Inside The Press Box: Ohio

  • UMass Amherst quarterback Andrew Ford, center, is tackled by Ohio University's Chad Moore during a football game Sept. 30, 2017 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Hadley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 9/27/2018 2:01:30 PM

Ohio is 1-2 heading into Saturday’s game against UMass at home after squandering a 24-7 halftime lead to Cincinnati last week. The Bobcats began the year with a tight 38-32 win over Howard before losing to Virginia in a neutral site game two weeks later 45-31 after an early bye week. 

Similar to a few weeks ago, Jason Arkley of the Athens Messenger and I traded questions with each other for this week. You can read my answers on the Minutemen here beginning on Friday, and below are his answers – edited for clarity and brevity – about the Bobcats.

Q: Let's start with Ohio's most recent game, a 34-30 loss to Cincinnati on the road. The Bobcats led the game 24-7 at halftime, so what went wrong for them in the second half?

A: There were two culprits in Ohio’s loss at Cincinnati. First, the Bobcats failed to finish off a number of drives that probably would’ve finished off UC earlier. OU had three drives inside the UC 40 in the first half that all ultimately ended in touchdowns. The Bobcats’ next four drives ended in three field goals and the interception on the goal line with 50 seconds left. Ohio netted just six points in its last three first-and-goal situations.

And second, the defense failed to continue to gather stops. The Bearcats, in my opinion, wore down Ohio a bit in the second half. Ohio had stops on seven of the first nine UC drives, but Cincinnati scored touchdowns on each of its last three drives to steal the game late. UC’s run game got better as the game went along, which opened up some play-action passing, and Ohio could stop either late.

Q: Nathan Rourke is completing less than 50 percent of his passes this season, which caught me by surprise. What has been Rourke's issues this season at quarterback and could we see Quinton Maxwell make a run to be the starter?

A: I think the ship has sailed on Maxwell becoming the starter, unless there’s an injury. Ohio has made it clear the last two weeks that it’s going to go with Rourke in games that matter.

As for Rourke’s passing percentage, that’s due to two awful starts. He hit just 2-of-8 in his start against Howard, and then just 2 of his first seven against Virginia. Since then he’s 26-of-51 — just over 50 percent — and that was with UC being in his face the whole afternoon last weekend. Another issue is Rourke’s route selection, he hasn’t been dinking and dunking a lot with most of his throws in the intermediate to deep range. It means the percentage is going to be lower, but the reward greater. It’ll interesting to see if Ohio changes this approach in MAC play.

Q: Ohio's secondary has stood out to me on paper with 13 pass break ups and three interceptions through three games. Is the back four the strength of this unit, or is there something we can't see on paper about the unit?

A: Coming into the season, the secondary was supposed to be the strength of the defense. Two senior starters return (CB Jalen Fox and S Kylan Nelson) as does the defense’s best player in junior safety Javon Hagan. 

But the results through three games have been underwhelming to say the least. Ohio ranks near the bottom of FBS in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense. Issues in games 1 and 2 were related to busts and missed tackles. Against UC, I thought the defense played much better but couldn’t find a key stop late against a good team that had found offensive rhythm.

Ohio has, and will continue I suspect, to play a lot of man coverage. Consistent pressure on the pocket, or lack thereof, has been an issue. Without the pressure, the man coverage will break down. More of one could help fix the other. 

But without a doubt, the defense is Ohio’s primary concern after three weeks. It simply has to get better if OU wants to contend for the MAC title.

Q: The Bobcats were the overwhelming favorite to win the MAC East this year and then the consensus pick to win the league. Considering division mates Akron and Buffalo already have wins over Big Ten schools and UMass is Ohio's last non-conference opponent, is this a must-win game for Ohio?

A: No. Ohio’s season, regardless of a 4-0 start or an 0-4 start, was going to be measured on one simple metric: Did the Bobcats win the MAC?  Ohio has started poorly and won the MAC East before. And the Bobcats have started well, and faded late to lose a division title. 

Now it IS an important game for Ohio. This is the Bobcats last chance to bank some positive energy and momentum before MAC play. And OU is desperate to see some continued improvement defensively, the offensive continue to find consistency and to get Rourke more firmly on track.

Q: Ohio wins if…

A: The Bobcats win this game if they’re able to run the ball effectively AND come up with a handful of stops and/or turnovers.

Ohio impressed me with its ability to run the ball against a stout UC defense last weekend and that should bode well against a UMass outfit that has had its own defensive issues this season. If Ohio can run the ball, there will be opportunities for big plays down the field with Papi White and Cam Odom and the Bobcats could have another huge day offensively like in Amherst a year ago.

Now getting stops will be another matter. Andrew Ford, and departed TE Adam Breneman, were both magnificent in last year’s game. If Ford is out, I think Ohio is able to do just enough to confuse or pressure the QB to get the handful of stops needed to get the win.

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