Ryan Luerhman (88) is swarmed by Louisiana defenders during the Bobcats’ 45-25 loss to UL on September 21, 2019. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB

Ohio Football: ‘Cats Run Over by Louisiana

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ATHENS, OH — Often, people speak of the college football season being divided into two “seasons”: the non-con conference schedule being the first and conference play being the second.

For Ohio, the best thing about the non-conference “season” is that it’s over.

A disastrous second half on Saturday afternoon led the Bobcats (1-3) to a third consecutive loss as they were blown out by Louisiana (3-1), 45-25.

“We’ve got work to do,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “That’s clear.”

For the first time in over a decade, the Bobcats failed to win a non-conference game against another FBS school. The losses to Pitt, Marshall and Louisiana also represents the first time the ‘Cats have dropped three straight games since 2015.

“We’ve shown flashes of what we can be,” Solich said. “Just not enough consistency.”

The consistent factor in all three losses was the Bobcats’ inconsistency on both sides of the ball.

On Saturday, the defense picked up right where it left off against the Thundering Herd, holding to Ragin’ Cajuns to just 10 points in the first half. The touchdown scored came on an extremely short field after Ohio’s Jerome Buckner mishandled a punt inside his own 10.

The offense, meanwhile, only produced six points on two long Louis Zervos field goals (48 and 49 yards) on just 125 total yards in the first half.

“It was a rough one,” Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke said. “We were just not finishing plays.”

“They weren’t stopping us, we were making mistakes,” Rourke added.

The Bobcats were held out of the end zone for nearly three quarters before Ja’Vahri Portis found the end zone on a speed option play on the goal line. The score was Portis’ first at OU.

However, by that point in the game, the defense had already begun to lose control of the Cajun offense.

After forcing Louisiana to punt on the opening drive of the second half, the Bobcats defense gave up three straight touchdown drives that were each longer than 50 yards, but took less than 2:11 to complete.

Before the ‘Cats could respond with Portis’ touchdown, they found themselves down 24-6 with only 168 yards of offense to show for their first nine possessions of the game.

“When we don’t connect one of our cylinders, between running the ball and passing the ball, it’s hard to get the other one going,” Rourke said.

Even with the struggles on both sides of the ball, the Bobcats were nearly able to mount a comeback. After the Cajuns missed a field goal midway through the fourth quarter, Ohio went 80 yards in two plays to cut the Louisiana lead to six, 31-25.

On the ensuing drive for the Ragin’ Cajuns, the Bobcats were able to force Louisiana into a 3rd and four at their own 31. Louisiana running back Trey Regas got the handoff on that play and bounced it outside to the right and took it 33 yards down the sideline.

A Cajun touchdown, courtesy of Elija Mitchell. four plays later put the ‘Cats away for good.

“We just didn’t get off the field. We ran a corner blitz and they ran it the other way,” Ohio safety Javon Hagan said. “Once we realized they were in field goal range, it was a mental battle. We have to focus on the present.”

That drive was the third time in three weeks that the Bobcat defense failed to get off the field and give the offense a chance to win the game.

All told, the ‘Cats defense gave up 317 yards and 35 points in the second half. The backfield tandem of Mitchell and Ragas rushed for 143 yards and 129 yards respectively for Louisiana. Mitchell also scored three times.

For the game, Ohio gave up 489 yards to Louisiana and have given up exactly 1,000 yards in the last two games, with 590 of those coming on the ground.

“I felt like we weren’t playing as a unit,” Hagan said. “We have to finish plays.”

“I think we did wear down and I think our depth shows in that regard,” Solich said of the defense. “(The tackling) jumps out at you. It’s something we’ve got to get corrected.”

De'Montre Tuggle (24) slips though a tackle during the Bobcats 45-25 loss to Louisiana. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB
Nathan Rourke (12) waits for the snap during the Bobcats 45-25 loss to Louisiana. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB
Shane Hooks (5) makes a nice catch during the Bobcats 45-25 loss to Louisiana. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB
Javon Hagan (7) makes a tackle during the Bobcats 45-25 loss to Louisiana. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB
Jarron Hampton (12) makes a tackle during the Bobcats 45-25 loss to Louisiana. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB

The bye week comes at a good time for a defense that has struggled to get stops in the last two games.

The offense, despite the frantic near-comeback, did not look good for much of the game. The running game never truly got going, finishing with just 103 yards.

Rourke was able to throw for 277 yards and a score, but turned the ball over four times (three interceptions and a fumble). The final three Bobcat possessions all ended with Rourke turnovers.

“I take responsibility for all of them. I’ve got to hang on to the ball in the pocket, I’ve got to put the ball in a better place for my guys to make plays,” Rourke said. “I have to set them up better.”

Shane Hooks turned in a solid day for the ‘Cats, catching three passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. Luehrman also had a good game, leading Ohio in receptions with four and totaling 69 yards.

Portis scored twice on his nine carries and finished with 35 yards on the ground.

With the non-conference schedule behind the Bobcats, the always important MAC play starts in two weeks with many questions still plaguing the team.

“We haven’t played our best ball. The last two years, we’ve peaked late in the year and started playing our best ball in conference play,” Rourke said. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes and got all that out now. I look forward to starting MAC play.”

“We can be good. We’ll go to work at being good,” Solich said. “We’ll find a way to put it together.”

The Bobcats have two weeks to figure out how to put it together before they begin MAC play on October 5 in Buffalo, a place Ohio hasn’t won since 2009.

Kickoff at the University at Buffalo Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m.