Note: This preview appears in the Friday, Sept. 20 newspaper on Page B1.
The Bobcats, to put it bluntly, were knocked down by the Thundering Herd a week ago.
Now, Ohio (1-2) needs to pick itself back up quickly with another bullying offense invading Peden Stadium this weekend.
Sun Belt Conference division favorite Louisiana (2-1) comes to Athens for a 2 p.m. start on Saturday. The Ragin’ Cajuns will bring one of the most prolific offenses in the nation in tow.
Louisiana is rushing for more than 336 yards per game in 2019, and rank fourth in all of the FBS with 590.3 yards per game. Louisiana also leads the nation with 14 rushing touchdowns and more than 1,000 rushing yards in three games.
The Cajuns’ up-tempo, no-huddle, pistol-based offense looks a lot like the Appalachian State outfit that rushed for more than 300 yards against OU in the 2015 Camellia Bowl.
That was the last time Ohio gave up more than 300 yards rushing in a game prior to Saturday’s loss at Marshall. It’s time for the Bobcats to batten down the hatches and get ready for another war in the trenches.
“You don’t rush for (1,000) yards in three games and you’re looking like Sisters of the Poor,” said Ohio defensive coordinator Ron Collins.
“They’re every bit as good as any team that we’re going to face, or have faced, since I’ve been here.”
After two weeks of solid, dependable defense — even if light on turnover creation or sacks — the Bobcats gave up too many easy plays — and runs — agains the Herd. It’s an aspect that needs to be much tighter on Saturday.
The Cajuns’ three-headed monster at running back, with Trey Ragas (288 yards), Raymond Calais (224) and Elijah Mitchell (178), will keep coming throughout. Add in elusive, slippery junior quarterback Levi Lewis (65.3 percent passing, 627 yards passing, five TDs), and an NFL prospect at wideout — Ja’Marcus Bradley has 15 catches for 255 yards and two scores — and UL is more than capable of making the Bobcats look porous on defense once again.
It will come down to details, said Ohio senior safety Javon Hagan. OU flubbed too many of those against Marshall, and gave up points on every drive of note in the first half as a result.
“We were knocking ourselves upside the head a bit on defense. Careless mistakes,” Hagan said. “Like wrapping up first and foremost. Try to work on communicating more. Some guys were playing different calls at times.
“It’s trusting in each other. Not beating each other up, banging our head on the floor about it. Look at it in a positive way,” he added. “Trust the process and everything will be okay.”
Ohio head coach Frank Solich trusts his team to find a way to break out of a two-game losing skid. The heavy preseason Mid-American Conference favorites are a handful of plays away from being 3-0, but being close doesn’t matter.
The Bobcats need to finish plays — be it a quarterback pressure in the pocket, or a catch for a touchdown. A strong showing at home against another Group of Five conference favorite would go a long way to reinstalling some momentum and confidence for Ohio. MAC play begins for the Bobcats on Oct. 5.
“The spirit of this football team will not be broken, I do know that,” Solich said.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to coach this team. It already has been, but it’ll continue to be, and they’ll give you everything they’ve got.”
Ohio certainly has been having fun at home. The Bobcats have won a program-record 10 straight home games — after the season-opening 41-20 win over Rhode Island — and have picked up wins in 15 of their last 16 home games.
And the supposed weak point for OU early in the season, a reloading offense besieged with more injuries than expected, has performed above expectations. Senior QB Nathan Rourke (62.2 percent, 580 yards, 5 TDs, no INTs) has been good, and has already collected the OU touchdowns record.
The young receiving group has seen sophomore Isiah Cox (9-119), and freshmen Jerome Buckner (8-140) and Shane Hooks (4-61) all turn in flashes of their potential. Junior tight ends Ryan and Adam Luehrman have become vital parts of the offense.
And the run game has been getting by despite injuries to sophomore Julian Ross and freshman O’Shaan Allison. Junior De’Montre Tuggle (7.6 per carry, MAC high four total touchdowns) has been instrumental in helping that group find its footing early on.
“We definitely know where we should be. We’re not excited about where we’re at now,” Tuggle said.
“We’re not in the gutter. We’re not sulking over what happened,” he added. “We’re just trying to get better, improve off our mistakes and win this ballgame.”
But caging the Cajuns will revolve around the defense finding ways to slow down a red-hot offense. It’s a game Ohio needs, and Louisiana will be making its first real road trip of the season.
Many Bobcats believe it’s just a matter of time before more of those defensive plays are made. OU led the nation with 32 takeaways in 2018, but has just one in three games in 2019.
Collins said Ohio needs to be better on technique, better with tackling, and then finish those critical plays that will get the defense off the field.
For Hagan, it’s much simpler.
“As a DB, you got to have a short-term memory. We all need a little bit of that right now,” he explained. “In 2016, we started 1-2 as well. And that was the same year we went to Detroit (as MAC East champions).
“Keep looking forward, never look back. We have a lot of football to go,” Hagan said.
“We’ll be okay, and the (Turnover) Belt will come out soon.”