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Jared Dorsa (49) and Autin Conrad (47) stop the Pitt ball carrier during the Bobcats’ 20-10 loss to Pitt on Sept. 7, 2019, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. PHOTO: Charles Hatcher/WOUB

Ohio Football: 3 Takeaways From the Bobcats’ Loss to Pitt

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ATHENS, OH — The Bobcats were unable to pull out the victory on Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh, dropping to 1-1 with a 20-10 loss to the Panthers. Some of the questions surrounding the team following week one were answered but there were some new ones that appeared.

Here are a few of my key takeaways from the ‘Cats loss to Pitt.

Nathan Rourke Wasn’t Himself

When it came out in the pregame that the Bobcats’ starting quarterback was “feeling ill”, nobody was quite sure what to expect from him. The Rourke we saw in Heinz Field was still a good quarterback, but not the Rourke that Ohio fans have grown accustomed to.

Was it due to the illness? Rourke himself said it was a “non-issue”, but his head coach Frank Solich told the media postgame that he was not as sharp as usual. I would have to side with Solich. Rourke had a pretty good day through the air compared to his averages, finishing 15-of-27 for 177 yards, but he was completely stuffed on the ground. His -43 yards rushing was far and away the lowest total for a game in his Bobcat career. A vast majority of that was due to the QB being sacked six times (also a career-high), but even on plays that were designed runs, he was unable to find much room. 

Could some of that have been because of the athleticism of the Pitt defense? Yes, I think so, but Rourke also seemed unable to tap into the incredible elusive instincts he’s shown in the past. There’s no doubt that Rourke will bounce back from this, but Saturday was simply not his best day.

Defensive Improvement

Last week, one of the things the defense had to answer questions about was their inability to get off the field against FCS Rhode Island in the first half. The Rams were able to sustain multiple long drives and keep the Bobcat offense off the field.

Against Pitt, despite giving up nearly 500 yards of total offense, the Ohio defense only gave up 20 points. Of the 481 yards the defense conceded to the Panthers, 261 one of those were “empty yards” (yards gained on a drive that ended without points). 

Giving up just 20 points to an ACC school on the road is a vast improvement over the 45 points they gave up to an ACC school on the road last year and last year’s defense only got better as the season went on. It would be an overreaction to say this is a below-average defense because they gave up nearly 500 yards to Pitt. There’s more to defense than how many yards the opposing offense puts up.

Oh, and that Panther offense was probably the fastest and most athletic offense the ‘Cats will face in 2019. Overall, the defense had a decent day.

No Room to Run

Much like Rourke, none of the running backs found any room to move on Saturday. O’Shaan Allison led the ‘Cats in rushing with 47 yards but took 14 carries to do it, a per-carry average of 3.4 yards. De’Montre Tuggle scored again, his third touchdown on just seven carries in the first two games of the season but finished the game with just 20 yards. Julian Ross carried the ball twice for 11 yards before getting injured.

Along with the Ross injury, which came on punt coverage, Allison also was banged up during the game, leaving just Tuggle and Ja’Vahri Portis (who didn’t register a carry against Pitt) as the only running backs for the majority of the second half.

If these injuries linger into next week’s game at Marshall, the battle for carries will continue to drag deeper into the season. 

All of the runnings backs have shown promise in the first couple games, but the three-RB rotation will probably need to be limited to two as the season goes. It will be too hard for any single back to get into enough of a rhythm to be effective if the offense continues to try to get three running back an ample amount of touches.

The less-than-stellar day in Pittsburgh coupled with the injuries only prolongs the coaching staff’s ability to pare the rotation down.