Ohio exceeded all expectations in Week 1. The Bobcats entered 2022 as Vegas underdogs in their opener, yet upended Florida Atlantic 41-38 to secure their first FBS regular season non-conference win since 2018.
Riding high after a tremendous offensive performance, the Bobcats were given a harsh reality check in Week 2. In front of over 107,000 fans decked in blue and white for a home opener, Ohio was on the wrong side of an annihilation in Happy Valley, falling 46-10 to Penn State.
“We treated last week as a loss,” Ohio head coach Tim Albin said. “We came in here to win the football game. It didn’t go our way. So as a staff, we’ve got to get them rebounded, give it 24 hours, get a few guys’ bumps and bruises cleaned off, but I think next week, big stage — we’ll handle it better.”
Coming off a 41-point outburst in the opener, quarterback Kurtis Rourke and the Ohio offense was looking to do the same against a talented Nittany Lion unit. While they moved the ball in spurts well by taking what the Penn State defense allowed, Ohio never collected more than 25 yards on a single play. Utilizing a series of short completions to maneuver down the field, Ohio attained a first down on five of its first six drives in the first half. However, the Nittany Lions prevented any explosive plays, causing many Bobcat drives to stall at midfield despite hints of production.
“It was not fully executing and being inconsistent in some drives,” Rourke said. “We knew we could move the ball and we did and we showed that. But some certain plays stopped that execution ability. We made some plays, but we got to be better on finishing those drives.”
Only once in the first half did Ohio fail to register a first down, and that was when Penn State pinned the Bobcats on their own 1 after a sensational punt by Barney Amor. Facing adverse field position, Rourke fumbled on an exchange with Bangura in the backfield, and tight end Will Kacmarek pounced on the loose ball to result in a safety — securing a 16-0 lead for the Nittany Lions.
Ohio scored one touchdown Saturday afternoon, and Albin dove into his bag of tricks to make it happen. On a pivotal 3rd and 2, he called a tunnel screen to Sam Wiglusz, who pitched the ball to Sieh Bangura on a hook-and-ladder for a 13-yard gain. Three plays later, the Bobcats broke out a “Philly Special” concept, as wide receiver Jacoby Jones took a reverse in the backfield and connected with quarterback Kurtis Rourke on a 17-yard pass. Bangura subsequently punched it into the end zone one play later to cap off the Bobcats’ best sequence of the afternoon.
“We came here to win the game,” Albin said on his utilization of trick plays. “We’re gonna call plays that are necessary to win the game. We’re not trying to trick anybody. Last week, we called whatever we called to win that game.”
While the Bobcats struggled to manufacture explosiveness on their own, they allowed numerous significant gains on the other side of the ball. Penn State’s offense found daylight on short underneath routes on its first scoring drive, but then James Franklin’s team cranked up the dial and broke out more home run plays as the game progressed. On its second drive, true freshman running back Nick Singleton shed a Bobcat tackler en route to a 70-yard touchdown run. Singleton later broke free for a 48-yard gain and a 44-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter.
“When Nick hits that open field though, I call all of them touchdowns,” Penn State strong safety Ji’Ayir Brown said. “When he gets to that second level, y’all better put your track cleats on.”
Singleton finished with 179 yards on 10 carries, snapping the Nittany Lions’ 17-game streak without a 100-yard rusher and contributing the most rushing yards from a Nittany Lion since Journey Brown’s 202 in the 2019 Cotton Bowl.
“This guy has been explosive,” Brown said. “Nick’s been an explosive runner. He’s been able to put the ball on the ground and take it 60 to 70 yards. This guy has done nothing new for us. This is Nick. This is his personality and this is what he expected to do for us.”
Right before halftime, Penn State’s ability to churn out big plays hampered Ohio’s last realistic shot at the upset. With a score of 19-7, quarterback Sean Clifford drove the Nittany Lions 78 yards in eight plays spanning 1:14, finishing with a dart to Mitchell Tinsley on a quick slant in the end zone. Instead of entering halftime down two scores, Ohio faced a three-score deficit due to the rapid scoring drive.
“I thought we were gonna get off the field,” Albin said. “And it just didn’t work out. It’s unfortunate for our defense, backs against the wall, and we’re not strong offensively to get the ball out. I would say that was a huge momentum shifter in the game for sure.”
The strongest quality Ohio displayed in Happy Valley was the ability to generate pressure in the backfield. The Bobcats accumulated five sacks on the afternoon, including one where defensive end Jeremiah Burton stonewalled Clifford in plus territory to force a turnover on downs. Reigning All-MAC outside linebacker Bryce Houston was especially potent as a pass rusher, contributing 1.5 sacks in the defeat.
“We knew first of all going into this game that they were gonna short set us,” Ohio defensive tackle Kai Caesar said. “And that’s the same thing our offense does in practice. We saw it all throughout camp so in this game it was just natural for us. Coach Nowinsky had a lot of great play calls and we blitzed them a lot and we created our opportunity off of those things.”
Rourke was unable to replicate his career performance from the opener against Florida Atlantic. In order to preserve the quarterback for later in the season, Rourke was pulled in the third quarter when facing a 40-7 deficit. The starter finished 14-of-30, contributing 119 yards as a passer and a team-high 29 yards as a rusher — only absorbing one sack. Still, Penn State defenders were able to witness some of the redeemable attributes he brought to the table at Beaver Stadium.
“He was a great quarterback,” Brown said. “I think he did a great job dialing in on me. He had a lot of eye contact out there. I know quarterbacks try to throw away from me a lot. He did a lot of looking me off and trying to make the appropriate passes to keep the ball away from me, so I definitely have a lot of respect for him.”
Penn State also subbed out its starting QB in the third quarter, as Clifford got an early rest after accounting for a modest but accurate 213 passing yards and two total touchdowns. Unlike last week where Clifford’s downfield howitzer was needed to guide the Nittany Lions’ comeback victory over Purdue, his throw profile primarily consisted of screens and drags against Ohio.
“One of the things I wanted to do was be able to give the ball in check-down situations and be able to throw short this week,” Clifford said. “I thought we accomplished that pretty well. It shows. It’s one of those things where it’s nice to be able to throw a drag and he takes it 40 yards. It just gives you confidence that you don’t always need to throw a post over the top. Throwing a check-down, especially with the athletes we have, you can make serious explosive plays happen.”
After falling to Clifford and the Nittany Lions, Ohio remains on the road next week as Albin and Co. travel to Ames, IA for a showdown with Iowa State. The Bobcats hope to use the experience in Happy Valley to bounce back and pull off their first victory over a Big 12 team since 2017.
“We handled the environment very, very well,” Albin said. “I was anxious about it because we had not been in this loud of an environment for years because of the pandemic and a hurricane... Today, I thought we were really, really good. That’s tough to say with the score and the game, but that was a positive and I think it’s just gonna propel us going into next week in Ames.”