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2023 MAC Football Week 3 Recap: Ohio Bobcats 10, Iowa State Cyclones 7

Ohio defends The Frank in a masterful performance with a fantastic finish.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Ohio
Rodney Mathews (5) celebrates his late-game interception against Iowa State
Matt Lunsford-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio Bobcats (3-1), who came into Saturday’s contest as home underdogs, stunned the Big 12’s Iowa State Cyclones (1-2) by a final score of 10-7 to remain a perfect 8-0 on “The Frank,” the nickname for the home field at Peden Stadium named after former head coach Frank Solich.

In a defensive struggle, the ‘Cats were exactly what they needed to be in all three phases to knock off its first Big 12 opponent at home since they defeated the Kansas Jayhawks on September 16, 2017, 42-30.

Coming into the contest, a defensive struggle was predicted with the outcome being determined by field position and clean play. Ohio was just about perfect on the day in all three phases in those areas.

The offense on both sides were not able to gain any major advantage in the scoreless first half, with each missing a field goal attempt.

ISU’s offense started the contest committed to establishing the run in the first two quarters but hit a Bobcat brick wall time and again with the Cyclones gaining a paltry 8 yards on 12 attempts. The Bobcats dominated ISU’s ground game by hitting its run fits run fits with high accuracy while winning individual matchups and swarming to the ball with great effort.

The one big success mustered by the Cyclones offense in the first half was a 45-yard strike down the seam by quarterback Rocco Becht to tight end Aiden Bitter on its second drive to set up Chase Contreraz 47-yard field goal that sailed inches wide of the right upright.

The Becht-to-Bitter connection would account for almost half of the Cyclones offense through the first two quarters with ISU finishing with 97 total yards by halftime.

ISU’s defense was also stellar, opening the contest by sending the ‘Cats offense back to the watercooler after a three-play, one-yard effort to start the game.

While Ohio was unable to score in the first half, they were able to move the ball with more regularity than ISU finishing the first half with 94 yards rushing and 45 yards passing. Quarterback Kurtis Rourke’s excellent decision making was critical to keeping the ‘Cats in the contest by picking up crucial first downs on scrambles to maintain field position under tough circumstances.

Throughout the contest, ISU punter Tyler Perkins pinned the ‘Cats in the shadow of its goalposts regularly with at least four punts inside the 20-yard line including three inside the ten.

Yet, time and time again the Ohio offense led by Rourke flipped the field.

Instead of throwing into the teeth of an ISU secondary that was every bit as good or better than advertised, the Bobcat signal caller scrambled enough to convert first downs when ISU would drop seven or eight defenders.

Things changed quickly in the Bobcats’ favor on the first drive of the third quarter when Ohio capitalized on ISU’s misfortune. Unable to run, the Cyclones started the second half throwing the ball but QB Becht was intercepted by corner Torrie Cox Jr. on a play where ISU’s receiver Jayden Higgins slipped and fell and Cox Jr. seized the opportunity.

NCAA Football: Arizona Bowl-Wyoming at Ohio Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio drove the 23-yards to paydirt, keyed by Rourke’s first down scramble on third-and-three and a five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Sam Wiglusz where the Bobcat receiver adeptly slipped into an open spot in the endzone to give Rourke a target.

The defensive battle resumed until things got spicy at the end of the third and into the fourth quarter for an exciting finish.

Starting at its own 10-yard line near the end of the third quarter, Ohio came out aggressive on a 12-play, 81-yard drive. The sequence started with a 22-yard strike over the middle to wideout Tyler Walton. Rourke then hit Wiglusz for 15 yards. Tight end Tyler Foster then made probably the best five-yard reception you’ll ever see, with a slick one-handed grab finished by a crunching blow against an ISU defender.

ISU’s safety Jeremiah Cooper saved what looked like a certain touchdown to Wiglusz by closing the gap and getting a hand on a third-down pass at the last second. Ohio’s Gianni Spetic was able to extend the lead to 10-0 on a 27-yard field goal.

Ending the third and into the fourth, ISU’s offense began to gain some momentum. The Cyclones first mounted a drive covering 14 plays and 63 yards, where they went to the passing game over the middle to their big tight ends with regular success.

The Cyclones were unable to capitalize as a 37-yarder by kicker Chase Contreraz barely missed. The kick was judged to be over and just outside of the right upright but may have been good; according to ESPN, a replay review of the kick was unavailable because the kick went over the top of the upright, a situation that does not permit review.

To ISU’s credit, they shook off the misfortune by forcing a three-and-out then scoring a touchdown on a two-play, 72-yard drive capped by an 18-yard strike from QB Becht to Jayden Higgins. The drive was keyed by a 15-yard pass interference penalty and a 39-yard pass to wideout Daniel Jackson which possibly due to a lapse or miscommunication in the Bobcat secondary.

In keeping with its clean play theme, the 15-yarder was the only Ohio penalty of the game while ISU finished with five for 50 yards.

ISU’s defense stopped Ohio again and got the ball back with under two minutes to play. Key in the second half though was Ohio punter Jared Wheatley, who hit three punts to flip the field. The punt this time put the Cyclones back to the 12-yard line with two minutes to play.

The Cyclones last chance quickly ended when Ohio defensive tackle Rodney Mathews snared the ball on a tip drill on the first play of the series. Mathews’ clutch catch was the second interception of the day, giving Ohio a critical 2-0 turnover advantage.

The game marked the second week in a row where Ohio played elite team defense, especially against the run, allowing just 38 total rushing yards on 22 carries for a 1.7-yard average. While a team effort, Bobcat linebacker Bryce Houston led the charge with a career-best 15 tackles. Defensive lineman Rayyan Buell, in his second season with the ‘Cats, continues to look impressive, finishing the day with three stops and 1.5 tackles-for-loss.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Ohio
Bryce Houston (32) celebrates Kwame Sutton’s (14) first career sack as a Bobcat.
Matt Lunsford-USA TODAY Sports

Very notable in his first Bobcat appearance, especially in the second half, was Austin Peay transfer defensive end Kwame Sutton, who brought a lot of energy finishing with four tackles and a sack.

Ohio’s Kurtis Rourke led the rushing attack with 58 yards including -26 yards he accumulated to run out the clock at the end of the game. Rourke added 135 yards through the air with a touchdown pass and no interceptions. It was the first time this year Ohio did not have a turnover.

The Cyclones secondary was impressive in defeat by amassing five passes defense and led in tackles by Ben Nikkel with eight.

No discredit to Ohio’s effort but it is notable that ISU was down a few players due to food poisoning including starting wide receiver Jaylin Noel. QB Becht was also reportedly one of the ill Cyclones but did play.

The Bobcats kick off MAC play by traveling to Bowling Green next Saturday to take on the Falcons on ESPN+ at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.