the advantage of B1G size and physicality on the offensive and defensive lines. The Wildcats should be able to do enough to win, barring a major turnover differential.