Ohio (3-3, 1-1 MAC East) and Akron (1-5, 0-1) put on a dazzling show of offensive fireworks Saturday afternoon, rolling up 1,039 yards and 82 points (with one score on the defensive side).
The 845 combined passing yards on the day is an aerial attack rarely seen, with each squad setting a team record in the process. Ohio QB Kurtis Rourke’s 427 yards passing yards ranks second all-time for a single game in program history, while Akron’s QB DJ Irons 418 yards is fifth all-time in Zips’ history.
Ohio could have scored on eight of its nine drives except they were stopped by Akron on fourth-and-one, electing not to take a short field goal attempt.
The Zips’ offense wasn’t quite as effective, but scored on four straight drives between the first and third quarters, ultimately scoring on six of ten drives.
There was a lot to take away from this game, so let’s take a little dive into it:
The Bobcats offense has a chance for a special season
Halfway through the season, the ‘Cats showed they are one of the more potent offenses in the MAC. It’s quite a turnaround from last season when the ‘Cats offense rank 10th in the MAC in points per game with a shade under 23, and ninth with 371 yards per game.
This year, the offense has been dominant in multiple games, ranking second overall in points per game in the MAC with 33 and 1st in yards per game with 446.
The offensive starts with the passing game led by QB Kurtis Rourke.
The Bobcats are racking up the passing yards so far this year, ranked the eighth-best in the FBS with 334 per contest.
The Bobcats are also first in the MAC in several passing categories including total yards (2004), completion percentage (68.3), passing efficiency (159.8) and fewest interceptions (2) and second in others passing categories like touchdowns (14) and yards per completion (8.7).
Another way to look at Ohio’s success is based on how many of the best passing performances they have had in the league so far. MAC squads have played a total of 72 games to date, a solid sample size.
Of those 72 games, Rourke has three of the top five most accurate games by MAC QBs with a minimum of eight passing attempts per game, including the most accurate outing to date completing 88 percent of his passes against Akron.
Rourke has also had some of the most productive passing games by MAC schools using other measures.
For instance, the younger Rourke has the first, second, and seventh-most passing yards in a game. Rourke is also tied for second (twice) for most touchdown passes in a game with four, and tied for third with a three-touchdown pass game.
Rourke, however, is clearly not doing it alone, with a receiving corps and offensive line that are making big-time contributions. In fact, All-MAC talent is emerging in all position groups on the Bobcat offense.
Ohio WR Sam Wiglusz seems to get more involved in the offense as the weeks go by with 73, 115, then 144 yards receiving in the last three weeks. Wiglusz has made some explosive plays with two of the top five longest catches in the MAC this year, a 75-yarder against Akron last week was fourth-longest so far and Wiglusz’ 71-yarder was fifth longest.
WR Jacoby Jones has emerged too over the past few weeks with some great catches and big numbers. Jones has 100+ plus yards receiving in two of his last three games, with a spirited 42-yard catch and run on the tunnel screen the play that helped salt the game away against Akron late in the fourth quarter.
The thing that makes the group special is the talented depth, creating so many opportunities for favorable matchups. For instance, in addition to Wiglusz and Jones, the group has other significant contributors like WR James Bostic. who is first in the MAC in yards per catch with 20.5.
Then there is WR Miles Cross who seems to make a handful of critical plays every game and has 22 catches for 250 yards and a touchdown.
The TE group has also flashed in the passing game with both Tyler Foster and Will Kacmarek showing impressive athleticism and soft hands for guys their size, around six-foot-five, 250 lbs. Kacmarek alone had two great catches last week, one adjusting to a ball thrown behind him and one low-and-away near the sidelines.
If the passing game weren’t enough for opponents to contend with, the Bobcats’ commitment to the running game is starting to bare fruit. Though the running group is really banged up, starter Sieh Bangura was named MAC East Player of the Week last week with 115 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving).
A note about the offensive line. Since the season started, we’ve talk about the Bobcats starters but there are also some key backups this season who are making things work. With injuries at times to both tackles and left guard, substitutes like Jacksonville State transfer tackle Jacob Dennison and guard Bryce Ramer have logged significant time, keeping the ‘Cats offense rolling.
Defense adjustments were effective
It is no secret that the Bobcats have struggled defensively at times in 2022; the ‘Cats came in the Akron game having allowed 736 yards offense to Kent State the week prior.
So with three starters in the secondary out with injury against Akron, the Bobcats went with a bend-don’t-break approach, keeping everything in front of them to limit the big play, sprinkling in some blitzes along the way. The plan worked, as the ‘Cats kept the explosive passing damage to a minimum relative to to prior weeks against a very talented Zips aerial attack.
In the games the two weeks prior to Akron, Fordham and Kent State scored seven times through the air and had passes of 84, 74, 46, 45, and 45 yards. Compare that with last week versus the Zips, where the Bobcats allowed zero touchdown passes and a long pass of 34 yards.
Eliminating the quick score, the defense in the front seven had its effect on Akron often enough to get the 21-point win.
Multiple defensive players had a hand in the win. LB Keye Thompson is gaining momentum in MAC play, having his statistically best game of the year last week with 11 tackles, two pass break-ups and an interception, the Bobcats’ first theft of 2022.
Defensive end Jack McCrory has made a number of splash plays the last two weeks with a fumble returned for score the biggest play versus the Zips. Linebacker Bryce Houston’s 3.5 tackles for loss last week ranks second most in a single game for a MAC player in 2022. Houston also had seven stops and the strip sack that McCrory recovered.
A lot to like about Akron’s passing attack
While the Bobcats’ defensive posture on the whole was designed to allow yards but limit explosive plays, take nothing away from the Zips’ passing game that has a lot going for it.
QB DJ Irons had a record-setting day in two respects. In addition to having the fifth-most passing yards in a contest for the Zips with 418 yards, Irons also completed the most passes in a single game by any FBS QB with his 43 completions against the ‘Cats.
The Zips targeted the outside of the Bobcat defense, especially early, and Irons displayed very good arm strength getting the ball out to the edges.
Irons is also making a name for himself in the 2022 MAC record books; his 79.6 percent passing accuracy against Ohio was the fifth-best in the MAC this year.
Also, Irons’ total yards against Ohio (441 rushing and passing) ranks as the fourth best by a MAC QB in ‘22 as well, showing the ability for this unit to find yards, a year removed from being one of the nation’s worst overall offenses.
Akron’s great complement of receivers certainly has a lot to do with the sudden jolt of competency.
The group starts with Pitt transfer Shocky Jacques-Louis, who is blazing a trail towards an all-MAC nod in his first year in the conference. Jacques-Louis leads the Zips with 37 catches for 489 yards and a score and had eleven grabs and 152 yards versus Ohio.
The Zips are getting it to Jacques-Louis any way they can and the Zip wideout has proven a threat on kick returns as well, with an 88-yarder against BGSU a few weeks back, the fourth-longest return in the MAC this year.
The Zips have another breakout receiver in Daniel George, who turned in 11 catches for 108 yards versus Ohio to bring his season totals 36 catches for 359 yards and a score.
Akron can also hit opponents through the air from other position groups like the tight end group, where TJ Banks and Tristan Brank have combined for 23 catches for 230 yards and a score on the year.
The running backs group, led by Clyde Price III and Cam Wiley also have regular duty in the passing game with a combined 30 receptions.
We’ll see how the Zips fare next week as they host the struggling CMU Chips (1-5, 0-2 MAC West) while Ohio travels to WMU (2-4, 0-2 MAC West) to take on the Broncos.