O’Shaan Allison (28) makes a few defenders miss during the Ohio Spring Game on April 14, 2019. PHOTO: Ben Wielgopolski/WOUB

Ohio Football: Young Talent on Display During Bobcats’ Spring Scrimmage

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ATHENS, OH — The few hundred fans that made the trip to Peden Stadium on Saturday afternoon couldn’t have asked for a much better day for the Bobcats annual spring game. The sun was out on a perfect spring afternoon and they got to witness 60 plays of full-contact football.

And on a day where both sides of the ball got a chance to show what they can do, the defense made a good first impression and picked off right where they left off last season.

The defense came away with two interceptions, both passes thrown by starting quarterback Nathan Rourke, in the first 10 plays of the scrimmage.

“I think that was big for us,” senior linebacker Austin Clack said. “The fact that Nathan’s so good handling the ball makes it a little sweeter for those guys to get those turnovers. It’s not like they’re picking off your average quarterback. You’re picking off Nate…and he doesn’t give up the ball easy.”

However, those interceptions could be chalked up to Rourke simply wanting to make the most of his limited snaps during the scrimmage.

The first came when Rourke attempted to throw a deep out, but underthrew his receiver a bit. Redshirt freshman safety Isaac Gill made a nice leaping grab for the pick. Just a couple plays later, junior Marlon Brooks jumped a short route for the defense’s second takeaway of the scrimmage.

“It’s tough when you only have ten plays because you want to be able to have a better set,” Rourke said. “But I’m proud of this team. I’m proud of the developments we’ve made this spring. We’ve really shown a lot of promise and I’m excited about that.”

But Rourke can rest assured, unlike the last two off-seasons, he heads into the summer and fall as the undisputed No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart. The main focus on the quarterbacks regarded who would serve as the backup to Rourke come late-August.

“We’ve been real intent on giving a lot of snaps to Kurtis (Rourke) and Joe (Mischler),” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “That battle is going to continue into the fall.”

That battle was on full display on Saturday as well.

The true freshman Rourke and the redshirt freshman Mischler split the remaining 50 snaps with both quarterbacks performing well in their time on the field.

Mischler orchestrated the first touchdown drive for the offense in the latter half of the first 20-play segment of the scrimmage, capping the drive off with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Athens’ own Ryan Luehrman.

Rourke matched that during the final few plays of the scrimmage when he floated a perfectly thrown ball to the back-left corner of the endzone to redshirt freshman wide receiver Tyler Walton.

Kurtis Rourke has impressed his older brother this spring with just how far he has come since he got to campus.

“He’s come a long way since day one. He had a phenomenal spring. He’s shown he has a good grasp of the playbook and he’s done a phenomenal job of stepping up…he’s come in and gotten better every single day,” Nathan said. “His talent shows.”

The only other touchdown scored by the offense during the course of the scrimmage was a 1-yard plunge by O’Shaan Allison. The redshirt freshman was able to cap off that drive after getting to the 1-yard line on the previous play with a nice 24-yard run where he made a few Bobcat defenders miss in the open field.

Allison worked his way to the top of the running back depth chart this spring and was able to show why during his time on the field on Saturday afternoon.

“O’Shaan had a great spring. We asked a lot of him…and he’s carried a big load,” Rourke said. “He’s a workhorse. He’s going to be something special.”

A few other ball carriers impressed on the day as well. Redshirt sophomore Jonathan Barna drew some reaction from the offensive sideline with his ability during his time on the field and Shane Bonner provided some nice touches as well.

Much like the running back position is searching for the best way to replace the production of A.J. Ouelette and Maleek Irons, the wide receiver group searched this spring to find new targets for Rourke to throw to in the fall with Papi White and Andrew Meyer also graduating in a few weeks.

The Ohio offense will need to have Cameron Odom and Isiah Cox continue their strong springs into the fall as well as receive help from some relatively-unproven young players in K.J. Minter and Shane Hooks if they want to try to match the offensive output of the past two seasons.

“Cameron is a returning starter, Isiah showed talent last year for us…Jerome Buckner is someone you haven’t had a chance to see a great deal of, but you’re going to like what you see,” Solich said.

“Shane Hooks has a lot of potential. Walton shows excellent quickness. We’re going to have a really good receiving corp. The guys we lost are tough to replace, but our throwing game ought to be pretty good,” he added.

“We’ve had an identity in the guys we’ve had in the program…the Joes (Lowery and Anderson), A.J. (Ouelette) and Papi (White),” Rourke said. “I don’t think we’re going to change too much of who we are, we’re just going to have some new pieces. I’m excited about the talent we have.”

Cameron Odom catches a pass during Ohio Spring Practice on April 13, 2019. PHOTO: Ben Wielgopolski/WOUB
Nathan Rourke throws a pass during Ohio Spring Practice on April 13, 2019. PHOTO: Ben Wielgopolski/WOUB
Marlon Brooks makes a catch in warm ups before Ohio Spring Practice on April 13, 2019. PHOTO: Taylor Jedrzejek/WOUB
The Bobcats offensive line warms up during Ohio Spring Practice on April 13, 2019. PHOTO: Taylor Jedrzejek/WOUB
Both sides ready for the snap during Ohio Spring Practice on April 13, 2019. PHOTO: Ben Wielgopolski/WOUB
Marlon Brooks runs with the ball after intercepting it during Ohio Spring Practice on April 13, 2019. PHOTO: Ben Wielgopolski/WOUB
Shane Bonner (17) attempts to fend off a defender during Ohio Spring Practice on April 13, 2019. PHOTO: Ben Wielgopolski/WOUB
Nathan Rourke (12) watches on as his brother, Kurtis, leads the offense during Ohio Spring Practice on April 13, 2019. PHOTO: Taylor Jedrzejek/WOUB

The offensive talent had its moments on Saturday, but the defensive talent shone throughout the scrimmage.

In total, the Bobcat defense got to break out the turnover belt four times during the course of the 60 plays.

The third takeaway of the day came when freshman linebacker Jeremiah Wood hopped on a shotgun snap that hit a player in motion. The last turnover turned into six points for the defense when Clack picked up a fumble caused by Xavior Motley and took it into the endzone.

He celebrated that touchdown by doing ‘The Worm’.

“In the locker room, we were talking about big plays, the spring game, seeing some dance moves, and I said ‘If I score a touchdown, I’ll do the worm for you guys’,” Clack said. “Sure enough, when I got to the 10-yard line, I was like ‘I got to do it’.”

The Bobcat defense also registered five “sacks” on the afternoon. The sacks were non-contact but still counted.

“There were flashes out there of what we can be,” Solich said. “We’re pretty solid where we’re at with the talent on the defense and offense.”

Even with the successes of both units on Saturday afternoon, Solich knows that the team could still use improvement in some areas before the ball is kicked off to start the season.

“We’re going to a lot of work in the off-season. We’re going to have to have some interior linemen come through for us on the defensive line,” Solich said. “Some guys have to continue to get better on the offensive line to have the kind of depth you’re going to need.

“We’re still not there with those guys that need to give us some backup time. When you go through a long season and injuries occur, those guys are so critical to the success of your team, early in fall camp, we’re going to have to go to work at making sure we continue to develop those guys,” Solich added.

That development will continue over the summer before the ‘Cats pick up with their mini-camp in August in the lead-up to their first game against Rhode Island on August 31 in Peden Stadium.

However, through all of the spring practice season, the Bobcats accomplished perhaps their most important goal: there were no serious injuries in the 15 practices that made up the spring schedule.

“The injuries that we got were a lot of lower extremity injuries. Ankle sprains, pulled hamstrings, those types. They’ll get a little bit of a break now and be all healed up and ready to go,” Solich said. “I think we did fairly well getting through the spring without a lot of stuff that will carry over into the fall.”