Out of reach

Ohio sophomore receiver Isiah Cox stretches out for a pass down the sideline during the Bobcats' 24-21 loss to Miami on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019.

ATHENS, Ohio — Welcome to The Wrap, where I put all my final thoughts, notes, stats and analysis about the most recent Ohio University football game in one place.

(We’re in the middle of what I’ve dubbed ‘cross-over’ season and as such — with college basketball and high school football playoffs in full swing — I’ve been able to post here on the blog as much as I would like.

So this will be a slightly abridged version of the usual ‘Wrap’ pieces I’ve produced this season. And yes, I whiffed completed on the before and after blogs for Ohio’s win at Ball State. But now back to the matter at hand.)

The Bobcats (4-5, 3-2 MAC) did it again. Ohio lost the one the conference game it couldn’t afford to lose and will need help to win the MAC East Division. Miami, thanks to a 53-yard field late in the fourth quarter, downed Ohio 24-21 in front of a midweek record crowd of 20,589 inside Peden Stadium on Wednesday night.

The RedHawks (5-4, 4-1 MAC) played cleaner, and Ohio wasted a dominating first half en route to a 7-7 tie at the break. The Bobcats never trailed by more than one score, but also never led.

I wrote in the game preview that it was either going to be a party or a wake for the Bobcats’ 2019 season — and it definitely felt like the latter afterward.

Ohio can still win the East, but it’s a long shot. The Bobcats would need to win their final three games and then hope to see Miami lose two its final three in order to pass the RedHawks for the MAC East title. The problem is the RedHawks face both Bowling Green and Akron in two of those final three games; the Falcons the second-worst team in the MAC and the Zips might be the worst team in the country.

5 Factors

Yes, the 5 Factors return for 2019. In short, these five aspects — efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives and turnovers — play a major role in deciding every football game. I’ll be piecing them together from the assortment of the usual post-game data and including them on a weekly basis moving forward. But first, a quick rundown of what each category is and means.

Efficiency is rated based on Success Rate. A play is a success if: it gains half the yards needed for a first down (or the end zone) on first down, it gains 75 percent of the yards needed on second down, or it gains the yards needed on third or fourth down.

Explosiveness is measured by big plays. For my tabulations, I’m counting ‘big’ plays as runs that cover at least 10 yards, or pass plays that gain at least 15.

Field position is simple; it’s the averaging starting field position for each team’s drives.

Finishing is measured by comparing the number of times a team gains a first down inside the opponent’s 40 against the number of points the team scores on that possession. Think red zone statistics, but with a wider range.

And lastly turnovers, which is a simple binary, who-had-more kind of tabulation.

Here’s how Ohio vs. Miami graded out:

Success Rate — Ohio 47.9 percent; Miami 34.0 percent

Explosiveness — Ohio 10 chunk plays (13.7 percent); Miami 7 (14.9)

Field Position — Ohio 27, Miami 32

Finishing — Ohio 5 chances/21 points = 4.2 per trip; Miami 5 chances/17 points = 3.4 per trip

Turnovers — Ohio 2, Miami 0

You won’t find any solace here as an Ohio fan. The Bobcats — with the exception of turnovers — did enough here to win the game. And the regular stats back that feeling up.

OU had its best defensive day of the season in giving up a season-low 278 yards on a season-low 47 plays. Miami’s success rate of 34.0 percent was the lowest (best) for the Ohio defense this season. The RedHawks had just seven chunk plays, again a season-low for the Ohio defense.

Ohio was +13.9 percent in efficiency rating, its highest difference in a game against an FBS opponent this season. The Bobcats were better at turning scoring chances into points.

But you can’t escape turnovers. The RedHawks were +2 there, and the first took what seemed to be seven sure points off the board for OU, the second set up a one-play TD drive for Miami. That’s a 14-point swing in a game decided by a 53-yard FG with less than four minutes to go.

The game, in that way, was indicative of Ohio’s season. The Bobcats now sit at -7 in turnover ratio this season (117th nationally) and with just six turnovers forced this year Ohio is tied for 125th nationally. Only one team in the country has forced fewer turnovers (NC State, 5).

Offensive notes

Ohio did a lot of good things, but a couple hiccups left the game in doubt.

First, the positives. OU was very effective on the ground — with an overall success rate of 58.1 percent on called running plays. The Bobcats picked up 5.2 yards per carry and collected eight runs of 10 or more yards. Ohio controlled the game — play count and time of possession — but didn’t leverage it into any kind of lead.

QB Nathan Rourke was his usual elusive self, and had Miami head coach Chuck Martin spouting plenty of noteworthy quotes afterward. Rourke threw for just 133 yards, but ran for 89 yards. He was sacked three times, but avoided at least four others with incredible pocket escapes.

Ohio had a chance to win, again, in large part due to Rourke’s ability on the ground. And now for those juicy Martin sound bites.

“Thank God he’s a senior and has no college eligibility left.”

“Nobody can tackle him. I don’t know. He’s like Jim Brown playing quarterback.”

“You can’t tackle the son-of-a-gun. Again, he’s a tailback playing quarterback who also can throw the ball really well.”

And there was more about Martin thinking Rourke must be this thick-hipped guy and Martin realizing he’s actually “slender” and well, you get the point.

What didn’t work for the Ohio offense? First, pass protection was suspect at times and OU had trouble containing the RedHawks on their stunts up front. One reason for that was the handiness the Miami DL was using to engage — and grab — two offensive linemen on those stunts. If was enough to prevent the Bobcats from sliding to grab the ‘over’ part of the stunt 4-6 times in the second half alone.

Ohio also wasn’t great in the passing game, in general. Consistent pressure complicated things, but OU had a pass success rate of 33.3 percent overall and just 28.6 percent with three WRs on the field. Both were season lows.

Ohio’s first drive was a beauty, up until O’Shaan Allison’s fumble inside the five-yard line. The Bobcats hit on seven of their first 11 plays (73 percent), but only 43.5 percent after that fumble. Allison didn’t play again the rest of the night, and that decision I thought impacted Ohio’s chances on a handful of plays throughout.

If Ohio gets points on that first drive, I think it’s a whole different game.

OU also didn’t go deep as much as I thought it might. I had the Bobcats with more deep shots in the rain and wind at Ball State than against Miami. The Bobcats were having more success on the ground against the RedHawks, yes, but I didn’t feel OU challenged Miami enough down the field.

Ohio’s two chunk passing plays were a season low, and came nearly three full quarters apart. Ohio’s 4.9 yards per passing attempt were also a season low by quite a margin.

But a lot of the offensive numbers would lead you to believe Ohio won. The biggest might have been third down. OU converted 11 of 17 third down conversions, its highest percentage (64.7) of the season against an FBS team. And one of the ‘misses’ was when Julian Ross ran out of bounds early on a third-and-five play late in the first half.

Now for some individual player thoughts:

— Rourke was good overall, great on the ground, but limited by the number of deep shots Ohio took. Again, pocket pressure was an issue there. I just felt OU missed some chances to put the RedHawks on their heels down the field. Rourke’s 133 passing yards were just two more than the 131 he had in awful conditions in Muncie.

— Ohio benched RB O’Shaan Allison after the early fumble. I get the thinking there, and there’s every indication that Allison is going to be a good back for a long time in Ohio’s offense. But two things about that move: OU went to Julian Ross, and not De’Montre Tuggle, as the immediate backup. And Ohio I thought could’ve brought Allison back in spots in the second half.

Tuggle played well enough in his reps, but Ross — who has missed substantial time this season with injury — looked rusty. He was a tad tentative on a third-and-short try to led to a missed 50-yard field goal in the first half. He had the mental error on the third-down play late in the half.

— Either MAC teams have been more conscious of TE Ryan Luehrman, or Ohio has veered away from the tight end in passing situations in the last two games. He’s been targeted just three times in the last two games.

— WR Shane Hooks, who looked like a budding start a few games ago, has been targeted just three times — and has one catch for three yards — in the last two games.

— WR Isiah Cox leads Ohio with 46 targets on the season and 15 chunk plays. He’s not a No. 1 yet, but has been the closest to one in terms of production through nine games.

— Ohio has actually been decent in taking care of the ball this season despite the turnover ratio number. OU has 13 turnovers on the season (T-55th nationally), but just nine have come from the first-team offense. Three have been on punt returns, and a fourth came in week 1 from backup QB Joe Mischler.

Defensive notes

Well, Ohio had its best defensive game of the season and still couldn’t come up with a fourth-quarter stop with the game hanging in the balance.

Like turnovers, this is an issue that has lingered throughout the season. The Bobcats couldn’t get a critical fourth quarter stop in non-con losses to Marshall and Louisiana, gave up five straight TD drives in the second half against NIU, and allowed two scoring drives in the fourth against Miami.

But throughout, Ohio was as good as its been this season defensively. Miami was just 30 percent (3 of 10) on third down. The RedHawks had just seven chunk plays, and only three (a season low) in the air.

The Bobcats forced a season high five 3&out possessions. The defensive front impacted the pocket enough to force Brett Gabbert into settling for short throws. Ohio was as fast and passionate on the defensive side as we’ve seen in a few weeks.

Miami basically cashed in one clutch drive with one big kick, and three other big plays, for 24 points.

Jaylon Bester ripped off a 45-yard touchdown run on an inside zone against a slot blitz for Miami’s first touchdown. Jack Sorenson’s tipped-ball, one-hand 21-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was the kind of play you simply have to tip your hat to. And a coverage bust led to a 63-yard deep post down the middle of the field right after Ohio had tied the game 14-14 in the fourth quarter.

Those three snaps accounted for nearly half of Miami’s entire offense on the night.

It’s been the story of Ohio’s season. Lots of good, solid work has been wiped away by the lack of big plays at big times.

Now for some specific observations:

— FS Javon Hagan had nine tackles and two good pass breakups. He brought an A+ effort to his final rivalry game.

— WLB Keye Thompson (five tackles) should continue to see increased playing time even as MLB Jared Dorsa returns to full-time work. Thompson’s level of athleticism and edge has continued to show well with more reps, and gives that unit something it’s missed this season.

— DE Sam McKnight returned after missing several weeks and I thought made an impact not at end, but as a DT sub on third downs. He had one of the biggest TFLs of the night, and the Bobcats’ only QB hurry of the game.

— DE Amos Ogun-Semore has had a sophomore slump kind of season. Austin Conrad has supplanted him as a starter opposite Will Evans. But none of OU’s ends have consistently landed pressure the way most anticipated they would this season. Xavior Motley was the standout in the group against Miami with two pass breakups and a half-sack.

— At cornerback, OU continues to work in a top three of Marlin Brooks, Ilyaas and Xavior Motley. It’s clear at this point that Ohio hopes to redshirt Jamal Hudson, who has not appeared in a MAC game this season.

Special Teams notes

One way the game hinged was on special teams.

Ohio senior kicker Louie Zervos missed a 50-yard field goal in the second quarter. Miami senior kicker Sam Sloman tied a career-long with a 53-yarder with 3:48 left.

With no glaring gaffes either way, the miss-or-make nature of the kicking position was cast in a stark contrast.

Looking for more?

As always, if there’s specific information you’d like to see included in these catch-all reviews, or if you have specific questions about the Bobcats, feel free to let me know.

If I get a bunch of questions that require in-depth answers, I’m alway ready to do reader mailbag pieces.

You can reach me on Twitter (@JasonAmessenger) or via email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com.

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

Load comments