Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, Sept. 10 newspaper on Page A6.
For the first time in his collegiate career, Nathan Rourke started a game — and finished it — but didn’t account for a single touchdown.
That was the disappointing exclamation point from Ohio’s 20-10 loss at Pitt on Saturday, and something the Bobcats (1-1) haven’t seen in three years.
“It’s a game to learn from,” said Ohio head coach Frank Solich on Monday, during his week press conference at Peden Stadium.
“When you have a loss, you have to react to it, and learn from it.”
OU is well advised to learn quickly. The Bobcats will be at Marshall (1-1) in a 6:30 p.m. start on Saturday inside a hostile Joan C. Edwards Stadium, and would like to make sure their offensive mojo makes the trip with them.
Pitt stuffed Ohio’s plans on Saturday with a blitz-heavy scheme. Coupled with aggressive press coverage on the outside, the Panthers beat the Bobcats to the punch on the line of scrimmage.
Ohio gave up six sacks, and suffered through 10 tackles for loss. The Bobcats didn’t have a single running play that gained more than eight yards.
OU’s 10 points were the lowest since Rourke — the senior quarterback — came to the program prior to the 2017 season. Rourke knows what Pitt did on Saturday, and expects to see more of it until the Bobcats learn to punish the blitz-heavy strategy.
“The things Pitt did, I’m sure teams in the MAC — and teams in the next couple of weeks — are going to try to replicate it. We’re going to have to learn from it, and that’s all levels, players and coaches,” Rourke said.
“We’re going to have to figure something out because I guarantee this isn’t the last time we’re going to see it.”
Few defenses have been able to slow down Ohio over the past three seasons. Rourke, for example, is fifth among all FBS quarterbacks with at least 15 career starts in that his team’s average 38.5 points per game.
At Pitt, Rourke didn’t account for a single rushing, passing or receiving touchdown. The only other game — in 28 career appearances — where Rourke failed to account for a TD was in the 2018 season opener against Howard. And in that instance, Rourke played less than a half.
Rourke was tagged with a negative-43 yard rushing day against the Panthers. It was his worst rushing day on record, and his first negative-yardage day on the ground since an overtime win at Eastern Michigan (-9) in 2017.
The Bobcats have work to do offensively, obviously. But Solich said Rourke is the least of his concerns. The quarterback, who played sick on Saturday, is due for a bounce back, the coach said.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Nathan. He’s a great competitor. He was doing all he could,” Solich said. “He’s the kind of guy that learns from all those experiences.”
But Solich agreed with his quarterback. Ohio will see more blitzes until it starts to make opposing defenses pay for it.
“You got to prove you can defeat something. Until you do, you’re going to see more and more of it,” he said.
Fewer options at RB
Both the Bobcats and the Thundering Herd will have different depth chart options at running back this week.
Solich said Monday that Ohio RB Julian Ross, a third-year sophomore, will not be available against Marshall. Ross sustained a shoulder injury during Saturday’s loss at Pitt.
Ross was part of a three-way competition at RB for Ohio, and had accounted for 16 carries and 79 yards through two games. Ross was injured as part of the punt coverage team against Pitt.
Redshirt freshman O’Shaan Allison has been the starter at RB in each of the first two games for Ohio. He leads the Bobcats with 20 carries and is tied for the team lead with 85 net yards rushing. Allison pick averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
Junior De’Montre Tuggle will be expected to pick up some of the immediate slack, and deserves more carries anyway. Tuggle has 85 yards rushing on just seven carries this season (12.1 average) and leads Ohio with three rushing touchdowns. Junior walk-on Ja’Vahri Portis is likely the next back up if OU wants to continue to use three different back in a rotation.
Meanwhile, Marshall made news on Monday by dismissing its 2018 leading rusher off the team.
On Monday afternoon, Marshall athletics released a statement, saying RB Tyler King was no longer part of the program.
“Marshall running back Tyler King has been dismissed due to a violation of team rules and policies,” the statement read. “The department will have no further comment regarding this matter.”
King’s dismissal comes after the Herd’s 14-7 loss at No. 24 Boise State on Friday. King did not have a carry in the game’s second half, and fumbled in the first quarter for a turnover.
King was supposed to pair with Brenden Knox in the backfield for the Herd this season. King began the season with more than 1,500 career rushing yards, and had 91 on 15 carries in two games. But Knox (20-114 yards) has taken the lead early in the season.
Marshall does have a list of replacements in the pipeline.
Sheldon Evans (7-56 yards), redshirt freshmen Lawrence Papillon and Jalynn Sykes, and true freshman Knowledge McDaniel are possible fill-ins for the Herd at RB.
Start time set for Ragin’ Cajuns
Ohio’s final non-conference game of 2019 will take place on Saturday, Sept. 21 when Louisiana visits Peden Stadium.
Kickoff time for the game has been set for 2 p.m., and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN+, Ohio announced on Monday.
The Cajuns, out of the Sun Belt Conference, are 1-1 with a 38-28 loss at Mississippi State and a 35-14 home win over Liberty. Louisiana will host Texas Southern on Saturday night.