At this point, neither head coach Frank Solich nor running backs coach Tim Albin has a firm idea of who will be the Bobcats’ top back — or duo or trio of backs — in 2019.
But freshman O’Shaan Allison served up a reminder on Saturday that he shouldn’t be discounted from consideration.
Allison — a stocky, 5-foot-9, 205-pounder from Malvern, Pa. — provided a possible glimpse of the backfield of the future for Ohio during a scrimmage on Saturday morning inside Peden Stadium. The practice was the second live-action workout of the season for the Bobcats, and included three red-zone series plus 50 additional plays.
And Allison got work on most of the 60 reps. Ohio head coach Frank Solich said Allison, who appeared in just two games last season, was the lone running back on the field for 30 reps.
“I thought he showed the ability to make the first guy miss. He shows power when he needs to show power,” Solich said. “He gets yards after contact.
“I think he’s going to be a really good back. We just have to make sure we keep getting him prepared, keep getting him carries.”
Allison finished with 79 yards on 16 carries, and caught one pass for another nine yards. He had two short touchdown runs, of one and two yards, and two runs of 10+ yards.
Allison got just seven carries for 24 yards during the 2018 season, but he’s seen no shortage of work this spring. Ohio graduated top backs in A.J. Ouellette and Maleek Irons. Sophomore Julian Ross has been limited all spring because of shoulder surgery. Sophomore Jake Neatherton, who had 81 yards in 2018, had the most experience to begin the spring but was held out of action on Saturday with a leg injury.
So right now, it’s Allison or new-to-the-roster walk-ons Jonathan Barna and Shane Bonner. Barna (8 carries for 20 yards) and Bonner (7-36) split half the carries on Saturday.
Allison finished off the second red-zone series by burrowing into the end zone from the one on an inside give. His last carry was a two-yard touchdown as he slammed through the right side.
In between, Allison twice broke big runs after shrugging through initial contact at the line of scrimmage and breaking the run to the sideline. His longest run was 40 yards, and he later added a 13-yarder to set up his late touchdown.
As a team, Ohio rushed for roughly 150 yards on 40 carries. The defense logged four sacks. Solich the offensive line — minus projected LG starter Brett Kitrell — showed well.
“Our first five look like they’re playing well, operating well,” the coach said. “But we need to get backup depth ready to go.”
Backup depth is one of the primary objectives this spring for the Bobcats. Ohio needs to find more of it on the offensive line, and throughout the defense. With two weeks left in the spring season, Solich said it hasn’t firmed up as quickly as he had hoped.
“On both sides of the ball…it has to come at a faster pace than what it’s coming at right now,” he said. “I have to keep telling myself it’s just the spring, but I feel we should getting more guys ready to go.”
Statistics were not kept for the scrimmage, and any numbers cited come from the play-by-play notes I kept during the exhibition. Ohio did use a full officiating crew, with down and distance markers for the live portions of the scrimmage. There were no special teams segments.
Here’s bit-by-bit breakdown of what I took in:
QB Nathan Rourke finished 4 of 6 for 67 yards with one touchdown, and gained 17 yards on three carries. He picked up 18 easy yards on a zone read, one of his strengths, and fired a 45-yard touchdown down the left sideline to WR K.J. Minter against man coverage versus a blitz. It was the longest play of the day.
Young QBs Joe Mischler (3-8, 58 yards) and Kurtis Rourke (4-7, 39 yards) kept the ball out of harm’s way. Mischler was hurt by a pair of drops, including one inside it the five that may have resulted in another score. Kurtis Rourke might have the most arm talent among the group, but it was Mischler who connected with WR Hunter Edwards for a 42-yard gain over the top against CB Tariq Drake.
There were two turnovers in the scrimmage. Nathan Rourke’s option pitch to Allison was dropped, and DT Brian Arp ferreted out the loose ball for a fumble recovery. On the last play of the day, QB Naylan Yates’ heave was intercepted by safety Alex Wolff.
Preferred walk-on DE Bryce Dugan has developed nicely since last fall. He’s bigger, and faster, and picked up a pair of sacks with strong off-the-edge rushes.
DE Austin Conrad and DT Cole Baker had the other sacks for the defense. Each QB took at least one sack.
Safety Javon Hagan stopped the first red-zone series with a pass breakup on fourth down. It was nearly an interception, and if he had hung onto it, it probably had a chance to be a pick-six.
At least 18 players were held out entirely, or severely limited in what drills and portions of practice they were allowed to participate in.
There appeared to be at least one substantial injury in the scrimmage, with backup RT Felipe Fernandez (lower leg) unable to return.
The first 22 for Ohio in the scrimmage looked like this: OFFENSE — QB Nathan Rourke, RB O’Shaan Allison, TE Adam Luehrman, WR Isiah Cox, WR Shane Hooks, WR Bryan Long Jr., LT Austen Pleasants, LG Nick Sink, C Steven Hayes, RG Hagen Meservy, RT Marques Grimes; DEFENSE — DE Amos Ogun-Semore, DT Cole Baker, DT Brian Arp, DE Will Evans, OLB Dylan Conner, MLB Jared Dorsa, OLB Eric Popp, CB Ilyaas Motley, CB Marlin Brooks, S Javon Hagan, S Jarren Hampton.