Finding stops in the run game

Ohio's Javon Hagan (left) and Keye Thompson (right) bottle up WMU's LeVante Bellamy during a 37-34 loss at Peden Stadium on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 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 (4-6, 3-3 MAC) found another way to lose a close game at home. Ohio was slow to get started, couldn’t come up with a key fourth-quarter defensive stop, and then lost in overtime, 37-34, to Western Michigan (7-4, 5-2 MAC).

WMU led 10-0 at the half as Ohio managed just 15 offensive plays in the first half. The Bobcats flipped the script in the second half, and really ramped up the offense but never played with the lead until OT as the Broncos had two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to never fall behind.

Ohio did execute a 38-second touchdown drive, with no time outs, to score the game-tying touchdown with just nine seconds left. It would’ve gone down as an all-time finish for the Bobcats if a win had followed.

Instead, OU kicked the PAT in regulation and then settled for a field goal in overtime after three quick plays. WMU ended it on its third play in OT with a LeVante Bellamy four-yard TD run.

The loss sunk Ohio to 2-4 at home this season; it’s the first time OU has had four home losses since 2003 (pre Solich).

Those home losses feature three straight doozies in conference play. NIU won 39-36 thanks to a walk-off career-long 51-yard field goal on Oct. 12. Miami won the showdown in Peden on Nov. 6 when Sam Sloman tied his career-long with a 53-yard field goal with 3:48 remaining in a 24-21 setback. And now WMU adds another gut-punch to the 2019 slate.

Add in a 33-31 road loss at Marshall, and it’s easy to see how OU’s season could’ve been much different with a handful of plays.

Ohio has two games left (at Bowling Green and at Akron) and needs to win both to reach bowl eligibility. OU was eliminated from the MAC East title race, and Miami clinched a spot in Detroit, on Wednesday when the RedHawks dispatched BG 44-3 in Oxford.

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. Western Michigan graded out:

Success Rate — Ohio 50.0 percent; WMU 43.4 percent

Explosiveness — Ohio 12 chunk plays (18.8 percent); WMU 9 (10.8)

Field Position — Ohio 30, WMU 23

Finishing — Ohio 7 chances/34 points = 4.9 per trip; WMU 6 chances/30 points = 5.0 per trip

Turnovers — Ohio 1, Miami 0

The 5 Factors have been reliably consistent for Ohio this season, in a bad way. The WMU loss was another example of the Bobcats seemingly playing ‘winning’ football across a large swathe of the game — except for turnovers.

2019 will be remembered as the ‘Turnover’ season for Ohio. Here’s the gruesome season data for OU: The Bobcats rank 128th nationally with just six turnovers gained this season, only NC State (5) has fewer. That has been the biggest reason why OU ranks 115th nationally in TO Margin (-8) and a huge reason for each of the six losses on the ledger.

Ohio gave up chunk plays just 10.8 percent of the time against WMU — it’s best rate of the season — and was more efficient (Success Rate) despite a horrendous 26.7 percent rate in the first half.

WMU won the game with it’s passing game. The Broncos were held to 3.2 yards per carry (36.7 success on run plays), but averaged 9.5 yards per passing attempt (season high vs OU’s defense) and hit on six chunk pass plays including explosive plays of 26, 34, 41 and 61 yards in the air.

Offensive notes

Don’t ask me to explain Ohio’s first half. It made no sense, and would seemingly point to the Bobcats on that side of the ball not being ready to play, or still reeling from the Miami loss, or both.

OU had just 15 plays in the first half, and didn’t use a two tight end grouping at all until the second half. The Bobcats finished just 4 of 11 on third down — second worst percentage of the season — which was another surprising factor.

The Bobcats lit it up in the second half, and seemed to remember to try to get the ball down the field. All the vertical shots in the passing game came in the second half, and the run game clicked at a high level. OU averaged 6.2 per carry, and the second-half success rate was an absurdly high 57.1 percent. And when OU went to two TEs it was successful 64.3 percent of the time, but only used that personnel grouping 21.9 percent of the time.

Ohio, down late, saw the play split (called runs to called throws) hit a perfect 50/50. OU spread the ball around — six players had four targets each and all three RBs were used for more than one series — but I don’t know if it helped more than it hurt with some players not getting into a rhythm.

Ohio had 17 throws on first down, on 32 first-down plays, and in general played a great two quarters of offensive football.

But, much like with Miami, Ohio will be kicking itself for basically whiffing on offense in the first half.

Now for some individual player thoughts:

— QB Nathan Rourke was great again on the ground with a game-high 92 yards rushing, four chunk runs and no sacks taken. He threw for 225 and two touchdowns on 29 attempts.

— RB O’Shaan Allison was held to just nine carries and finished with 59 yards. Why so few carries? OU was committed to getting all three backs in the game, had previous few plays in 1H and saw Rourke keep a good number of reads.

— RB De’Montre Tuggle had two more touchdowns on just six carries and has been a great change-up in the backfield. OU had less success with RB Julian Ross (25 yards on seven carries), who continues to look a step more hesitant in the backfield than the other two options.

— WR Tyler Tupa continues to work back into the rotation and had the game-tying TD late. Being on the field in that spot is a great sign for the trust he has earned in the offense.

— Rourke targeted TEs and RBs 13 times, with WRs getting 16 targets. Rourke shied away from some one-on-one chances down the field, but it’s seemed that over the last couple of weeks that the OU passing game has been ‘shrinking.’ Whether its pass protection issues, or getting separation in the secondary, Ohio has been settling for more short throws more often of late.

— WR Shane Hooks looked to be breakout star a month ago, but the redshirt freshman has just three targets (with two games of no targets) in the last three games combined.

— The chunk play counter I’ve been running all season looks like this at the top: Rourke with 33 chunk runs, followed by Allison (10), Tuggle (9) and then Ross (3). In terms of receptions, Isiah Cox leads the way with 15, Hooks still ranks second with 11and TE Ryan Luehrman is third with 9.

Defensive notes

Ohio ended up giving up 37 points but still had its moments — mostly in the first half — defensively.

The Bobcats shut down one of the best running games in the league (3.2 per carry and limited probably MAC Offensive Player of the Year LeVante Bellamy to 72 yards on 28 carries (2.6). OU responded in the red zone twice in the first half to force the Broncos into a pair of short field goal attempts. Ohio stacked up a season-high five 3-and-outs throughout.

But Ohio’s usual defensive issues — lack of pocket pressure and turnovers — loomed big in the second half. WMU QB Jon Wassink hit 23 of 34 passes for 322 yards and three touchdowns and Ohio — perhaps concerned with the run — landed just one real pressure off the edge.

WMU’s two biggest plays of the day came on intermediate crossing routes, and went big after the catch. Ohio had just tied it 17-17, on the first play in the fourth quarter, and on WMU’s next drive the Broncos faced third-and-6 from their own 39. Wassink hit Skyy Moore on a 10-yard in and OU corner Ilyaas Motley fell off trying to make the play. Moore breezed 61-yards for the TD.

With the game tied 24-24, WMU faced third-and-7 from the OU 45. Again Wassink hit Moore on a short crosser. MLB Jared Dorsa was screened off by the middle official, and Moore took the easy catch for 42 yards. Moore scored three plays later for a 31-24 lead.

The two plays underscored Ohio’s problems this season with winning the majority of downs, but giving up big plays in crucial situations. With no turnovers being forced, those plays stand out even more.

Now for some specific observations:

— It was a huge tackle night for several Ohio starters. MLB Jared Dorsa had a career-high 16 stops and 2.0 TFL. Safety Javon Hagan had a career-high 16 tackles. WLB Keye Thompson had a career-high 13 tackles. WMU ran 83 plays and converted 11 of 19 third downs; the Broncos had a lot of chances and OU defenders had to make a lot of stops.

— Ohio had no sacks and just four quarterback hurries. DE Will Evans had one TFL and a pressure, but the other top ends Austin Conrad and Amos Ogun-Semore combined for just five assisted tackles and no impact plays.

— Safety Jarren Hampton finished with just one tackle as he left the game in the first half, and did not return, with an injury.

— As stated earlier, the Bobcats did a good job in the run game. A big part of keeping that under control was the play of top DTs Cole Baker (six tackles), Kai Caesar (five tackles, two hurries) and Brian Arp (1 tackle, 1 hurry).

Special Teams notes

Michael Farkas was effective in helping Ohio win the field position battle with two of his four punts downed inside the WMU 10-yard line.

Louie Zervos hit both of his field goal attempts, of 33 and 37 yards, and WMU switched kickers in mid-game after an early miss from 22 yards.

But it was OU’s one big mistake (story of the season there) that stood out. With Ohio forcing a three-and-out, punt return D.L. Knock was set to get the return started on the good side of the 50-yard line. But, he muffed the catch and it resulted in a turnover. The Broncos cashed it in for a touchdown, and a 10-0 lead, with just eight seconds left in the half.

For the season, Ohio has 14 turnovers — four have been on lost fumbles on the punt return team.

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