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What We Learned from Ohio’s 41-38 win over Florida Atlantic

The Bobcats shocked many with an extremely competent performance on Saturday night against FAU after some very public struggles in 2021.

NCAA Football: Ohio at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Bobcats won a wild game Saturday night against FAU for the victory in the first ever game played on Frank Solich Field.

In so doing, the “Cats looked improved in several ways over the 2021 Ohio squad and did it against a solid opponent in FAU. Here are some things we learned about the 2022 Bobcats in Week 1:

Familiar faces in new places

The Bobcats moved some players to new position groups this year with strong early returns in the season opener.

Ben Johnson, a former linebacker, made an impact debut at starting safety, with 15 tackles, the most for a Bobcat since LB Jared Dorsa and S Javon Hagan had 16 each in a overtime loss to Western Michigan on November 12, 2019.

Former linebacker turned defensive end Jack McCrory looked very comfortable and productive at his new spot, finishing second on the team with 7 tackles. McCrory also added a sack and a QB pressure.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - Nevada v Ohio
Jack McCrory
Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

Effective rush defense

The new scheme, coaches, and position changes contributed to a very sound performance against the run, especially when compared with last season. After surrendering 193 yards rushing per contest in 2021, the Bobcats held FAU to 100 total rushing yards on the day, just 3.4 yards per carry. FAU’s longest run on the day was just 11 yards and leading rusher Larry McCammon III had only 60 yards on 14 carries.

The Bobcats showed frequent communication to get pre-snap plays and alignments correct, whether the signals were verbal, by hand, or sometimes a gentle shove in the right direction.

While the Bobcats did give up over 350 yards passing, about half of that, 175 yards, came in the 4th quarter after Ohio had a three-score lead.

Aerial attack

Ohio’s offense took a quarter or two to heat up but once they did they repeatedly burned FAU on what was a historic night for Ohio’s passing attack.

QB Kurtis Rourke took command as the game went on and finished with 345 yards passing and four passing TDs, while completing 79 percent of his passes. The 345 yards passing ranks eighth all-time in program history, and also gives Kurtis bragging rights over his brother, former Ohio Bobcat and current CFL superstar Nathan, whose best Bobcat single-game effort was 342 yards versus Kent State in 2019.

The passing attack was a team effort though, as five players had at least four catches, lead by James Bostic, who blew up for six catches for 136 yards and a score. Bostic was critical on the game winning drive, hauling in 69 receiving yards including a 54-yard bomb from Rourke.

Bostic was so productive and clutch we tabbed him as one of our five potential MAC breakout players for 2022, which you can read about here.

Notable debuts

Ohio was busy in the offseason, making additions to its roster or developing new starters that paid immediate dividends in the 2022 opener.

Ohio State transfer WR Sam Wiglusz had a memorable game with five grabs for 59 yards and two scores, while also finishing six inches away from a third TD reception. Wiglusz also had some key blocks in the running game; his pancake block helped spring the running back for a 16-yard gain on a critical fourth-quarter touchdown drive.

JUCO transfer WR Jacoby Jones also saw his first Bobcat action, finishing with four catches for 48 yards.

MAC champions find a way to win close games, with last year’s champ Northern Illinois winning four games by less than a field goal. Bobcat fans got a glimpse of that concept in action Saturday night in the first game for kicker Nathanial Vakos. The true freshman converted both FG attempts, helping secure the three-point win. Vakos also hit on all five extra points for 11 total points.

It is only one game, but Vakos’ leg looked strong and accurate so he could prove to be an upgrade over last year’s performance where ‘Cat kickers converted only 67 percent of field goal attempts.

Redshirt freshman RB Sieh Bangura made his first career start after spending 2021 as a rotational option, rushing for 114 yards against a pretty solid FBS front seven. With Ohio’s other two top running backs out injured, Bangura has the talent and opportunity to be the first back since 2018 to run for 1,000 yards, when AJ Ouellette amassed 1,306.

A defensive starting debut which stood out was DE Vonnie Watkins, who finished the night with six stops and two QB pressures.

Big Plays

The Bobcats looked noticeably more dynamic in the first game of 2022 than they did in 2021, particularly on defense. Ohio harassed FAU’s QB N’Kosi Perry, finishing with two sacks and seven QB pressures.

After finishing 2021 near the bottom of the FBS with a -7 turnover ratio, the Bobcats start the season on the plus side of the ledger, gaining two while surrendering zero. DT Rodney Mathews’ strip sack of Perry late in the fourth quarter caused a fumble recovered by Bryce Houston, a critical play which ultimately led to a Bobcat score to help seal the game.

The Bobcats move on to a week two showdown next Saturday versus Penn State at Noon ET.