2018 RECORD: 9-4 overall (6-2 MAC)
HEAD COACH: Frank Solich (15h Year)
2019 PRESEASON POLL: First in MAC East
The Ohio Bobcats lost just one game over the last half of their 2018 season. It was one too many!
That loss -- a 30-28 setback at rival Miami -- ultimately cost OU a shot at claiming its first MAC Conference football title since 1968.
It was particularly bitter given that after losing to MU, Ohio completely routed eventual MAC East champ Buffalo (52-17) the following week.
For the Bobcat players who return this year, 2019 can . . .
At the same time, Ohio’s defense finished 2018 strong and should be a strength for this year’s run.
Here’s more on the Bobcats . . .
SCORING OFFENSE: 40.1 ppg (2nd MAC)
SCORING DEFENSE: 24.6 ppg (3rd MAC)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 466.8 ypg (1ST MAC)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 390.9 ypg (8th MAC)
TURNOVER MARGIN: Plus 13 (1st MAC)
➤➤ Ohio was an offensive juggernaut for much of 2018. The ‘Cats tallied 49 or more points six times last season. One of those occasions was a 52-17 throttling of Buffalo. In fact, OU scored 49 or more points in all of its last six regular season except in the loss to Miami, and Ohio scored 21 points after halftime in that game to nearly pull out the victory.
➤➤ Rourke’s dual-threat talents are part of what gives OU great offensive balance. He ran the ball 134 times for 860 yards and 15 TDs. As a passer, he completed 165 of 275 attempts for 2,431 yards and 23 touchdowns with eight interceptions. Rourke’s 156.3 pass efficiency rating was third among MAC QBs.
➤➤ NATHAN ROURKE ON HIS DUAL ROLE -- “As a quarterback, your No. 1 job is moving the ball up the field and … moving the chains. At Ohio, they ask me to do a lot of things, and I’ll ;do whatever it takes to win games … whether that is running or passing.”
➤➤ A very important component of Ohio’s offense is its run game, and the Bobcats led the loop in rushing offense (258.3 ypg) last year. They will, however, be without A.J. Ouellette, who ground out 1,306 yards and scored 13 touchdowns in the final year of his collegiate career.
Sophomore Julian Ross and freshman O’Shaan Allison should be part of the new look behind Rourke.
➤➤ Ohio will not only be breaking in some young running backs this year, it will also be replacing it’s most productive receivers. Chief among the departed is Papi White (62 catches, 987 yards, 9 TDs) and Andrew Meyer (36 catches, 505 yards, 5 TDs)
➤➤ Two of the four returning starters on offense are up front. Austen Pleasants and Brett Kitrell can be anchors for a group that lost some pretty good talent (e.g. MAC First-Teamers Joe Lowery and Joe Anderson).
➤➤ In all, Ohio lost four All-MAC First Team players on the offensive side.
➤➤ There’s more experience on the defensive side, where six starters are back. The ‘Cats are especially strong along the back end. Safety Javon Hagan earned First Team All-MAC honors. Juniors Jamal Hudson and Marlin Brooks return on the corners.
➤➤ Will Evans and Amos Ogun-Semora are bookends up front, while junior LB Jared Dorsa is a returning starter on the next level.
➤➤ Through the first six games of 2018 season, Ohio allowed 24 or more points in every contest. Over the last seven games, OU held five opponents to 17 or less points. The season concluded with Ohio pitching a 27-0 shutout at San Diego State in the Frisco Bowl.
➤➤ COACH SOLICH ON PERSONNEL LOSSES: “We’ll be a little thin in some areas. As we go through the season, we hope to build that depth. If we can do that, we’ll be pretty good.”
➤➤ After surrendering 31 ppg over the first seven outings, the Ohio defense allowed just 17.2 ppg over the final five contests.
➤➤ Ron Collins has moved up to defensive coordinator this year. He has eight years with the ‘Cats and moves into the spot held for 15 years by Jimmy Burrow.
➤➤ Three of OU’s non-conference foes went to bowl games last year. After hosting Rhode Island in the opener, the Bobcats visit Pittsburgh and rival Marshall before Louisiana comes to Athens.
➤➤ Inter-division opponents for 2019 are Northern Illinois (H), Ball State (A) and Western Michigan (A). NIU defeated OU in DeKalb last season, while the ‘Cats blitzed Western 59-14 in a November matchup.
➤➤ Solich noted that for a team to be picked to win the MAC, “the guy taking the snap has to be somewhat special, and we’ve got a great guy at quarterback. Nathan had an outstanding year last year. We expect he’ll have another great year.”
➤➤ Two words describe Ohio special teams: Experience and Talent. Kicker Louie Zervos converted all 68 PATs and 13 of 17 field goals last year with a long of 47. Michael Farkas, meanwhile, topped the conference, averaging 43.4yards per punt in 2018. Both players are seniors.
This year’s MAC Media Preseason Poll picked Ohio to take it all. It’s a leap of faith in two things - quarterback Nathan Rourke and head coach Frank Solich.
Given the personnel losses, especially on offense, it may take a while for OU to hit its offensive stride. There would be more to worry about were it not for the presence of a multi-talented veteran like Rourke.
Solich, meanwhile, has provided continuity. In such an environment, it should be easier for less-experienced players to absorb the systems.
With defending MAC East champ Buffalo also losing several key cogs and Miami getting hit hard by graduation, the Bobcats should certainly have the inside track to at least reach the championship game.