Anyone who has watched the Bobcats’ games this season knows we did not learn a lot about Ohio (0-4) versus Northwestern.
Many of the issues in the first three weeks resurfaced to foil any possibility of waving the ‘pirate flag’ in victory versus the Wildcats: penalties, missed tackles, injuries, run defense, offensive inconsistency, and special teams miscues continued to affect the Bobcats on Saturday afternoon.
While we took a good look at what has gone wrong for the ‘Cats so far after last week’s loss to Louisiana, there are some positives and storylines to watch for the ‘Cats heading into conference play, which begins with the play of a Bobcat running back.
Looking at RB O’Shaan Allison
O’Shaan Allison has been a good player since he hit the scene as a freshman in 2019, combining for 945 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in his debutante season.
Fast forward to 2021 and there are signs he is getting even better. According to head coach Tim Albin, Allison changed his offseason regimen, including diet, which has translated to a quicker and faster player.
Whatever Allison has done in the offseason has paid dividends in 2021.
Splitting time with All-MAC performer De’Montre Tuggle and behind a beat-up offensive line, his stats don’t necessarily scream improvement with 278 yards from scrimmage and one TD in four games.
Where the improvement shows up is the number of quality plays Allison is making rushing and receiving with the opportunities he has had; for example, not many running backs are making the highlight reel catch Allison made last week vs Louisiana for a touchdown (to view the catch, click here at forward to the 8:27 mark of the video).
Allison built on that success vs Louisiana with some stand-out plays vs Northwestern, including one run where he made at least five defenders miss and a reception featuring some nifty open-field running.
Heading into conference play, Allison has a chance to do some real damage, more so even if the o-line can get on track.
Getting some starters back
Nick Sink, a senior captain, was lost to what looked like to be a significant knee injury in the Northwestern game, as he was carted off early in the contest in a move which could affect chemistry along the line.
But there will be some reinforcements coming back this week which should help make up for that loss.
Due to injuries or discipline, Ohio was missing a number of key players for part or all of the non-conference season including three on defense (LBs Keye Thompson, Jeremiah Wood and S Jarren Hampton) and four on offense (RG Hagen Meservy, LG Kurt Danneker, WR Isiah Cox, Jerome Buckner.)
Number one WR Isiah Cox returned against Northwestern, knocking some rust off to get ready for conference play. Starting WR Jerome Buckner returned from injury to play some snaps last week too.
In a big boost to an o-line beleaguered by injury, starter RG Hagen Meservy reportedly will return this week after missing the entire non-conference slate, adding some much-needed experience and leadership. Meservy is about as experienced as they come, with at least 27 starts and 39 game appearances since 2017, with 25 starts at right guard.
Rotational defensive end Junior Bryce Stai returned to action for the first time this season against the Wildcats last week and should see more time as he works his way back from the illness that sidelined him for the first three games.
Promising ‘Cats get an early shot to show what they can do
The Bobcats’ success in the conference schedule will depend significantly on what they can get from some inexperienced players on the o-line.
We will leave the technical grading to offensive line coach Allen Rudolph but the backups and inexperienced starters on the o-line playing this season have responded fairly well against some tough opponents. While the play is not perfect, with breakdowns from penalties to sacks, etc, the moment has not looked too big, and these ‘Cats have held their own in large part, particularly in pass blocking.
Here are some key young ‘Cats to watch heading into conference play.
One player is center Parker Titsworth, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship this summer and was thrown into the fire against Northwestern last week with the injury to captain Nick Sink. Titsworth figures to get a chance to lock down the middle of the o-line with Sink out.
Guards Bryce Ramer and Christophe Atkinson saw their first significant career action in the last two weeks and held up pretty well against a Louisiana Ragin’ Cajun defense that features nine preseason All-Sun Belt players according to Phil Steele and a B1G defensive line in Northwestern.
Sophomore Jay Amburgey and Freshman Shedrick Rhodes Jr. have combined to form a rotation to try to lock down the right tackle position and should continue to improve in MAC play based on their early season performances.
We will keep an eye on this group as we move into conference to see how they develop.
The Bobcats’ defense played hard last week despite being put in some tough circumstances with little rest.
For the first three quarters, the defense bent but didn’t often break, allowing only 17 points, even though Ohio’s offense punted on seven straight drives in the first through third quarters. Five of the seven punts were after drives of five plays or less, allowing little rest for the defense.
Players like Will Evans led the charge, holding the Wildcats to only six points on four of the red zone trips. While Evans did not pile up the stats, he made some key plays like on a first-half drive where he forced a FG attempt after blowing up his blocker and tackling the RB for a loss inside the Bobcats five yard line.
The defense surrendered two touchdowns in the fourth when turnovers deep in Bobcat territory led to short fields for Northwestern, leading to the lopsided final score, 35-6.
If Ohio’s offense can find some consistency this week against Akron, the defense should improve by getting more of a rest.