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The Bobcats run out of the tunnel before their season-opening win over Rhode Island. PHOTO: Yukai Peng/WOUB

Ohio Football: Bobcats Meet Pitt In First Test of 2019

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ATHENS, OH — A lot of the talk in the lead up to the matchup between Ohio and Pittsburgh has not been devoted to the game on Saturday morning, but rather the game between the ‘Cats and Panthers in 2005.

But if it were up to Ohio head coach Frank Solich, the game wouldn’t have been brought up at all.

I put that game out of my mind. That’s going to have zero to do with this ballgame so I’m not dwelling on that one bit. These guys weren’t even around when that happened,” Solich said. “It was a great moment for us at Ohio, but that moment’s gone.”

The moment at hand is a game between the MAC-favorite Bobcats (1-0) and a Pitt (0-1) coming off of an ACC Coastal division title last season.

Last week, the ‘Cats were able to pull away from FCS Rhode Island to win 41-20, but the Panthers will offer a host of new challenges. To go into Heinz Field and come away with a victory, the Bobcats will need to execute at a high level on both sides of the ball. 

“On third down, their defense is one of the most complex ones we’ve seen as far as pressures go. They get into an odd front,” offensive coordinator Tim Albin said. “Nathan is going to have to be on point, we’re going to have to move the pocket. It will be a good challenge.”

Albin would go on to say that the Pittsburgh defense is a lot like the Virginia one the Bobcats faced last season.

In that game, a 45-31 Ohio loss, the offense took some time to get going, totaling just one yard in their first three possessions. The ‘Cats would work out their early offensive woes to mount an impressive comeback, but couldn’t overcome a 28-point second-quarter deficit.

“I’m hopeful that our guys will get off the bus and be fine, but I’ll be honest, it’s our first road trip, we’ve got a lot of young guys and we’re going into an NFL stadium,” Albin said. “But with Nathan and our seniors upfront, they’ve been on the big stage. I’m hopeful that we’ll get over the early jitters and play a good game.”

With all of the new faces in the Bobcats’ offense coming into the year, it’s easy to see why the running back battle will continue into the second game. Four different running backs carried the ball against the Rams and carried it well. Julian Ross showed some power in picking up 68 yards on the ground and De’Montre Tuggle showed great explosion, ripping off a 55-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter,

“I thought all four (running backs) did a good job,” Albin said. “It’s too early to say who will start, but you’ll see all three (Allison, Ross, Tuggle) in the first half. Coach (Solich) is big on fresh legs.”

Despite giving up just 20 points last Saturday, the defense did not look as sharp as the offense against Rhode Island. The defense was unable to get off the field on third down in the first half, leading to long Rhode Island drives. They were able to prevent the Rams from getting in the end zone on those possessions, but it limited the damage the offense was able to do by only giving them three possessions in the first 30 minutes of play.

“Some of it was Rhode Island making plays. I think you have to give them some credit. Some of it came back to us. They were moving the football. They did it early on the ground. They got good field position. Defensively, there are some things to work on,” Solich said. “As I was watching the game, certainly in the first half, it didn’t look like we had the ball or a chance to get field position to put points on the board.” 

“It was somewhat of a frustrating beginning for us in that regard. They just moved the ball and they did a good job early moving the ball. But our defensive guys made great adjustments and we finally got control of the game,” Solich added.

Pittsburgh will bring a totally different animal for the Ohio defense to face off against on Saturday.

“Our guys have to be ready. When they get on the field, they have to be ready. There’s no warming up once the game starts,” defensive coordinator Ron Collins said. “These guys were in the ACC Championship game last year. They’ve got a lot of guys coming back. They’re not the sisters of the poor, we know that.”

Saturday morning will be the first big test for the 2019 Bobcats. They started slow against their ACC opponent last year and found themselves down big in a hurry.

To make another memory against the Panthers, as they did 14 years ago, the ‘Cats will have to be firing on all cylinders. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. on the ACC Network.