Nathan Rourke Bobcats Football
Nathan Rourke (12) runs past a Miami defender for a touchdown during the Bobcats’ 24-21 loss to Miami on November 6, 2019. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB

Ohio Football: ‘Cats Kick-off 2020 in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Posted on:

< < Back to

BOISE, ID — The college football bowl season typically conjures up thoughts of warm weather and sunshine, particularly for the many schools in colder climates. It’s a chance for those teams and fanbases to escape the cold for a few days and reap the rewards of a good year of football.

While the Bobcats were rewarded for their 2019 season with a bowl bid, they were not rewarded with the reprieve of warm weather when they were selected to participate in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

But you know what, a trip to Boise, Idaho in early-January is more than fine with them.

“Everybody associated with our program is excited about the fact that we get the chance to play another game. We’re on a roll. We were playing really well at the end of the season,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “We loved the way they were committed to finish the season out and to have them finish the season out in the manner the way they did. I think we’re all excited to have another game.”

Coming off the most successful decade in program history, Ohio will kick-off 2020 on the blue turf of Albertsons Stadium when they face Nevada in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on January 3 at 3:30 p.m.

It was on that very same blue turf that the Bobcats kicked off their successful run through the 2010s when they came back to defeat Utah State 24-23 on a Tyler Tettleton touchdown run with 13 seconds on the clock. The trophy that Solich and his team hoisted that day was Ohio Football’s first-ever bowl trophy. 

The Bobcats would end the decade by finishing every season bowl eligible and going to a bowl game in nine of the 10 seasons, going 4-4 in that span.

Now, with a chance to start off the new decade on the right foot, the Bobcats return to Boise to face a new opponent in the Nevada Wolfpack.

In the nearly 2,300 combined football games played by both the Bobcats and the Wolfpack, they have never met on the football field, but that doesn’t mean that Nevada will be all that unfamiliar to the Bobcats.

“Their season hasn’t been too far from ours. They’ve had some great wins and they’ve had a few disappointing losses that were very close ballgames. I see them as being an excellent football team on both sides of the ball,” Solich said. “We were game planning right from the start when we found out who we were playing around the 3-3-5 defense, which is not too different from what San Diego State ran when we played them in the bowl game.”

Nevada hails from the same conference, the Mountain West, as last year’s bowl opponent, San Diego State. The Bobcats defeated the Aztecs in the Frisco Bowl last December by a score of 27-0.

However, whereas last season, San Diego State boasted one of the top rush defenses in the country heading into their game against the Bobcats, the Wolfpack are not quite on that level.

While they do rank 41st in the country against the run, giving up just 139 yards per game, they have not faced a ground attack the same caliber as the Bobcats all season. In their three matchups this season against teams that ranked in the top 45 of rushing offenses (Oregon, New Mexico and Wyoming), Nevada has surrendered 196 yards per game at a 5.1 yards per attempt clip.

The Bobcats will be the best run game Nevada has faced all season, ranking 22nd in the country at 216.5 rushing yards a game.

Not only will that be a challenge for the Wolfpack, but they will also take the field on January 3 without three defensive starters due to their role in a brawl during Nevada’s overtime loss to UNLV in their season finale. These suspensions take away two of their starting defensive backs and their starting defensive tackle. They will also be without a starting linebacker for the first half of the bowl game.

Adding to that unforeseen upheaval on the defensive side of the ball for the Wolfpack will be the absence of three top defensive coaches who were let go following the regular season. This includes defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel who had been leading the Nevada defense since 2017.

“It’s been difficult because we don’t know exactly what they’re going to do. The scheme could be completely different with the new defensive coordinator,” Rourke said. “It’s a unique situation.”

“What we’ll get is anybody’s guess…it’s going to be like a spring ball for them,” Solich said. “They’re going to have fifteen practices to put their defense in, and if it’s different than what they’re doing, the head coach will have some say about that.”

If all that wasn’t enough, the Wolfpack also travel to Boise with a pass defense that ranks towards the bottom nationally, ceding 259.8 yards per game. While the Nathan Rourke-led passing attack has only averaged 226 yards per game this season, they were able to take advantage of poor pass defenses when they faced them in MAC play.

In the three games that the Bobcats faced against pass defenses that ranked near or below the Wolfpack, Rourke tossed for just over 320 yards per game.

On the other side of the ball, the statistics also favor the Bobcats. Nevada’s offense comes into the Potato Bowl ranked 103rd in the country, averaging just 360 total yards per game. They also rank towards the bottom in points scored, averaging just over 21 per contest. 

Perhaps a cause of their year-long struggle with moving and scoring the ball can be traced back to their inability to keep a hold of it. The Wolfpack committed 22 turnovers in their 12 games, ranking 106th in the country in that category. 

But even with all of Nevada’s shortcomings on the offensive side of the ball, much the same can be said about the Bobcats’ defense in 2019.

The ‘Cats 76th-ranked defense comes in as the third-worst defense of the Solich era, dating back to 2005 and the worst since the 2007 Bobcats had the 82nd-ranked defense in the country. They also face Nevada with the 81st-ranked rush defense, the worst season by a Bobcats’ defense since 2013.

The Wolfpack is coming off of consecutive 400+ yard performances to close the season reached that threshold six times over the course of the season. 

As with many bowl games, no one can be quite sure what is going to happen on the field. These games often feature matchups of teams that are unfamiliar to each other and how much a team wants to be there typically goes a long way to deciding the victor.

Despite missing out on the warm weather destination, the ‘Cats are more than happy to be in Boise for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

“It’s a great bowl. It’s really cool to be out here, and yeah, our season didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, but we’re fortunate to have the game that we have,” Rourke said. 

“It’s less of a vacation and more of a business trip,” he added. “I’m ready to go and I think the rest of the guys are too.”