For once, a breather

Ohio receivers D.L. Knock (left) and Isiah Cox celebrate in the end after Cox's 55-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter of the Bobcats' 66-24 win at Bowling Green on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 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.

The Bobcats (5-6, 4-3 MAC) finally put everything together in a 66-24 romp over Bowling Green (3-8, 2-5 MAC) on Tuesday at Doyt Perry Stadium.

Everything that had been missing for OU this season — explosive plays offensively, turnovers created defensively most notably — came up in a tidal wave that overwhelmed the Falcons.

Ohio posted 60+ points for the first time in the Frank Solich era, and for the first time since 1976. It was a cathartic win for the Bobcats, and a marked difference from all the tight, close games that have dominated the 2019 schedule.

“We needed one like this. It was good just to see one like this to let everyone know this is what we were capable of,” said Ohio senior quarterback Nathan Rourke.

The win was a historic one as well. Head coach Frank Solich picked up win No. 111 — on his third try — and became the MAC’s career leader in coaching victories. Afterward, Solich was his typical self in trying to spread any credit for the accomplishment to as many people as possible.

He was still doused with a postgame Gatorade bath, and still praised inside the locker room after MAC commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher was there to present him with a personalized game ball.

“Thanks,” Solich told the locker room simply, before breaking down in a laugh that rippled through the enclosed space.

The win also gave Ohio a chance to keep its season going beyond the Nov. 26 regular-season finale at Akron. If the Bobcats beat the Zips — which seems like a certainty given the state of the Zips’ season — then Ohio would finish the year at 6-6.

Six wins is enough for bowl eligibility, but seldom has it been enough to guarantee a bowl slot for a team from the MAC. OU likely will be left waiting until after conference championship weekend to see if it will get a bowl game destination. Entering the final week of the regular season, there were 72 teams that had already reached bowl eligibility — for 78 total slots. It’s the lowest number of bowl eligible teams entering the final week of the season in the last four years.

There are still 15 teams (including Ohio) which could still become bowl eligible.

So the plan for the Bobcats is to beat Akron, and then wait and see how many teams could be potentially be left out.

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.

But first, a special note on this week’s numbers. Given the big blowout nature of the final score, I did not tally efficiency numbers for the fourth quarter given margin of the score and the substitution patten installed by both sides.

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 at Bowling Green graded out:

Success Rate — Ohio 61.2 percent; BG 46.0 percent

Explosiveness — Ohio 14 chunk plays (23.0 percent); BG 9 (11.8)

Field Position — Ohio 40, BG 24

Finishing — Ohio 7 chances/38 points = 5.4 per trip; BG 7 chances/24 points = 3.4 per trip

Turnovers — Ohio 1, BG 5

The Bobcats swept the 5 Factors and it’s an accurate representation of Ohio’s dominance — after horrid defensive 1Q — throughout.

The biggest difference at Bowling Green was the turnovers forced. OU entered the game with just 6 takeaways on the season (10 games), then nearly doubled it in just four quarters (5 takeaways) against the Falcons.

Ohio didn’t implement a new scheme, or drastically alter the personnel. The Bobcats were aggressive in tackling the ball early on and came up with two early fumbles on good effort plays.

From there, the turnovers were a great sack/strip combo, a bad throw as a result of pressure in the pocket, and a muffed punt return.

“Sometimes they come in bunches, sometimes there’s a drought,” Solich said. “We’d like them to keep coming in bunches.”

Ohio’s offensive Success Rate was easily its highest of the season, and the explosive play rate (23 percent) was its highest against an FBS opponent this season.

All of the turnovers led to a huge edge in starting field position and OU continued its season-long success of finding points on scoring opportunities.

It was a big-time beatdown at The Doyt, and the 5 Factors showed it.

Offensive notes

The Bobcats landed more explosive plays in this game than in any game this season.

Bowling Green was gambling a bit up front — lots of slants, stunts, etc. — and Ohio simply walled off portions of the front with zone blocking to punish BG with big runs.

And in the secondary, the Falcons were a mess. Whether it was coverage busts, or poor angles and/or tackling techniques, when Ohio got to the second level it was a scary sight for BG.

Ohio deserves credit for the execution however, and cashed in on big plays like never before this season.

The numbers prove it. Ohio had seven offensive plays go for more than 30 yards. In the previous six MAC games, OU had just nine combined. Ohio had just 18 plays of 30+ plays yards in the first 10 games combined.

The difference was just as stark when looking at scoring plays. Ohio landed five scoring plays of 45 yards or longer against BG — ‘belly’ runs that turned into TD runs of 53, 53 and 54 yards, and two downfield shots to uncovered receivers that went for 45 and 55 yards.

In the previous 10 games, Ohio had just five scoring plays of 40 or more yards combined.

Scot Loeffler is in year 1 of his rebuild at BG, and he's clearly suffering from a lack of talent. But it was more than talent that led to the plethora of game-changing offensive plays for Ohio.

After staying away from the two tight end set for large portions of the last two games, Ohio dialed it up more often against BG. OU ran two TEs 43 percent of the time at BG, nearly double what it showed against WMU and higher than what it used against Miami (37 percent).

And the Bobcats got a great return. OU was successful on 71.4 percent of those two TE plays, and both of the early explosive pass plays from from that personnel grouping.

BG obviously game-planned heavily for Nathan Rourke in the option game, and attacked well from the slot whenever Ohio showed three WRs on the field. But the middle was open, and the Bobcats got a season-high 245 yards rushing from its top three RBs as a result.

It was just a high-level game for every aspect of the Ohio offense. OU averaged a season-high 10.0 yards per play, and had the sixth-highest yardage total in program history with 609 total yards. The Bobcats also posted season-best marks in yards per carry (8.6) and yards per pass attempt (12.7).

The overall split was distorted by Ohio finishing the game with 13 straight running plays, but the mixture of strong inside running and accurate, downfield shots looked a lot like the offense OU used to great effect in 2017, 2018 and in spurts this season.

Now for some individual player thoughts:

— QB Nathan Rourke accounted for four touchdowns, completed 14 of 21 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns, and moved enough in the pocket to avoid taking a single sack. BG was determined not to let him beat them with the run, but it left gaps and/or overcompensated in other areas and he made them pay.

— RB O’Shaan Allison had his best day yet with 175 yards rushing and three touchdowns on just 12 carries. In my opinion, he’s developed into the kind of back that Ohio wants — solid, good into contact, and able to move the pile. I think he’s done enough at this point — 752 rushing yards, 6.2 average, 5 TDs — to be viewed as the starter going into 2020 and a real threat to be a terrific four-year back.

— RB De’Montre Tuggle has been the perfect complement to Allison’s more power-oriented style. He’s got good burst and acceleration, and has developed into an asset as a pass-catcher. Tuggle (469 yards rushing, 5.7 average) has 11 total touchdowns this season on just 96 touches. He’s a change of pace in the best way possible.

— Isiah Cox has become Ohio’s No. 1 WR this season. He leads OU with 33 catches for 562 yards and is averaging 17.0 per catch. He’s been exceptional in space, and even if he lacks the size for some of those tough catches on short slants and the like, his explosive ability has shown through many times this season He led OU again, with four catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.

— After three games where he was a non-factor, WR Shane Hooks had three catches for 79 yards at BG. He’s got just 21 catches on the season, but is averaging 20.7 yards per catch and eight of the 21 catches have gone for at least 15 yards. His one-hand grab on a sideline route was a thing of beauty.

— The offensive line has been able to maintain a consistent level of play this season despite some moving pieces inside. OG Brett Kitrell has been hit or miss with his health the last few games, and OU missed center Steven Hayes for four games earlier in the season. But OG/C Nick Sink has been great at plugging in where he was needed, and redshirt freshman Kurt Danneker has been getting more work at LG as well. The one thing Ohio hasn’t done up front this season was get another tackle meaningful game reps.

Defensive notes

Ohio was torched for most of the first two quarters, but rebounded to post a pretty good performance.

Ohio had its best stop rate game of the season — 75 percent of BGs possessions ended in turnovers, punts or failed fourth downs — and eight of the Falcons’ 15 drives were snuffed out in three plays or less.

The forced early turnovers — courtesy of Javon Hagan and Marlin Brooks — enable OU to get some space in a high-scoring first half. In the second, the Bobcats simply smothered the Falcons.

BG finished with a 46 percent success rate, but managed just 29 percent after halftime as Ohio dialed in defensively.

Besides the turnovers, OU also had its best havoc day of the season with a season-high 21 plays — sacks, TFL, forced fumbles, turnovers and passes broken up. Better yet, 12 players combined for the 21 havoc tally marks, indicating a defense that was playing fast, and together, as a unit.

BG isn’t a great offense, and in fact ranks just ahead of lowly Akron in most statistics in the MAC, but it was still an encouraging sign of progress for Ohio to finally implement its will in a game for a substantial period of time.

Now for some specific observations:

— MLB Jared Dorsa, in his second full game back from injury, was moving much better and his play reflected it with eight tackles, 1.0 TFL and a pass breakup.

— WLB Keye Thompson looks like he could be a future star on Ohio’s defense. He’s added a level of athleticism to the mid-level of the defense with his additional playing time, and his knack for quickly diagnosing and attacking running plays has been noticeable. He finished with eight tackles and 1.0 TFL.

— Ohio landed some QB pressure from the edge. DE Sam McKnight had the pretty strip sack in the third quarter that essentially turn the game into a full-blown rout. DE Austin Conrad added another sack, and now leads OU with 4.0 for the season despite not becoming a starter until a few games in.

— Safety Javon Hagan set the tone defensively with his first quarter forced fumble, recovered by DT Marcus Coleman, and added a pass breakup with five tackles.

— Safety Alvin Floyd had a season-high six tackles as he saw substantial time in the second half.

— Ohio has just three interceptions on the season, and it was redshirt freshman CB John Gregory who got the third with an easy pick on an under thrown ball in the fourth quarter.

Special Teams notes

PK Louie Zervos had 12 points on the night and became Ohio’s career scoring leader as he now stands at 415 points. Zervos has made 116 straight PATs.

Punter Michael Farkas averaged 44 yards on three punts, but for the first time this season he did not have a punt downed inside the 20 yards line.

Ohio’s returner crew — senior D.L. Knock, Cox and redshirt freshman Jerome Buckner — had a good night. Cox and Buckner had punt returns of 12 and 13 yards, and Knock added a 29-yard kickoff return.

Personnel

Ohio played without a handful of regulars. CB Jamal Hudson did not travel and will get a redshirt this season; he has not appeared in a MAC game this season.

WLB Eric Popp was out because of injury, as was WR Tyler Tupa — who caught the late game-tying TD the week before against WMU. MLB Bryce Houston will not play again this season after his knee injury two weeks ago.

And on the OL, starting LG Brett Kitrell did not play as Nick Sink took his spot in the lineup.

Ohio was able to get in virtually everyone on the travel roster, including eight true freshmen, into the game. No Ohio freshman has appeared in more than two games this season, which means every freshman member of the 2019 signing class will be available to earn a redshirt season even if they appear in the final regular-season game and a potential bowl game.

The true freshmen who played included QB Kurtis Rourke, LBs Cannon Blauser, Ben Johnson and Kyle Kelly, S Jett Elad, OL Parkers Titsworth, TE Casey Clanton, and DT Jeremiah Burton.

It should be noted that Kurtis Rourke will not appear in a game again this season. He had shoulder (non-throwing) surgery last week after the BG game. It was scheduled previously and not the result of an injury sustained against the Falcons.

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

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