Stepping forward

Ohio’s group of starting linebackers — Dylan Conner (35), Eric Popp (34) and Jared Dorsa (49) — combined for 17 tackles in the Bobcats’ 21-20 win at Buffalo on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, Oct. 8 newspaper on Page A6.

On paper, Ohio’s defensive effort at Buffalo on Saturday looked okay — perhaps even mediocre.

The Bobcats didn’t have a single sack, didn’t get credit for a single tackle for loss, weren’t awarded a single pass break-up, and had just one quarterback hurry.

But Ohio head coach Frank Solich liked what he saw anyway.

“I saw a great deal of improvement in this ballgame (defensively), and they had to,” Solich said during his weekly press conference session at Peden Stadium on Monday.

Solich was well aware of the stat sheet. What wasn’t outlined there in neat rows was the improvement the Bobcats showed in allowing yards after contact, explosive runs allowed, or the fact that for the first time this season OU was able to take away a staple play from the opposition.

“We stopped the thing we needed to stop,” Solich said, referring to the inside zone running plays which has been a huge point of contention for the Bobcats during a three-game losing skid.

Buffalo entered Saturday’s game averaging north of 240 yards rushing per game and 5.7 yards per carry. The Bulls finished with 181 yards rushing on 43 attempts (4.2 per carry).

UB RB Kevin marks had 112 yards on 22 carries to lead the Bulls, but leading rusher Jaret Patterson was held to 52 yards on 13 carries. Buffalo had just four runs (of 43) that were longer than nine yards.

Ohio forced ‘stops’ on six of 11 Buffalo possessions. The Bulls managed just 20 points on six scoring chances inside the OU 40-yard line. And with the game on the line, the Bobcats managed to hold well enough to force the Bulls to try a 46-yard field goal late in regulation.

And Ohio forced a turnover when LB Eric Popp came up with his first forced fumble in the third quarter after UB had driven inside the OU 30-yard line.

“We knew what they were going to do, we knew they were going to try to pound it on us. That’s what any team would do seeing the last four weeks,” Popp said.

“We felt like we had the ability to stop it. We knew we had the ability to stop it,” he added. “We just had to go out there and prove it.”

It wasn’t a shutout, and it wasn’t a suffocating performance. But it was a definitive step in the right direction for Ohio. Despite some issues against the running game, OU ranks second in the MAC in scoring defense (27.6 ppg allowed).

“We’re getting better and better,” Solich said on Saturday.

“I thought we took a good step today.”

Allison lands MAC honor

Redshirt freshman running back O’Shaan Allison was named the MAC East Offensive Player of the Week on Monday by the conference office.

It was the first such award of Allison’s career with Ohio. It came after he logged career highs of 27 carries, 96 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in the Bobcats’ 21-20 win at Buffalo on Saturday.

Allison carried the ball on each of Ohio’s five plays in overtime, and his five-yard touchdown run in OT tied the game and set up Louie Zervos’ game-winning PAT kick.

Ohio has had four MAC East Players of the Week in the 2019 season. Zervos was named the Special Teams Player of the Week in week 4, QB Nathan Rourke was named the Offensive Player of the Week after week 3, and linebacker Jared Dorsa was named the Defensive Player of the Week after week one.

Allison, who missed Ohio’s home loss to Louisiana, was the driving force behind OU’s 186 rushing yards against UB’s then-MAC leading rush defense.

Solich said the plan remains the same with the running back position, as he expects more than one back to get work on a week-to-week basis. But Allison gave the Bobcats just what they needed at UB.

“You could see it,” Solich said. “He’s a physical guy, and he will really go into contact.

“We were able to get enough yardage on runs to where we could be a multiple offense.”

Times set for Kent State, Miami

Ohio’s MAC East showdown against Kent State, on Saturday, Oct. 19, will kick off at noon (12 p.m.) the school announced on Monday.

The game will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network.

Last week, Ohio’s Nov. 6 home game against Miami was locked in to an 8 p.m. start time.

With Monday’s announcement, the Bobcats have two remaining start times that have yet to be determined. Ohio will play at Ball State on Saturday, Oct. 26, and OU will host Western Michigan on Tuesday, Nov. 12. The WMU bout will have an evening kickoff and will be carried on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.

The rest of Ohio’s 2019 schedule looks like this:

— Saturday, Oct. 12 vs NIU, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN+)

— Saturday, Oct. 19 vs. Kent State, 12 p.m. (CBS SN)

— Saturday, Oct. 26 at Ball State, TBA

— Wednesday, Nov. 6 vs. Miami, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)

— Tuesday, Nov. 12 vs. Western Michigan, TBA (ESPN2 or U)

— Tuesday, Nov. 19 at Bowling Green, 7:30 p.m. (TBA)

— Tuesday, Nov. 26 at Akron, 7 p.m. (TBA)

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

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