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What We Learned: Takeaways from Ohio’s 29-9 loss to Syracuse

Looking at what went right and what went wrong for the Bobcats on opening weekend.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 Syracuse at Ohio
Jerome Buckner had one of his biggest games as a Bobcat, catching seven passes for 102 yards
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Bobcats performed well vs. Syracuse in some areas and need improvement in others as they head into Week 2 of the 2021 season. We took a look at each phase of the Bobcats’ Week 1 performance, and here is what we observed.


Offense

O-line

The Bobcats offensive line play looks promising for the season based on how they performed on Saturday. The Bobcats allowed no sacks and three pressures for the game vs an ACC opponent with a unique defense (3-3-5). The Bobcats moved the ball on the ground well at times, rushing for a productive 4.2 yards per carry overall.

The Bobcats o-line showed good depth, as starting right guard Hagen Meservy did not play and starting left guard Kurt Danneker was injured early in the contest. An injury forced back-up left guard Gary Hoover out of the game in the fourth quarter, but Bryce Ramer came in and did a solid job, helping Ohio drive deep into Syracuse territory in his only major action.


QB Kurtis Rourke, the runner

Coming into the season, how Rourke might do as a runner was the subject of some discussion and, on the whole, Rourke did well with the opportunities he had, picking up some first downs on called inside runs/QB sneaks and also a few others on some scrambles.

If the Bobcats plan on running option this year with Rourke, next week’s opponent Duquesne might be the time to test it out as Ohio is heavily favored to win (28-point favorites) and therefore might have a chance to develop the option in game conditions with less risk if a turnover were to occur.


Drive vs finish:

Ohio had little trouble moving the ball into Syracuse territory, driving inside the Orange’s 34-yard line six times, including three red zone trips, but came away with only nine points.

Looking at why drives stalled with only field goals or no points, it wasn’t for a lack of opportunities. The Bobcats were getting chances in enemy territory, but simply did not execute at times to their capability.

QB Rourke, in only his fourth career start, should improve his red zone decision making and will hit more often on throws he missed in this one.

One opportunity which especially stood out was a play where WR Jerome Buckner was open by a few steps in the back corner of the endzone, but the throw was off the mark.

There was also an interception near the goal line late in the fourth was perhaps not the best option, as the Orange dropped most deep into coverage and there was a Bobcat open underneath.

One of the few QB pressures of the night came in the first quarter, where Rourke was forced to throw to TE Adam Luehrman, his first read, in a pretty small window. Although a tougher throw, that is one Rourke has a chance of making. If Rourke had a bit more time on that play, another receiver was open in the endzone. There’s a lot of missed opportunities the ‘Cats will be reflecting upon in the film room.


Defense

Passing Defense

The Orange did not need to rely heavily on the passing game, given how well they ran the ball, but the Bobcats pass defense looked pretty good overall with what it was asked to defend, holding Syracuse to 92 yards passing, zero touchdowns, and only 5.6 yards per attempt.

Ohio contained Syracuse star WR Taj Harris for the most part, limiting him to six catches for just 29 yards. Ohio played pretty well in one-on-one coverage except for one deep pass which to Harris which could have been trouble but was overthrown.

The Bobcats got some good early returns from some secondary depth. With the loss of CBs Xavior and llyaas Motley to graduation, how secondary depth might perform early in the 2021 campaign was a question coming in, but backups CBs Pierre Kemeni and John Gregory saw action on defense and the moment did not look too big for them to handle.

With the loss of 2019 team sack leader DE Austin Conrad to graduation in 2020, super senior DE Will Evans stepped up with a sack and a pressure.

One thing Ohio could do more often is cash in on big-play opportunities. Going back to last year, the Bobcats designed some nice blitzes that put the nickel or LB in a position for a sack, but they were unable to finish the play by making the tackle.


Run defense

The Bobcats biggest area of concern after one game is run defense, having surrendered 283 yards and three rushing touchdowns.

Here is a breakdown of what went right and what needs improvement.

Ohio’s interior run defense did pretty well at times, especially between the 20s, but needs to improve in the red zone, where they allowed two rushing touchdowns on runs of 6 and 11 yards where there were fairly sizable creases.

The major damage in terms of explosive plays and some key plays to move the chains came on runs outside the tackles, in a few different ways.

For any 2021 opponent that has a quarterback who can run, Ohio can count on seeing the zone read play again this season. Syracuse QB Tommy DeVito rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown, converting a few key third-downs and a red zone score when Ohio DEs got too inside and DeVito pulled the ball from the RB and ran outside to daylight.

There were a few plays where the Syracuse TE and offensive tackles washed Ohio’s defensive line inside with no DB or LB to fill on the edge, cuts by RBs off-tackle to the back side of the play, and possibly edge defenders taking improper angles to the ball a few times.

Part of the answer on run defense is getting a few starters back and some more experience for expected 2021 contributors.

Ohio was without two starters at LB Saturday, Keye Thompson and Jeremiah Wood, and MLB Cannon Blauser is a new starter, replacing Jared Dorsa, who graduated last year. The LBs have talent as evidence by Bryce Houston’s 10 tackles, and will get better as the season progresses, but most LBs were in action against a major opponent for the first time.

Syracuse’s five-play touchdown on a third-quarter drive where they rushed for 52 yards came against several Ohio d-linemen seeing their first major Bobcat action. This group of players will improve with more experience, and Ohio will sort out its d-line rotation with what works best.

We will see how Ohio does on inside runs in the red zone and runs outside the tackle in Week 2.


Special teams

The good news for Ohio is it looks like it may have improved from 2020 in the FG department, with Oklahoma transfer Stephen Jackson hitting 3-of-4 attempts, only missing from 50 yards. If Ohio can get reliable kicking from 45-yards and in from the kicking game, they should be in good shape.

Core special teams is better than what it showed in the opener, allowing five points, a lost offensive possession, and great offensive field position for Syracuse on one drive.

The Bobcats started three drives in tough field position, at their own 1, 4, and 13-yard lines due to a muffed kickoff return and a kickoff return attempt which didn’t materialize, where the safer choice may have been electing to fair catch and start at the 25-yard line.

The muffed kickoff return resulted in a safety.

A 32-yard punt return by Syracuse resulted in starting field position at the Ohio 26-yard line which resulted in a FG.

Expect the Bobcats to bounce back in week two on kickoff return and punt units.

Later this week, we will preview Ohio’s next opponent, the Duquesne Dukes.