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: Bobcats, RedHawks Set to Battle for MAC East Lead

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ATHENS, OH — The Ohio Bobcats and Miami RedHawks have met 95 times on the gridiron in the last 111 years. For both programs, it is a date circled on the schedule every single year, but one would be hard-pressed to find a bigger game on a bigger stage than the 2019 edition of the ‘Battle of the Bricks’.

“There’s some games that we go into that we know that this isn’t just about us, it’s about the program,” Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke said. “We all want to get our mugs.”

The 96th meeting between the Bobcats (4-4, 3-1 MAC) and RedHawks (4-4, 3-1 MAC) will not only be for sole possession and control of the MAC East, it will be the only college football game to be televised nationally on the 150th anniversary of the first college football game.

“The facts are the facts. (The winner) will have a two-game lead in the division with three to play,” Ohio offensive coordinator Tim Albin said. “We need to go out and just do our jobs.”

In the Frank Solich era at Ohio, the Bobcats have done their job and beaten Miami 11 times in 14 tries. Those two losses, however, have wrecked promising Bobcat seasons, including a 30-28 loss last year in Oxford. That loss, in particular, sticks with Rourke.

“The biggest motivation with Miami now is last year. How that loss changed the course of our season. That’s what I remember more than anything,” Rourke said. “We didn’t play our best game and this year we owe them our best game.”

Historically, despite being 1-1 against the RedHawks, Rourke has performed very well against the Bobcats’ arch-rival. In those two games, he has thrown for over 450 yards, ran for another 70 and scored eight touchdowns.

The defense Miami will send out to stop him this year is much improved, however.

The RedHawks’ defense ranks 5th in the MAC giving up just 395.3 yards per game on average, a number which drops down dramatically to 349 if only MAC games are figured in. In their four conference games, they have only given up 167.5 passing yards and 181.5 rushing yards per game.

“I think they’re an elite defensive football team in our league. We will have our hands full with their front seven,” Albin said. “We’ll have to have a balanced attack and keep on schedule.”

Even with all that praise, the RedHawks will have their hands full with a Bobcat offense that has found a groove in their last couple of games. The Ohio offense has improved in all facets from their season averages in their four conference games. They’re averaging just short of 450 yards per game with the balanced attack that Albin preaches (222 ypg on the ground, 227 ypg through the air). 

“We have to do a good job taking care of the ball and executing. When we execute the way we’re capable of, it’s tough for a team to keep up with us,” Rourke said. “If we go out and do what we do, we’ll be fine.”

Not many have doubts that the offense will be fine when the game kicks off on Wednesday night, but the defense has been a different story all season.

Despite their strong performance on October 26 against Ball State, there are those out there that still doubt the Bobcats’ defense ability to limit opponents enough to win games. 

Ohio’s defense ranks 10th in the MAC giving up 446.4 yards per game. That stat also ranks them towards the bottom of the total defense chart nationally at 111th. While that is still on track to be the worst defense ever in the Solich era, the game against the Cardinals inspired some hope that things may get better on that side of the ball.

“I think it’s come along well. We’ve got to keep coming. We’ve got to keep getting better,” Solich said of his defense. “We’re not where we’re at defensively to accomplish all of the goals we want to accomplish, but we’re moving forward.”

Against Ball State, an offense that entered the game with the top ranked offense in regards to yards (454.4) and points (34.7), the Bobcats turned in a solid performance. The Cardinals managed just 351 yards and 21 points in the game.

Some of that could be attributed to the nasty weather conditions in Muncie that day, but the ‘Cats did more than enough on their own to slow down the potent Cardinal offense.

“We got ourselves off the field, especially early,” Ohio defensive coordinator Ron Collins said. “We got stops when we needed them, but we’re still not where we want to be.”

On paper, the Bobcats defense will get a bit of a reprieve when they face the RedHawks and their offense. Miami ranks 11th in total offense in the conference, averaging just 254 yards per game, but that number is skewed due to their 76-5 beatdown they received in Columbus at the hands of Ohio State back in September when they managed just 132 yards in the game.

In conference play, the Miami offense has fared better, averaging 364 yards a game, including a season-best 467 yards against Kent State on October 26.

“They’ve got good speed. Their receivers are very tall and the quarterback is very savvy,” Collins said. “Their system is what it is and they do a good job of it.”

The Bobcats know that Miami’s offense can’t be judged solely based on their stats and they know, as a defense, that they can’t lay the rest of their season on one game against a team that was battling the elements as much as their defense.

“I don’t know if we’ve ‘turned a corner’. Each game will determine how good we are,” Collins said. “We’ll only be as good as we are in the next game.”

And their next game is a huge one.

“We both know that whoever wins this game controls their own destiny to the championship game,” Collins added. “We have to take care of business.”

Controlling your own destiny is huge for any team as the calendar flips to November. Every goal that the Bobcats set prior to the season is still within reach. The fact that the most important game of the season also happens to be against Ohio’s biggest rival just adds to it.

“We know they’re going to come out ready to hit us and we’re going to come out ready to hit them,” Ohio offensive lineman Hagen Meservy said. “I’m ready for it.”

The MAC East will likely be decided on the turf of Peden Stadium on a cold Wednesday night in November.

It doesn’t get much more ‘MACtion’ than that.

Kickoff of the 96th ‘Battle of the Bricks’ is set for 8 p.m.