Nathan Rourke (12) prepares to snap the ball during the Bobcats’ 34-21 win over Ball State on Oct. 26, 2019. PHOTO: Charles Hatcher/WOUB

Ohio Football: Takeaways and Game Balls from the Bobcats’ Win over Ball State

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ATHENS, OH — The conditions in Muncie on Saturday were about as far from “ideal” as it could be. Rain poured down for the entire game, aided by gusting winds, and made Scheumann Stadium into something more resembling a pool than a football field.

But the Bobcats battled the elements and the MAC West-leading Cardinals and left Indiana with a statement victory. Here are a few of my takeaways from the 34-21 win.

Big Nasties Dominate Nasty Day

For an offensive lineman, there’s nothing quite like playing football on a sloppy, wet day. Why? Well, it means that the ground game will be leaned on heavily. Weather like the Bobcats and Cardinals played in on Saturday is a true test for an offensive line.

The Bobcats passed that test with flying colors.

The o-line got to line up and maul the Ball State defensive line 56 times in 72 offensive plays on Saturday and they won the battle a vast majority of those times. The Bobcats were stopped on the ground for a loss or for no gain just eight times in the game.

Those 56 carries also went for a season-high 316 yards, including a pair of 100-yard rushers in Nathan Rourke and O’Shaan Allison. All four of the touchdowns scored by Ohio also came on the ground.

Most importantly, and impressively, the ‘Cats were able to run the ball right at the Cardinals even when they knew what was coming. On a drive that started at the Bobcats 36 with 8:50 to go, Ohio went down the field on nine consecutive run plays to get into the end zone to put them up 20 points late in the fourth.

And they only seemed to run two or three different plays on that drive. They simply knew the Cardinals couldn’t stop them.

Often times, the offensive line performance fades into the background in comparison to the skill players that are the ones that put the points on the board, but the line received high praise after the game. Head coach Frank Solich and running back De’Montre Tuggle joined Rourke in heaping praise on the big guys that paved the way for the victory.

Defense Stands Tall

The much-maligned Ohio defense came into the game staring down a task that many would have thought would be too much for them. And who could blame those people?

The Bobcats entered Saturday with the 10th-ranked defense in the MAC and were charged with slowing down the top-ranked offense in the conference in Ball State.

What came next would fall under the category of “unexpected”.

Ohio shut down the Cardinals for large chunks of the game, forcing and recovering a fumble on the game’s first play, sacking Drew Plitt four times and holding Ball State to just 90 yards in the first half.

After allowing the Cardinals to march down the field to tie the game late in the first quarter to tie the game at seven, the Bobcats defense held Ball State to 24 yards and one first down over their next four possessions while Nathan Rourke and the offense built a 20-7 lead.

The defense bowed up again early in the fourth quarter. Nursing a 13-point lead, the Bobcats stopped the Cardinals in a goal-to-go situation to force a short field goal. That 24-yard attempt was blocked by Kai Caesar and Ball State came away from a 12-play, 72-yard drive with zero points.

The Bobcats lone mistake on the day was a 73-yard touchdown run by Walter Fletcher, but that was made up for by the secondary. Plitt failed to complete a pass until the third quarter, and while some of that was due to the conditions, the Bobcats’ defensive backs gave the Ball State receivers very little room to operate.

All in all, the Bobcats’ defense turned in their most complete performance of the season on a day that no one could have expected them to.

Paying No Mind to the Rain

It would be laughable to say that the rain and wind had no effect on the outcome of the game on Saturday afternoon. The heavy rain never let up even a little for the duration of the game and was often accompanied by a strong wind that blew from sideline-to-sideline.

Both teams had to play in those raw conditions, but it was the Bobcats that were able to go about their business without much of a struggle.

Rourke used his legs more than his arm on the way to a team-high 130 rushing yards and running backs Allison and Tuggle combined for 32 carries and 158 yards to wear down the Ball State defense.

A day like Saturday gives the chance for a team to show their mental toughness in the face of factors outside of their control like the weather.

As the calendar turns to November and the Bobcats begin to play night games on the cold Ohio nights, the win over Ball State showed that the conditions don’t matter.


Offensive Line

How could I not give the game ball to the offensive line? They deserve to get a second straight game ball as a group thanks to their sheer dominance of the Ball State defense.

The Bobcats averaged over five yards per rush and Nathan Rourke was not sacked for a second consecutive game.

If the offensive line keeps playing like this, the Bobcats will be hard to beat in the final four games.

Keye Thompson

In just his second career start at linebacker for the Bobcats, the redshirt freshman made a strong case to keep that position.

It was a big hit by Thompson on the game’s first play that led to a Caleb Huntley fumble and a takeaway for the Ohio defense. He followed that up by collecting seven tackles, two of which were in the backfield, and assisting on a sack.

In his two starts, Thompson has registered 17 tackles and provided a huge spark for a defense that has searched for someone to make a play all season.