Ohio Football: ‘Cats Gut Out Huge, Rain-Soaked Win over Ball State< < Back to
MUNCIE, IN — A persistent, soaking, wind-driven rain fell on Schuemann Stadium for the duration of the game on Saturday and when Ohio needed it most, the group on the field most built to deal with the nasty conditions stepped up and paved the way for a Bobcat victory.
That group was the offensive line.
“Our O-line today really asserted themselves as a dominant force in this league,” Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke said. “We rode them all the way throughout this game.”
That Bobcat (4-4, 3-1 MAC) offensive line paved the way for a season-high 316 rushing yards in a 34-21 road statement win over Ball State (4-4, 3-1 MAC).
“I think they took another step today. They’re a very proud unit and they play together very, very well,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said of the offensive line. “They line up and feel like they can move the football and they WANT to run the football.”
They got their wish on Saturday. Ohio offensive coordinator Tim Albin dialed up 56 run plays due to the conditions and averaged over five yards per rush attempt on the afternoon. The 56 rush attempts by the Bobcats was the most they have had since running the ball 57 times against the Cardinals last year.
316 yards represents the highest total the Cardinals defense, which came in ranked third in the MAC only giving up 135 yards per game, has given up all season.
“We came out and executed at a high level for as wet as the ball was,” Solich said. “We were able to move the ball on the ground consistently and go on long drives.”
Each of the Bobcats six scoring drives on the afternoon spanned at least seven plays, a stat which played a big role in Ohio racking up nearly 40 minutes of possession in the game.
The Bobcats were led in the ground attack by Rourke who finished the game with 130 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, which ties a career high for rush attempts in a game for the redshirt senior.
“I know that every game, I have the ability to run (the ball). Sometimes they ask me to do that more, and obviously the conditions had something to do with that today,” Rourke said. “It doesn’t matter to me, I just want to go out there and win.”
O’Shaan Allison also carried the ball 18 times on Saturday, racking up 105 yards, the first time the freshman has gone over the century mark in a game. De’Montre Tuggle spelled Allison throughout the game to the tune of 14 carries for 53 yards and two touchdowns to bring his total to a team-high eight for the season.
“My line did an amazing job. I couldn’t ask them to do any better,” Tuggle said. “When you see your teammates out there despite the weather and they’re still executing at a high level, it makes you want to execute at the same level or even higher.”
In the second half, while playing with a lead, the Bobcats ran the ball 28 times compared to just six pass attempts, including a dominant drive to put the game on ice midway through the third when the ‘Cats lined up and ran the ball nine consecutive times on their way to a 68-yard touchdown drive to put them up 20 with just over four minutes to play.
“We want to be able to execute certain plays at a high level, move the football and sprinkle in some other things,” Solich said. “If you have a few plays that you execute at a high level, it gives you your best chance to move the ball on the ground.
The offense got the job done on Saturday, but that was something that could be expected of a group that came in averaging 34 points per game in their three conference games. It was the Bobcats’ defense that would need the job done on the road and in the elements if Ohio was going to win.
And they answered the bell with their most complete performance of the season against an offense that entered the game as the best in the MAC.
It started on the first play when linebacker Keye Thompson laid a big hit on Ball State running back Caleb Huntley that popped the ball free. Marlon Brooks fell on the loose ball for the ‘Cats and 10 plays later, the offense gave Ohio a 7-0 lead.
“We’re improving (on defense),” Solich said. “We’re trying to fine tune the defense and hopefully it’ll just keep getting better and better.”
The takeaway was just Ohio’s sixth on the season, but it came on a day where they also sacked Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt four times, a season-high for the OU defense, and forced four three and outs in the first half in holding the Cardinals to just 90 total yards in the first 30 minutes of play.
“Coach Collins has been talking about making more plays on third down, and that’s what we needed to go to the next level,” Ohio defensive lineman Kai Caesar said.
Even when the Cardinals were able to drive the ball in the second half, the Bobcat defense bowed up in the red zone and forced a field goal attempt that was blocked by Caesar.
Ball State came into the game against the Bobcats averaging 454 yards of offense per game with 267 of that coming through the air. While the harsh weather conditions certainly played a part in limiting both quarterbacks’ ability to throw the ball, Ohio’s defense held Plitt to just 109 passing yards in the game. 67 of those came in garbage time with the Bobcats up three possessions late in the fourth quarter.
“(This game) meant a lot. Back-to-back wins against teams we needed to beat to get where we want to go. That feels great,” Caesar said. “That was a good game, but now it’s on to the next.”
“I don’t see this as a statement. We got a ways to go,” Solich said. “We got to get better yet. Our guys understand that.”
Next up for the Bobcats? Arch-rival Miami. On national television. For a huge leg up in the MAC East race.
A lot at stake for the 96th edition of the Battle of the Bricks.
Kickoff of that game is set for 8 p.m. on Wednesday, November 6th at Peden Stadium.