After becoming the lone MAC team to pull off a Vegas upset in Week 1, Ohio’s brief run with an undefeated record came to a screeching halt in Week 2. In front of a crowd exceeding 107,000, the Bobcats fell 46-10 in a lopsided affair at Penn State.
There were positive takeaways, noticeable areas of improvement, and more for a Bobcat team which was challenged in every manner possible. Here are takeaways from Ohio’s Week 2 performance in Happy Valley:
Ohio’s pass rush might be the team’s greatest asset
In a Week 1 win over Florida Atlantic, it appeared the Bobcats’ strong suit of 2022 would be the passing offense, but every strength and weakness gets magnified when facing the best of the best. This was the case when Ohio battled Penn State on the road in Week 2. The passing offense didn’t flourish anywhere near the extent it did in the prior week, as the Bobcats collectively completed 17-of-40 passes for 164 yards — amounting to 4.1 yards per attempt.
Instead, a different facet of Ohio’s game proved potent. The Bobcats generated a steady pass rush the entire game, providing ample pressure on Penn State quarterbacks Sean Clifford and Drew Allar. They forced plenty of quick throws with oncoming rushes and prevented Penn State from taking downfield shots. Overall, defensive coordinator Spence Nowinsky’s unit generated five sacks and eight tackles for loss — outdoing Penn State’s defense in both categories. Reigning All-MAC selection Bryce Houston served as the team-lead in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks and captained the frequent backfield invasions. After witnessing that production at Penn State, this potent pass rush could become a potential signature of the Bobcats’ 2022 squad.
Kurtis Rourke knows how to take what the defense allows
Third-year starting quarterback Kurtis Rourke launched his 2022 campaign in spectacular fashion. The Canada native shattered his career-highs in yardage and touchdowns in Week 1 by firing for 345 and four, all while doing so on a completion rate nearing 80 percent. As expected when facing a secondary filled with NFL talent such as Joey Porter Jr. and Ji’Ayir Brown, Rourke’s numbers took a nosedive in Week 2.
But despite his individual 14-of-30 showing and 119 passing yards, Rourke showed some promising attributes to build on Saturday. Rourke did an excellent job going through his progressions and finding openings on curl routes and mesh patterns, picking up yardage in chunks. Because of the quarterback’s ability to pick up short gains where Penn State’s zone defenses allowed, Ohio was able to move the sticks early and often. The Bobcats never went three-and-out in the first half and accumulated 10 first downs on Rourke’s first six possessions guiding the offense. He never completed a pass longer than 22 yards, but he remained interception-free and consistently found open receivers for short yardage opportunities.
Missed tackling at the second and third levels is costly
While Ohio performed above expectations by notching five sacks and eight tackles in the backfield Saturday, there were aspects of tackling that weren’t so favorable to the Bobcats. Missed tackles at the second and third levels of the defense were a recurring theme, and the result was evident on the 46-10 scoreboard.
Penn State true freshman running back Nick Singleton looked to be a star in the making with three breakout runs in his team’s home opener. Singleton posted carries that traveled 70, 44, and 48 yards — scoring touchdowns on the former of the two. Both of those long touchdown runs involved the Nittany Lion tailback shedding Bobcat tacklers, and accelerating past the defense.
Additionally, Penn State didn’t attempt many deep balls, but its passing offense mainly relied on short throws and underneath routes. The inability to tackle those players at first contact in the second and third levels of the defense caused the Bobcats to surrender 215 yards after the catch — which consisted of 64 percent of the Nittany Lions’ aerial production. This quality was evident in the passing defense against Florida Atlantic too, so this is one area of the game Ohio most emphasize improvement if the Bobcats want to return to bowl eligibility in 2022.
Parker Navarro could have a vital role in this offense
Yes, Rourke is Ohio’s starting quarterback and will clearly remain as such, especially after his incredible outing against Florida Atlantic. But when Bobcat quarterback Parker Navarro checked in during the mid-third quarter, he provided a different dimension on offense which Ohio could use from time-to-time.
Navarro proved to be rather adept with his mobility. The UCF transfer acquired several sizable gains with his legs on zone reads and QB draws in the fourth quarter while guiding Ohio’s lone scoring drive of the second half. Overall, Navarro finished with 26 rushing yards on seven attempts. He was sometimes utilized in goal line packages at UCF as the Knights’ most mobile quarterback option in 2021 — and he scored the first touchdown in the War on I-4 rivalry series last November.
Ohio head coach Tim Albin proved his affinity for trick plays and unconventional formations in the Penn State game. If the Bobcats want to mix things up in critical short yardage situations or by the goal line, inserting Navarro as a viable run threat could be a viable option in the future.