This game features a couple of squads that have been reforged in significant part during the offseason.
Ohio adds some new coaches on both sides of the ball and looks to put its best foot forward for the first game played on the new field turf named in honor of their last head coach Frank Solich. The FAU Owls also come into the 2022 season with major changes to the coaching staff and roster in a year which could determine the future of head man Willie Taggart.
We take a look at the matchup and which squad might prevail.
- Time and Date: Saturday, September 3, 2022, at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time.
- Network: ESPN+ (A valid subscription is required for viewing)
- Radio/Streaming: Both teams can be heard via the Varsity Network App. Veterans Russ Eisenstein and Rob Cornelius on the Ohio call.
- Location: Frank Solich Field at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio
- Weather: Partly Cloudy, 86 degrees, Wind SSW 4 MPH per Weather.com
- Spread/Total: FAU is a 4-point favorite.
- All-time series: First meeting
MEET THE 2022 BOBCATS
Head Coach Tim Albin returns for his second year at the helm, looking to put his stamp on the Ohio program as a head coach after taking over for the MAC’s all-time winningest coach head coach, Frank Solich.
Not an easy task for any coach, but Albin and his staff have reforged the ‘Cats in preparation for a successful ‘22 season.
Major changes started at the end of the 2021 season, with the retirement of defensive coordinator and safeties coach Ron Collins. Coach Collins, along with then-DC Jimmy Burrows, were instrumental in the Bobcats’ last MAC title game appearance in 2016, where Ohio lost a close one to the 13th-ranked WMU Broncos, 29-23.
To replace Collins, Ohio secured the services of a couple of rival coaches in former Miami RedHawks Spence Nowinsky and John Hauser. Nowinsky fills the DC role while Hauser is tabbed to coach safeties.
Nowinsky and Hauser won a MAC title with Miami in 2019 and bring more than a decade of combined MAC coaching experience to the Bobcats.
The defense will be a base 4-2-5 with an emphasis on stopping the run and creating havoc with sacks and turnovers, all areas where the Bobcats ranked near the bottom of the MAC in 2021.
The new coaches will have a lot to work with and have expressed that the strength lies throughout the middle of the defense.
The middle starts with a deep rotation at interior defensive where the ‘Cats return starters and several rotational players from the 2021 squad. Two-time captain Kai Caesar returns for his final season to lead the group. Caesar is an experienced veteran with 38 appearances for the green and white.
The linebacker group may prove to be one of the MAC’s best by season’s end, headlined by 2021 third-team All-MAC performer from Bryce Houston and rising talent Cannon Blauser. The Bobcats also get a big boost to the group with the return of starter Keye Thompson, who missed all of 2021 with an injury.
Keeping the middle of the defense strong on the back end is 2021 third-team All-MAC safety Tariq Drake, whose three interceptions led the club last year.
Where to keep an eye on how the ‘Cats fare in this one is on the edges, particularly at defensive end. With the loss of 2021 sack leader Will Evans to graduation and a scheme change, the Bobcats have two new starting defensive ends that are lighter than recent Ohio DEs but more athletic.
How Ohio uses the its ends and helps them hold the line against FAU’s massive pulling guards and tackles in the run game will be key.
The starters at DE for Ohio are former LB Jack McCrory (six-foot-one, 236 lbs.) and Vonnie Watkins, who checks in at around six-foot-three, 230 lbs. If the DEs can deliver, they will solidify the front seven.
The Bobcats offensive coaching staff remains largely intact with a change at running backs coach and passing game coordinator after Tyler Tettleton left for an opportunity with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Filling Tettleton’s role is veteran coach Brian Smith, who had successful stints at Hawai’i and Washington Cougars as OC and RB coach.
What influence Smith will have on the passing game will be a thing to watch for early in the season, but a lot is known about the major players on offense.
2022 captain QB Kurtis Rourke returns and, with the graduation of Armani Rogers, is poised solidify his role offensive leader.
Rourke is a dual-threat QB who appeared in ten games for Ohio last year, finishing with 1,801 yards passing and was second in the MAC in completion percentage at 65%. Rourke also ran for 327 yards and three scores.
Rourke will be looking to throw to targets like Tyler Walton, who is Ohio’s returning career production leader with 53 catches for 586 yards and three scores.
The plans for the ground game changed recently when O’Shaan Allison was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman Sieh Bangura will get his shot to help make up for the loss of Allison’s production. Bangura showed flashes of brilliance in limited reps last year as both a runner and receiver, including a 40-yard run for score on his first carry as a Bobcat.
Blocking for Bangura, Ohio returns a solid interior offensive line, despite the loss of LG Kurt Danneker who is still recovering from injury.
Like the defense, the intrigue on offense begins with the ends of the line, where Ohio will be breaking in new starting tackles and TEs. Last year’s starting RT Jay Amburgey will move to LT for 2022 leaving a battle for his RT spot.
MEET THE 2022 OWLS
FAU (1-0, 1-0 C-USA) got off to a solid start in 2021, beginning the season with a 5-3 record before a four-game losing streak derailed bowl hopes.
Head coach Willie Taggart looked to get the Owls back on track with the help of two new coordinators for 2022. FAU selected Brent Dearmon as the new OC, a role Dearmon held with MSTU’s Blue Raiders last season.
On defense, the Owls signed Todd Orlando as the new DC. Orlando served as DC at some big-time programs including USC and Texas.
FAU started the 2022 season with a bang in week zero under the new coaching staff, destroying the Charlotte 49ers 43-13. While the Owls looked good, the 49ers did themselves few favors, with some busted pass coverages and some opportunities in the passing game that went unexecuted.
As FAU heads into its second game of the season, we take a look at some of what they bring to the table against the Bobcats.
Before the rout was on in the second half versus Charlotte, the Owls ran a balanced attack with a near equal split of run and pass.
The straw that stirred the drink against the 49ers was QB N’Kosi Perry, who was in complete command of the offense. Perry hit on 76 percent of his passes for 256 yard and a score while helping the Owls convert 50 percent of its third downs. Perry was generally accurate all day except for a few deep throws that were off the mark.
Perry effortlessly transitioned to some up-tempo offense the Owls threw at Charlotte from time-to-time to mix things up or after big plays.
Although the 49ers contained Perry on the ground for the most part, Perry has the skills to pull it and run. If last week is any indication, the Owls will give its QB the opportunity to run, particularly in the redzone, where he took off on a zone read for an easy score last week.
Perry was protected by an offensive line that was impressive in week one, not allowing a sack and very little pressure.
When the game was close in the first half, the Owls ran the ball mixing some outside zone and power runs, where the guard or the guard and tackle would pull. They also employed a package on a drive or two using the TE as a lead blocker.
RB Larry McCammon ran well behind that line, finishing the day with 118 yards, including a 53-yard burst off the right side for score. McCammon showed he is a well-rounded back with soft hands and solid pass blocking skills.
A big threat the ‘Cats will need to try to contain is WR LaJohntay Wester. The Owls look to get the ball in Wester’s hands in any way possible, be it through the air, on WR sweeps, or punt return. Wester amassed 860 all-purpose yards and four scores in 2021 as a true freshman.
The Owls strength looks like its run defense, where it held Charlotte to a paltry 62 yards for 2.7 yards per attempt.
The stoutness in the run defense starts with the Evan Anderson, who is hard to move at a determined 330 LBS. Anderson made three stops and a sack last week.
Anderson is joined by Latrell Jean and Jaylen Joiner on the defensive line to form what may prove to be one of C-USA’s more effective run defense units in 2022.
LB Eddie Williams came on strong in the second half of 2021, finishing with 44 tackles. Williams picked up where he left off in 2021, leading the Owls in stops last week with eight.
The X-factor on the Owls defense this year could be redshirt freshman DB Jayden Williams, who looked impressive last week. Williams displayed speed and physicality, finishing with five tackles and chasing down the QB for a sack. FAU blitzed Williams at some opportune moments off the offensive right tackle, where one pressure he created helped lead to a pick-six.
FAU is favored for a reason as they feature solid lines on both sides of the ball and a QB in command of his offense.
That being said, Ohio has a lot to counter the Owls with provided the ends of its lines can produce with new starters on the edges.
Look for the Bobcats to win a close one on the strength of some explosive plays in both the passing game and via its revamped defense. Ohio 31-27.