Bowl season officially kicks off Saturday, and the first game begins at cereal bowl hour.
At 11 a.m. ET, Ohio and Georgia Southern meet on the “Surf Turf” in Conway, SC for the fourth annual Myrtle Beach Bowl. The Bobcats (9-3, 6-2 MAC) are bowling for the 12th time in the last 15 seasons, aiming to secure back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first instance in program history. On the other sideline are the Eagles (6-6, 3-5 Sun Belt) looking for their first bowl victory since 2020 and fourth as an FBS program.
It’s one of two MAC vs. Sun Belt matchups on the docket Saturday and one of three overall this bowl season. Let’s take a dive into some numbers to be aware of heading into the first matchup of the 2023 bowl slate:
Parker Navarro’s passing yards this season
Ohio quarterback Kurtis Rourke entered the transfer portal after manning the starting role for four seasons, and two days before Myrtle Beach Bowl kickoff, Rourke found his 2024 home at Indiana. Rourke started 11 of 12 games for the Bobcats this year, only missing Ohio’s second game of the season with an injury. CJ Harris — who started the 2022 MAC Championship Game and 2022 Arizona Bowl when Rourke went down with an ACL tear — was Ohio’s No. 1 QB that afternoon, but two weeks later it was revealed Harris would miss the remainder of 2023 with a medical emergency.
That leaves Parker Navarro as Ohio’s chief signal caller for this game. Navarro wound up playing a substantial amount of snaps in that aforementioned contest where Harris started, finishing 5-of-7 with 60 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, one interception, and 34 rushing yards. The former UCF transfer also played sparingly in 2022 with the Bobcats, but he’s never started a game at the college level before. He passed for a total of 65 yards this season, but he’ll be the most experienced quarterback a shorthanded Ohio team trots out in this high-stakes clash vs. Georgia Southern.
Parker Navarro’s rushing yards this season
Parker Navarro’s 65 passing yards this season were significant because that demonstrates the amount of experience Ohio is operating with at quarterback. So why are the 107 rushing yards also significant? Because Navarro is actually Ohio’s 2023 rushing yards leader among players expected to suit up Saturday.
The Bobcats’ offensive skill position players were hit particularly hard by the transfer portal. Their top two running backs — Sieh Bangura (811 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns) and O’Shaan Allison (452 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns) — are both in the transfer portal, and as an aside, so are two of their top three receivers. Going down Ohio’s rushing leaders list this season, five of the top six ball carriers are out for this game. The one playing? Parker Navarro, who rushed for 107 yards this year as a mobile quarterback.
Ohio is expected to gameplan a lot of its offense around Navarro’s mobility, but the Bobcats must break in some new running backs to assist the quarterback in maneuvering the offense. Nolan McCormick is listed as first on the depth chart. He hasn’t fielded a handoff this year, but he rushed for 289 yards in 2022 with the Bobcats. Then true freshman Rickey Hunt assumes the second fiddle role after taking six carries for 19 yards this year. Luckily, Ohio’s backs are working with a veteran line spearheaded by veteran center Parker Titsworth.
Georgia Southern’s average number of passing attempts per game
Longtime followers of Georgia Southern football typically associate the program with the run game. Georgia Southern operated with a triple option scheme for years, finally ditching its decades-old option attack in favor of the air raid when Clay Helton took over in 2022.
Now, the Eagles have gone the full 180 and actually lead the FBS in passing attempts per game at 44.6. Georgia Southern ranked second in this category last season, and constantly airing it out has become a staple down in Statesboro, GA. The Eagles rack up 298 passing yards per game, but their rushing offense is 103rd in the FBS with an average of 124 yards.
Tulsa transfer Davis Brin is the captain of this air-it-out offense. He flung the ball at least 46 times in six of his 12 outings this year and only attempted fewer than 34 passes once. Brin eclipsed the 300-yard mark six times and fired for multiple touchdowns seven times. It comes as no surprise he enters bowl season as the nation’s 13th leader in passing yards, but Georgia Southern runs a “no risk it, no biscuit” approach in its vertical passing game. As a result, Brin is also tied for first in interceptions with 16. Taking care of the ball will be essential for Brin and the Eagles, especially against an Ohio defense which protects the air quite well.
Ohio’s FBS ranking in total defense this season
Ohio is a defensive power. The Bobcats are fourth nationally in total defense at 264 yards allowed per game. They are fifth in scoring defense at 15.4 points surrendered per game. And they are one of three programs, along with Michigan and Penn State, to rank top 10 in both run defense (9th) and pass defense (7th). Simply put, Ohio is a juggernaut in all aspects of defense.
The Bobcats have a knack for mucking up the game against any opponent, regardless of scheme or style. Remember when Iowa State posted five 60+ yard touchdowns in a 42-35 win over Kansas State in the snow? That same Iowa State team managed seven points on the Bobcat defense, and those seven points were registered in the final five minutes of action. Nobody exceeded 30 points on Ohio this year. Only two teams exceeded 20.
The Bobcats went 7-0 in games this year when allowing fewer than 20 points, so a lower scoring game certainly favors the team decked in green on Saturday. The unit may be lacking First Team All-MAC inside linebacker Keye Thompson who is in the transfer portal, but every other starter is expected to take the teal field this weekend. That includes First Team All-MAC outside linebacker Bryce Houston, who leads the bunch with 119 tackles and is an omnipresent force on this elite unit.
Georgia Southern’s record since November
There was a time this season when Georgia Southern appeared to be a contender for a wide open New Year’s Six bid. The Eagles looked every bit of Sun Belt contenders after a 4-1 start, losing their lone non-conference game at Wisconsin despite holding a 14-7 lead in the third quarter. Georgia Southern was pummeled by James Madison for its second loss of the season, but the Eagles sat at 6-2 after eight games with six double-digit victories — with Coastal Carolina and Georgia State going down as their premier victories.
However, everything unraveled once the Halloween decorations were thrown into the attic. Like the Detroit Pistons, Georgia Southern was an unfortunate participant in “no-win November,” finishing with an 0-4 record in the critical month. Texas State, Marshall, Old Dominion, and Appalachian State all claimed conference wins over Georgia Southern to knock the Eagles out of the Sun Belt title race and reset their record to .500.
Georgia Southern qualified for bowl season at 6-6 last year. The Eagles must win Saturday, or they will face their third consecutive losing season — something they’ve never done since joining the FBS in 2014.
Ohio’s bowl record since 2017
Ohio never won a bowl game until 2011. But once that winning culture was established under former head coach Frank Solich, it sustained through each senior class. Now, the Bobcats are regular qualifiers for the postseason and regular winners in the postseason with six bowl victories in the past 12 seasons.
Ohio enters Saturday riding a 4-game win streak in bowl season. The Bobcats claimed three consecutive bowl victories in 2017-19, winning in the Bahamas, Frisco, and Boise. After a two-year hiatus — one due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio received an invitation to the Arizona Bowl last December and knocked off Wyoming in overtime despite operating with a backup quarterback, which it will do once again in the Myrtle Beach Bowl.
Head coach Tim Albin looks to improve to 2-0 in bowl games and bring back the fifth different bowl trophy to Athens, OH since 2017. No other MAC team has as many bowl wins in that timeframe.