Bowl season officially kicked off Saturday on the teal “Surf Turf” in Conway, SC for the fourth annual Myrtle Beach Bowl.
The Ohio Bobcats defeated the Georgia Southern Eagles, 41-21, in wire-to-wire fashion — leading by double-digits from the early moments of the second quarter until the celebratory Gatorade bath to conclude the contest.
The Bobcats improved to 10-3 while the Eagles dropped to 6-7 in the lopsided affair. Here are three takeaways from Ohio’s massive Myrtle Beach Bowl win:
Ohio’s elite defense did it again
Ohio entered the contest in a hyper-exclusive club alongside just Michigan and Penn State. Prior to bowl season, those were the only three FBS programs situated in the top 10 in both pass defense and run defense. Ohio ranked fourth in total defense and fifth in scoring defense before facing Georgia Southern, exhibiting domination in all facets on that side of the ball.
The final score of 41-21 may be deceiving — Ohio clearly won this game with its defense. Captained by second-year defensive coordinator Spence Nowinsky, the Bobcats pitched a first half shutout and Georgia Southern didn’t appear on the scoreboard until the 7:54 mark of the third quarter, when trailing 27-0.
Ohio won the turnover battle, 5-0, securing three takeaways in the first half and two in the third quarter — snatching the ball on five of Georgia Southern’s first eight possessions. Three different Bobcats corralled an interception and two different Bobcats recovered a fumble in a concerted effort.
As good as Ohio’s defense was all year, forcing turnovers was never one of the strong points. Rather, generating stops and forcing punts was the unit’s calling card, and they did just that in the Myrtle Beach Bowl. Georgia Southern did not gain more than 10 yards on a possession until its seventh drive of the game. At halftime, the Eagles held 35 passing yards and -3 rushing yards to their name, unable to move the ball on the Bobcats.
Yes, Georgia Southern eventually got its groove and became one of three teams to eclipse 20 points on the Bobcats this year, but it was far too late. First Team All-MAC outside linebacker had his handprints all over the game with a team-high eight tackles, while Vonnie Watkins and Bradley Weaver provided ample pressure from the edges with two sacks apiece. Ohio was deprived of a significant portion of its offensive production, and this defense — which delivered all season long — once again stepped up to the plate, made the offense comfortable, and ultimately won a bowl game for the Bobcats.
Rickey Hunt made a name for himself
Ohio entered the Myrtle Beach Bowl almost as shorthanded as a team could be offensively. The Bobcats were down fourth-year starting quarterback Kurtis Rourke, who transferred to Indiana in the week leading up to the game. Second-string quarterback CJ Harris — who started the 2022 MAC Championship Game after Rourke tore his ACL and won MVP honors in the 2022 Arizona Bowl — was sidelined for the remainder of the season in September due to a medical condition.
The Bobcats were without five of their top six rushers including both components of the Sieh Bangura and O’Shaan Allison running back duo. Then, they were also without two of their top three receivers, Tyler Walton and Miles Cross.
Prior to kickoff, of all active players on Ohio’s roster, the leading passer and rusher was quarterback Parker Navarro, who posted 65 passing yards and 107 rushing yards in seldom appearances this fall. Navarro played a serviceable game with 116 passing yards and 71 rushing yards while accounting for one touchdown and zero turnovers, but Ohio was in need of a star from the skill position department. And they got one.
Meet Rickey Hunt. The true freshman running back from Oklahoma City handled six carries for 19 yards in the regular season, thanks to the lopsided nature of Ohio’s Sept. 23 victory over Bowling Green. Hunt and Nolan McCormick — who hadn’t taken a handoff since 2022 — were in charge of creating production out of the backfield, and they lived up to the challenge.
Hunt particularly dominated with 115 rushing yards on 17 attempts, posting four rushing touchdowns on the Georgia Southern defense. He additionally scored an 18-yard receiving touchdown on an impressive one-handed grab in the second quarter. Hunt scored all five touchdowns for Ohio in the performance, unquestionably securing MVP honors after tying the Myrtle Beach Bowl scoring record. After a showing like that, Hunt returns to Ohio next year as the likely lead back, and the Bobcats can be comfortable knowing the star talent that resides in the backfield.
Albin is sustaining Solich’s legacy
When the clock dwindled down to triple zeros in Conway, SC, it became official: the Ohio Bobcats were 2023 Myrtle Beach Bowl champions. This bowl victory produced several notable accomplishments at Ohio.
For one, Ohio improved to 10-3, attaining 10 wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history. Additionally, the Bobcats won their fifth consecutive bowl game. Former head coach Frank Solich won his final three bowls in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and his successor Tim Albin is a perfect 2-0 in bowls — winning the 2022 Arizona Bowl and 2023 Myrtle Beach Bowl.
The Bobcats entered the 2010s decade without a single bowl win in program history, and now, it’s beyond commonplace for the program. Ohio finally shed that status in 2011 with a Famous Idaho Potato Bowl win and now the Bobcats have seven bowl victories in the past 13 years.
Solich was a program legend, bringing the Bobcats to new heights and accumulating a .500 or better record in each of his final 12 seasons. After one transition season which saw an uncharacteristic 3-9 record, Albin has the program in as stellar of shape as ever. The Bobcats are 20-7 in the past two seasons with two bowl wins, a MAC Championship Game appearance, and a 13-3 conference record.
Albin was a longtime assistant under Solich, serving as his offensive coordinator from 2005-20. Now, with the program in Albin’s hands, the success is a continuation from the Solich era.