Time to celebrate

Ohio defenders Javon Hagan (7) and Austin Conrad (47) celebrate after a missed Buffalo field goal early in the Bobcats' 21-20 win on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

AMHERST, N.Y. — 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 (2-3, 1-0 MAC) took home a tough-as-nails 21-20 overtime victory from Buffalo (2-4, 0-2 MAC) on Saturday in UB Stadium.

Buffalo was the defending MAC East champion, and was picked by many to be the Bobcats’ closest competition in the East this season.

The Bobcats won in Amherst for the first time since 2009, and earned it one tough yard at a time.

“This was about toughness today,” said linebacker Eric Popp. “We knew it would be and knew we had to just keep fighting.”

Ohio won in overtime after Buffalo scored first, but missed the PAT. The Bobcats on six plays in their overtime possession and Louie Zervos kicked the game-winning PAT. Players rushed the field, Zervos was hoisted on top of shoulder pads, and the Bobcats left upstate New York not the team saddled with a three-game losing skid but one fresh off an overtime victory.

“This is the kind of win that just brings you closer together,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “And we were already a close group.”

It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t dynamic, but it was a win. Ohio struggled to get stops early on, and struggled to finish off a first-and-goal chance in the first half.

And the Bobcats even shook off a horrific turn of events in the second half. With the game tied 7-7, Ohio took over near midfield after a punt. Two plays later, QB Nathan Rourke was blind-sided in the pocket and fumbled. On the Bulls next play, UB got a 34-yard touchdown on a slant pass, with a missed tackle, and OU was down 14-7.

The Bobcats shook it off.

“Wasn’t much changed,” said redshirt freshman RB O’Shaan Allison. “Just keep fighting. Don’t give up. We looked at the time, knew there would be time to come back. Keep firing off the ball.”

Allison did. He had a career-high 27 carries for a modest 96 yards, and scored the first two touchdowns of his career. On a day when mistakes were plentiful, and the hits were too, Allison was still standing in overtime when he powered a game-winning drive right into the teeth of the Buffalo defense.

It took a trio of missed kicks to open the door for the win. It took Allison’s hard running, and a lot of fight from both sides of the ball, to make it happen.

Did Ohio look like the best team in the MAC on this day? No.

But the Bobcats did look like a team that wasn’t going to quit working on how to make that a reality.

“This has been a great team in terms of attitude and wanting to continue to get better,” Solich said. “The guys were fighting too hard to keep themselves in the ballgame no matter what was going wrong. I figured we’d keep battling.”

So the Bobcats began their MAC East race with a fight. And they were still standing at the end of it.

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 at Buffalo graded out:

Success Rate — Ohio 48.5 percent; Buffalo 46.2 percent

Explosiveness — Ohio 9 chunk plays (13.6 percent); Buffalo 8 (12.3)

Field Position — Ohio 36, Buffalo 23

Finishing — Ohio 6 chances/21 points = 3.5 per trip; Buffalo 6 chances/20 points = 3.3 per trip

Turnovers — Ohio 2, Buffalo 1

This was a bit of an old-school kind of game with controlling the ball — via steady ground game tactics — and field position looming larger than in your typical 2019 CFB game.

Ohio’s +13-yard edge in starting field position was it’s best of the season. It came from the Bobcats not having a single three-and-out until the end of regulation, good punting work from Michael Farkas and of course the failed fourth-and-goal try in the first quarter. In an 11-possession, UB started on or inside its own 10-yard line four times.

Ohio’s improvement defensively, or at least against the run game against the down-the-field challenged Bulls, was evident as well. Buffalo finished with just eight chunk plays — the fewest number OU has allowed this season. The overall UB success rate (46.2 percent) was manageable. The Bobcats found a way to cut off several scoring chances — goal line stop to force a FG try, a forced fumble in the red zone — and held to UB to 3.3 points per possession that included a first down inside the OU 40.

On the other side, Ohio had some success in establishing a flow offensively. OU’s 48.5 success rate was its highest of the year against a FBS team — and one of the better MAC defensive teams at that — and came on a steady stream of solid run plays.

Ohio didn’t finish a couple of drives. The sticking point was the four-play sequence inside the five in the first half where O’Shaan Allison was stuffed three times and Nathan Rourke missed a throw on fourth down. A conversion, or a field goal, there and the whole second half probably plays out in a different fashion.

But turnovers continue to haunt Ohio. The Bobcats were -1 on the day, and now sit at -7 for the season after five games. That’s the worst ratio in the MAC and OU should feel fortunate the record is what it is with that hanging over everything else.

Offensive notes

Given the Bulls’ penchant for run defense, and Ohio’s inconsistent nature running the ball through four games, I thought we’d see the Bobcats open it up a little bit.

Instead, OU did the opposite. Solich had his offense lead into the ground game even more, and the steady diet of belly plays gave the Bobcats a semblance of consistency throughout.

Ohio still utilized the ’11’ personnel package most often (84.8 percent) but skewed heavily into called runs throughout. Rourke was sacked four times and had two scrambles; it mean the called run-to-pass split was actually 41-25 or 62.1 percent. For the season, Ohio is running the ball 56.5 percent of the time.

I do think Ohio would have liked to take some more vertical shots, but issues in pass protection prevented that. Rourke was sacked four times, three times on first down when OU was clearly trying to go down the field off play-action. All four sacks were the result of defensive pressure from the left side and on straight up four-man rushes — no blitzes. LT Austen Pleasants was beat three times, and TE Adam Luehrman was on the hook for the other.

At a certain point, Ohio settled into what was working most consistently — O’Shaan Allison between the tackles with the occasional Rourke read — and made it work well enough to win.

And speaking of Rourke, he had two more turnovers. His interception was an execution error, as it looked like he had an opportunity for a deep post throw but didn’t get enough under it which opened the door for a fine athletic pick by UB LB Kadofi Wright. Rourke’s fumble came on a sack, when he was hit square in the back from the Buffalo DE who had circled all the way around the pocket.. In fact, three of the four sacks came in such a fashion.

It wasn’t a great offensive performance. The protection issues forced Ohio to adjust on the fly, and the Bobcats settled for a power run game to find some consistency. Rourke made some throws (12 of 19, 155 yards) and in general was accurate, and averaged 6.0 yards per carry on 10 designed runs.

But the negative plays scuttled a couple of possessions, the goal-line misfires took another chance off the board, and the two turnovers opened the door to what could have been a crushing loss.

It was an overall step forward, and came against a good defense, but the Bobcats remain in search mode for a four-quarter offensive showing.

Now for some individual thoughts:

— I don’t know the last time an Ohio TE finished a game as the most targeted receiver in the passing game, but that was the case at UB. Ryan Luehrman, and flanker Cam Odom, were both targeted three times. Luehrman and Odom both had chunk plays down the field. It speaks to the still-growing role for the Luehrman, a junior, in the offense.

— RB O’Shaan Allison was your game MVP. He slugged it out between the tackles, made a subtle adjustment in the second half on the belly series — keeping it closer to the middle of the line instead of bowing it out a bit — and got stronger as the game went on. Allison gained at least four yards on more than half his carries (14 of 27), and with the game on the line in OT he was difficult to bring down. OU found something that was kind of working, and stuck with it.

— Rourke, barring the one bad throw, was pretty good. His throws early in drives set up both scoring marches in regulation, and his knack for knowing when to keep the ball on the read remains a strong point for the offense. The turnovers are starting to mount however.

— OU eschewed its regular RB rotation for a couple of reasons. First, Allison was providing consistent tough yards inside. Second, Ohio was limited in the first half to just 24 plays. It didn’t allow the need for a second RB to get much work. RB De’Montre Tuggle did get some reps in the second half, and had an 18-yard gain on a throw-back play.

— WR Shane Hooks had another big play, 34-yards, when he finished a catch on the sideline and spun up field for a big gain to set up Allison’s first touchdown.

— WR Isiah Cox had a chunk play on the ground with a 15-yard gain on a reverse. Cox and Hooks are tied for the skill position lead with six chunk plays apiece this season; Rourke has 11 chunk runs, most on the roster.

— WR Jerome Buckner, eager for a bounce back kind of day, had two catches for 18 yards. His day, however, was cut short by injury.

— Ohio needs to increase its offensive tempo, in my opinion. OU is averaging just 61 plays per game this season, has yet to have more plays than the opponent, and is doing so while leading the MAC in third-down conversion percentage.

Defensive notes

This was a line-in-the-sand kind of game for Ohio’s defense, which had two weeks to address the biggest weakness it had shown through four games.

And the Bobcats answered the challenge. To a degree.

Ohio didn’t notch a sack, or a single tackle for loss. The Bobcats weren’t credited with one pass broken up. In terms of ‘havoc’ play, Ohio finished with just two — by the far lowest number I’ve compiled since I started keeping track four years ago.

And yet, in some ways it was OU’s best four quarters of defense on the year. Buffalo finished with 181 rushing yards; it was just second time this season the Bulls have been held below 200 yards rushing.

UB averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry in the first quarter, but finished the game averaging just 4.2 per try — and that’s without a single tackle made behind the line of scrimmage. The yards per carry allowed were the lowest given up by OU against an FBS team this season.

Buffalo finished with eight ‘chunk’ plays, or less than half the number OU yielded the last time out.

Presented with a offense that excelled at inside zone concepts, Ohio found a way to make the Bulls go to Plan B.

“We stopped the thing that we needed to stop, and that was the inside zone play,” Solich said Monday.

“Now they got the outside zone going, but there were some halftime corrections that were made which allowed us to do a better job against the outside zone and shut them down…in terms of the running game.”

Ohio toggled a couple things in playing rotation, but didn’t drastic alter its’ approach. The Bobcats were better in controlling, or accounting for, gaps up front and the tackling was better than the previous two games.

There were some issues. First, the lack of havoc plays was jarring. And while Ohio did force turnover — LB Eric Popp stripped a ball free and SS Javon Hagan recovered — it was just third takeaway of the season.

The Bulls had their most efficient passing game of the season, even if they self-selected to focus on short throws and didn’t expose backup quarterback Kyle Vantrease (16 of 23, 197 yards, 2 TDs) to much of a pass rush or to hold the ball long.

And OU did have a couple glaring misses in tackling. OLB Dylan Conner missed one on a short out route on the third play of the game that led to a 61-yard gain. CB Marlin Brooks whiffed on a slant, and Antonio Nunn turned it into a 34-yard score.

But, by and large, Ohio was better in some areas that it had to improve in right away, and the Bobcats battled throughout.

As an example, it was Conner who made a tough one-on-one stop on third-and-7 late in the game that forced UB to settle for the missed 46-yard field goal. It was the same play UB busted for 61 yards early on.

There was progress, and Ohio continued to be strong on third down and in the red zone. There’s reason for the Bobcats to feel it can right the ship even further on down the line.

“It just kind of changes the tide. We were 1-3, the defense was getting the ball ran on us constantly in the first four weeks,” Popp said.

“We’re kind of starting to get our mojo. We’re going to start and try to build off this and keep going.”

Now for some specific observations:

— S Jarren Hampton had a team-high eight tackles, and seven were of the solo variety. He was more involved in run fits near the line of scrimmage likely graded out as one of OU’s best tacklers of the day. I thought it was his most impactful day of the season.

— S Javon Hagan was right behind with seven tackles and recovered the one forced fumble. I’m still waiting for an impact play in the passing game, but like Hampton he was more involved in run plays closer to the box and safety duo deserves credit for helping plug some of holes against the outside zone.

— OLB Dylan Conner was on the hook for a missed tackle early on, but heated up as the game wore on. He had perhaps the biggest stop of the game in the fourth quarter and finished with seven tackles, six of the solo variety.

— CB Ilyaas Motley made his second straight start, and showed well in my opinion. The Bulls had two catches of note down the field, and Motley — and twin brother Xavior — both tackled well against the short underneath stuff that came their way.

— Ohio had just one quarterback pressure, and that came form DE Will Evans. Hits on the QB — outside of called run plays — were few and far between. Part of that was UB’s offensive line, a bigger part was the quick-throw game plan.

— OU used a different rotation along the defensive line. In general, reps were up for DT Kai Caesar and DE Austin Conrad. Ohio again used 10 players on the defensive line rotation, and one — DT Zach Burks — came on late after some injuries.

— For a second straight game, Ohio didn’t allow a third-down conversion longer than six yards. The overall percentage was a little high (42.9 percent), but the Bulls were just 2 of 7 on third downs of six yards and longer.

Special Teams notes

Solich’s emphasis and belief in special teams was a clear swinging point in this one.

The Bulls changed their kicker three weeks ago, and are using Vantrease — the quarterback — as the punter after a devastating injury a month ago.

Ohio, with fifth-year multiple-year starters Louie Zervos and Michael Farkas, had a big edge in the special team units.

At kicker, the difference was obvious. The Bulls’ Jackson Baltar missed three kicks, none more important than the PAT in overtime. But he was also off on a 24-yard field goal after UB’s first possession, and missed a 46-yarder late in regulation. Both could’ve changed the whole course of the game.

Zervos came up six inches short on a 52-yard FG of his own in the fourth quarter, but the all important PAT in OT. Zervos has converted 86 straight PATs and gives Solich great ease of mind there.

In the punt game, Farkas did the job helping Ohio win the field position battle. He averaged just 39.7 yards per punt, but it was net. UB didn’t have a single return yard of any kind, including on punts, and OU was +4 in net yards per punt. Lastly, each of Farkas’ punts pinned the Bulls; UB started on its own 10, 10 and then 12-yard lines after the three punts.

Ohio had no issues on its own punt return squad with senior D.L Knock handling return duties after an in-game injury to redshirt freshman Jerome Buckner.

Personnel/Injuries

Ohio started the game with two late scratches. Starting CB Jamal Hudson and WR Tyler Tupa were both unavailable on Saturday due to injuries suffered during practice earlier in the week.

Ilyaas Motley started his second straight game at corner in place of Hudson, and Ohio had two other new starters on the defense. DE Austin Conrad was in first ahead of Amos-Ogun Semore, and DT Kai Caesar started in place of Brian Arp inside. Both Ogun-Semore and Arp played throughout however.

Two potential offensive contributors were available but did not play. C Steve Hayes missed his third straight game and Nick Sink started his third straight in his place. RB Julian Ross didn’t play in a fourth straight game, but — like Hayes — was dressed and presumably available.

There were at least two noticeable injuries during the game. Buckner, the starting slot receiver, left the game and did not return after a hard hit that caused his head to hit the turf hard early in the second quarter.

Starting DT Cole Baker left the game early with a lower leg injury, but returned. He left the game in the fourth quarter after apparently aggravating the same injury and was unable to return.

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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