All the trappings of the first scrimmage of fall camp were in place for the Bobcats.
Well, all except one thing.
There was the usual plethora of verbal darts back and forth between offense and defense. The traditional watermelon was set up for a quick snack for all involved afterward. And as usual, it was the younger core of the roster who played the most.
What was missing from the Bobcats’ 75-play scrimmage inside Peden Stadium was the customary scowl from head coach Frank Solich. The offense scored three touchdowns, and the defense claimed three interceptions, and no one appeared to be injured.
All of that added up to a happier-than-usual head coach afterward.
“I’m not usually jumping up and down after the first scrimmage (of fall), and in fact usually you’re wondering how is it ever going to work,” Solich said.
“But I’m encouraged with it.”
Senior quarterback Nathan Rourke, as usual, gave Solich plenty to feel positive about. In about 20 snaps, Rourke completed 9 of 10 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown. He had a 37-yard completion to D.L. Knock wiped out by a penalty, and the one incompletion was a drop from Ty Walton on a slant.
Rourke had the biggest play of the day when he found WR Cam Odom wide open down the right side for a 59-yard touchdown.
Redshirt freshman RB O’Shaan Allison scored on a 10-yard run on his second carry, and freshman tight end Casey Clanton scored on a three-yard touchdown catch after bowling through three defenders at the goal line.
When Ohio had its first team offense on the field, the Bobcats moved it pretty well.
“We were flying around. There were a few mistakes but we bounced back and did everything 100 percent today,” Allison said.
“I saw the d-line slanted to the right. The linebackers all overloaded to the right too, so I knew immediately the backside was going to be open,” Allison said of the TD run.
“I had to press my landmark first…then cut back. It was wide open.”
The defense landed its own punches, too. Most often it came against the second or third team offense.
Redshirt freshman safety Jamison Collier jumped on a slant pass from QB Joe Mischler and returned it 35 yards for a defensive score. Freshman safety Jett Elad picked off Mischler later when he gobbled up a tipped pass over the middle. Redshirt freshman cornerback John Gregory walled off Clanton on a goal line fine and notched an interception off QB Kurtis Rourke.
The defense added five tackles for loss and three sacks as well. Backup weak side linebacker T.J. Robinson, strong-side LB Dylan Conner, and redshirt freshman safety Isaac Gill all had four tackles, while Collier, MLB Bryce Houston and freshman OLB Ben Johnson had three apiece.
The young depth, defensively, created impact plays.
“The tackling was pretty good for first time live with anything,” Solich said. “Creating some turnovers is always good. Hopefully we’re picking up where we left off last year on that end of it.
“We’ve got to execute, we’ve got to have some young guys come along at certain spots. If that happens we can have us a good defensive football team.”
In Ohio’s on-going competition at running back, junior college transfer De’Montre Tuggle had the best numbers on Saturday as he rushed for team-high 64 yards on 12 carries. Allison was held to 29 yards on nine carries, but found the end zone. Junior walk-on Ja’Vahri Portis had 33 yards on 10 carries, but added three receptions for 19 yards.
Sophomore RB Julian Ross was one of more than a half-dozen expected offensive contributors who were held out of the scrimmage. Also out were flankers Shane Hooks, Jerome Buckner and Tyler Tupa, and RBs Jake Neatherton and Jonathan Barna.
The defense had similar limitations. Three members of the projected starting secondary — safeties Javon Hagan and Jarren Hampton, and CB Jamal Hudson — did not participate. CB Marlin Brooks have limited reps, and backup CB Ilyaas Motley was out with an injury.
In addition, Brian Arp and Amir Miller were out on the defensive line and key starters/members in the front seven — like LBs Jared Dorsa and Eric Popp, and defensive linemen Will Evans and Cole Baker — played sparingly.
Adding to Solich’s good mood was the fact there appeared to be no injuries during the scrimmage.
“I didn’t see anybody get banged up,” Solich said.
The three interceptions weren’t too concerning, the coach added. The offense, despite the loss of a wealth of talent to graduation, managed to come up with 469 yards on 72 official snaps. Ohio ran for 162 yards and threw for 307.
“I think we’re ahead of where we normally are at this time, especially with the guys who have been around for a little bit,” Solich said. “The execution level was pretty good. We have some explosive guys.”
The scrimmage marked the end of the first full week of fall camp. Players will enjoy their first full off day on Sunday, then resume practice on Monday. Ohio is scheduled for another scrimmage near the end of next week.
All of it has Solich in a good mood. He didn’t even try to tamp down the plentiful trash talking going on. There were no full-fledged scraps or donnybrooks, and the coach felt the verbal sparring didn’t cross any lines.
As long as it doesn’t turn too negative, or too disruptive, he likes the life that such banter brings to the proceedings.
“They should have fun. I’ve grown up most of my life without having fun, so I don’t want to keep them from having fun,” Solich said.
“It’s an emotional game. If you take that away from them, you’re not helping your cause,” he added. “I don’t want it to be negative toward our teammates though…that’s not part of what we’re about.
“But having fun? I’m all for it right now.”