Nathan Rourke Bobcats Football
Nathan Rourke is lifted up by his teammates after scoring a touchdown in the Bobcats’ 39-36 loss to NIU on October 12, 2019. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB

Ohio Football: ‘Cats Face Must-Win Against Division-Leading Kent State

Posted on:

< < Back to

ATHENS, OH — Coming into the season, not many would have expected the Bobcats to be two games under-.500 in mid-October and facing a must-win scenario against a Kent State team that is undefeated in conference play.

Yet, here we are.

On Saturday afternoon, Ohio (2-4, 1-1 MAC) will take the field in Peden Stadium needing a win to keep their season goals alive against the MAC East-leading Golden Flashes (3-3, 2-0 MAC).

“We know all the implications, and we know where we stand,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “So we’ll do what we need to in order to get done what we need to get done.”

For much of the season, the Bobcats’ defense has been unable to ‘get done what it needs to get done’, however. With half the season already gone, the defense still ranks near the bottom nationally at 113th. Last season, the Ohio defense was able to rebound from a slow start in non-conference play to dominate the MAC. This season, there have been very few signs that history will repeat.

Last week, the Bobcats allowed 372 second-half yards to a Northern Illinois team that came into the game averaging just 317 total yards for an entire game, turning what was a 21-10 halftime lead for the ‘Cats into a 39-36 loss.

“The biggest thing for us was our third down defense, they converted 7-of-9 on third down (in the second half),” Ohio defensive coordinator Ron Collins said. “If there are some things there execution wise, that’s on (the coaches).”

Husky quarterback Ross Bowers completed 8-of-9 passes on third and fourth downs in the second half for 155 yards and a touchdown. Four of the conversions came on 3rd and 6 or longer.

For the season, the Bobcats have allowed opponents to convert on 41 percent of their 3rd downs, good for 91st in the country.

“They were executing and we weren’t,” Collins added.

But that was last week and the Ohio defense knows they can’t dwell on that game anymore.

“They’ve had a great attitude all week. Our guys know that this game is about playing all four quarters and all season,” Collins said. “Our focus has been totally on Kent State.”

The Golden Flashes don’t boast the strongest offense in the MAC statistically, but it has come alive in the last few weeks. Subtracting a trip to Madison, Wisconsin to face the No. 6 Badgers, Kent State has put up solid numbers against MAC foes, averaging over 560 yards and 44 points in their two conference wins.

“They’re a multiple approach to offensive football in terms of throwing and running,” Solich said. “They know in order to win consistently, you need to be able to do a little of both, and, certainly, need to have a strong running game if you can.”

The caveat to those numbers is that when they demolished Bowling Green 62-20 back on September 21, they racked up 750 yards (an even 375 on the ground and through the air). That equates to roughly 35 percent of their entire offensive output in 2019 and it came against a Falcons defense that ranks dead last in the MAC and 117th in the country.

Even with those eye-popping numbers against the Falcons, the Golden Flashes still rank just 9th in the MAC in total offense. However, given the Bobcats’ defensive struggles this season, no team can be taken for granted.

“Their quarterback manages the game well. He hasn’t thrown an interception yet this season,” Collins said. “Main thing for us is to stop the run and eliminate explosive plays and get ourselves off the field. If we can do that, we’re going to have a good game.”

On the other side of the ball, the Bobcats’ offense seemed to get over some of the inconsistency issues that plagued them in the early part of the season last week against NIU. Aside from a stretch of three possessions in the third quarter, the offense was able to move the ball however it wanted against a solid Huskies defense.

Quarterback Nathan Rourke had his most efficient day of the season thus far, completing 19 of his 31 passes for 258 yards and 2 scores, he carried the ball 12 times for 80 yards and a touchdown and also caught a touchdown for the second time in his career.

“Nathan audibled probably 70 percent of the game, he’s calling our protections and doing a lot of things in the passing game, changing routes several times. He’s a veteran quarterback, he’s got some leeway,” Ohio offensive coordinator Tim Albin said. “In the fourth quarter, you could tell he was very determined.”

Last week was the offense that was expected of Ohio, with Rourke leading the charge, in the preseason. After the early season ups and downs, it is a welcome sight to see consistency.

“We were better in a lot of ways against Northern, but we’re still not perfect yet. We have to cut the penalties out, we win the game last week,” Albin said. “We can do better, but we’ve shown progress.”

Kent State should prove to be another building block for this young offense. They come to Athens with the 9th ranked defense in the MAC, but give up the most yards on the ground of any team in the conference at 247.8 yards per game. That also ranks them second-to-last in the country at 129th, only giving up fewer yards than Massachusetts.

With the running back corps fully healthy for a second consecutive week, look for the Bobcats to keep this game on the ground and run the Flashes up and down the field.

“You’re going to for sure see all three guys (Allison, Ross, Tuggle) against Kent,” Albin said.

This game and the season for that matter doesn’t rest with how the offense performs, however. The Bobcats offense should continue to produce at a high level as long as Rourke is the quarterback and the team isn’t decimated by injury.

The success of the 2019 team now fully rests on the defense and their ability to bounce back. Will they be able to or is this the defense that we can expect for the final 6-plus games? Only time will tell.

Kickoff against the Golden Flashes is set for 12 p.m. on Saturday in Peden Stadium.