Nathan Rourke is chased by a Pitt during the Bobcats 20-10 loss to Pitt on Sept. 7, 2019, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. PHOTO: Charles Hatcher/WOUB

Ohio Football: ‘Cats Offense Stifled by Pitt

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PITTSBURGH, PA — There was no magic for the Bobcats against Pittsburgh this time around.

“Field position plus momentum equals points,” Bobcat senior safety Javon Hagan said.

Ohio (1-1) had very little of either on Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field, and in the end, scored very few points in a 20-10 loss to the Panthers (1-1).

“The basic things of football, we didn’t do very well; blocking and tackling,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “And I don’t think we coached very well. We’re going to have to do better than that to be able to put our team in this type of game and come out ahead.”

The Bobcats offense, a unit that averaged 40 points and over 460 yards a game a season ago, was held to just 212 yards of offense and 12 first downs. Only 35 of those came on the ground. 

10 points represents the lowest total for OU in a game since November of 2016 and 212 yards is the fewest since 2014.

One of the main culprits of the Bobcats’ offensive woes was consistent poor starting field position. Only three of their twelve drives started outside their own 25 and their final three possessions of the game started inside the Ohio 15.

“When you play a talented team like Pitt, you have to make plays and we didn’t make enough plays,” Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke said. “We didn’t do enough to keep our team in the game.”

The only big plays the Bobcats were able to generate on Saturday came through the air. Rourke was able to put together a decent day throwing the ball, going 15-of-27 for 177 yards with no touchdowns, but no turnovers, despite being sacked six times.

The Bobcats have not given up that many sacks since October of 2014 against Western Michigan.

“I think they were very good at not telegraphing their blitzes. They blitzed some on second down, third down. We couldn’t get into rhythm in terms of play calling,” Solich said. “We weren’t able to execute at the level we needed to execute to back them off of those blitzes.”

“Their pass rush was very difficult, especially when they’re pressing our receivers. The timing was thrown off a little,” Rourke said. “When you can rush the passer with four and get home, that’s what great defenses do.”

In pregame, it was reported that Rourke was suffering from an illness, which was later revealed to be strep throat.

“He was sick. He had a fever…so he was not 100%, but he’s one of those kinds of guys that will play through things and you’ve got to love what he’s all about,” Solich said. “I don’t think he was quite as sharp as he’s been, but we didn’t give him a chance to be very sharp either.”

Rourke shot down any notion that the illness had an effect on his play, however.

“It was a non-issue,” he said.

The passing game also received very little help from the ground game for the Bobcats. O’Shaan Allison led the way for Ohio on the ground, but finished with just 49 yards on 14 carries. De’Montre Tuggle found the end zone for a third time in two weeks, but finished with just 20 yards on the ground.

Julian Ross carried the ball just twice before leaving the game in the second quarter after getting injured on punt coverage.

For the first time since a game against Tennessee in 2016, the Bobcats were unable to break a run for 10 yards or longer.

“I find that stat tough to take. We pride ourselves on being a running football team and based a lot of things off of being able to run the football,” Solich said. “We were not able to get it done.”

On the other side, the Bobcats were unable to get much pressure at all on Kenny Pickett, Jr., finishing with only one sack on the afternoon. It came on the Panthers’ first play from scrimmage.

Pickett was given ample time to sit back and pick apart the Ohio secondary all afternoon, finishing the day with a new career high for passing yards with 321.

Maurice Ffrench also posted a career-high 138 receiving yards on 10 catches.

“You don’t have much time to be out of alignment and recover on his passes,” Solich said. “We didn’t get much pressure on him. We’re going to have to take a long look at what all we’re doing with blitzes.”

“We can’t really make excuses. DB’s still have to do our jobs and plaster on to our man,” Hagan said. “It’s only week two, there’s a lot of football left.”

Despite giving up big numbers to the Panthers, the Bobcats were able to keep them out of the end zone and off the scoreboard for the most part. After a week of receiving questions about their inability to get off the field against Rhode Island in the first half of last week’s game, Ohio responded by forcing Pitt into a 5-for-14 conversion rate on 3rd down. 

However, the ‘Cats were 4-of-15 in the same category and were forced to punt 10 times, the most Ohio has punted in a game in over a decade, dating back to 2007. This comes a week after Michael Farkas didn’t have to punt a single time.

In the winning locker room, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi had kind things to say about the Bobcats. 

“I’m just telling you, those guys are a good team,” he said. “They’re going to win the MAC.”

Like Hagan said, there’s a lot of football to be played, and it’s clear that the Bobcats still have things to work on and their schedule doesn’t get any easier.

Next week, Ohio gets to renew a rivalry that has laid dormant since 2015 when they travel to Huntington, W.V. to take on the Thundering Herd of Marshall. Kickoff at Joan C. Edwards Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m. next Saturday.