Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, Sept. 17 newspaper on Page A6.
Don’t be surprised if you see the big padded mats, and the O-ring tackling aids, dotting the fields at Peden Stadium and inside Walter Fieldhouse this week.
It might be time for the Bobcats to dial in, even more extensively than before, on tackling fundamentals.
That was one of the big takeaways for Ohio head coach Frank Solich following the Bobcats’ 33-31 loss at Marshall on Saturday night in the 60th edition of the ‘Battle for the Bell.’ The Herd piled up 305 rushing yards, on 6.6 yards per carry, and for the first time this season the OU defense looked porous.
Solich, speaking in his weekly press conference on Monday at Peden Stadium, said Marshall deserves some credit for that. But it was the tackling issues that aggravated Ohio’s 15th-year head coach.
“That’s two games in a row where we haven’t tackled particularly well,” Solich said.
It’s a technique Ohio (1-2) better sharpen up on quickly. The Bobcats host Louisiana (2-1) in a 2 p.m. start on Saturday at Peden in the 2019 non-conference finale.
And the Ragin’ Cajuns are one of the best rushing teams in the country in this still-young season.
Louisiana is rotating in three different running backs, has a potential big-play provider in dual-threat QB Levi Lewis, and a strong offensive line with a beefy, experienced right side.
“They try to wear you down a bit. We understand all that,” Solich said.
And the Cajuns have been doing plenty of pounding so far. Louisiana is averaging a whopping 336.7 rushing yards per game with a gaudy 8.0 per carry average.
The potent ground-and-pound has produced 46.7 points per game in the first three weeks. Louisiana is converting 50 percent of their third downs, has 14 rushing touchdowns, and has broken the 400-yards rushing plateau in each of the last two games.
“If we can’t stop the run, that’ll be a tough deal for us,” Solich said.
Until the trip to Huntington, the Ohio defense had held up well. But the front caved in during the first half against the Herd.
After rounding into form in the third quarter, the defense again couldn’t find stops in the fourth. Marshall sealed the game with a final drive that took off the final 5:42 and covered more than 50 yards on the ground — all on a basic zone-read look.
It was disheartening as it was unexpected. Saturday was the first 300-yard rushing game allowed by the Bobcats since Appalachian State had 303 against OU in the Camellia Bowl on Dec. 19, 2015.
The last time Ohio allowed more than 305 rushing yards was the epic Oct. 17, 2015 meltdown when visiting Western Michigan posted 430 rushing yards inside Peden.
With the Cajuns’ style, and productivity on the ground, clearly established, it seems clear what Ohio will be focusing in on this week. The missed tackles were a major issue in the first half at Marshall, including one 36-yard gain when Brenden Knox split three Bobcat defenders at the of scrimmage.
Preventing cutbacks, being more sure-handed, not over running plays and avoiding knocking teammates off the ball carrier — that happened three times at Marshall — are all ways Ohio can sure up things against the run.
A schematic fix isn’t needed, Solich said. The needed effort, hustle and intensity is there, the head coach believes.
But when it comes to technique, there’s a lot of work left to do, Solich said.
“We will work on drills to address all that stuff,” he said. “We do work on those kinds of things constantly.
“We’ll continue to work on them.”
He’s not telling
Ohio begins week four with at least four offensive starters on the questionable list.
Wide receiver Tyler Tupa (shoulder) has missed two straight games since leading OU in receiving in the season opener against Howard. Wide receiver Cameron Odom did not dress for the game at Marshall after an ‘upper body’ injury at Pitt in week two.
On the offensive line, starting center Steve Hayes did not travel to Huntington on Saturday. He started in the first two games, but got a procedure done on an ankle injury in the middle of last week.
Lastly, running backs Julian Ross and O’Shaan Allison — the top two options — are both on the shelf as well. Ross (shoulder) was injured on a punt coverage play at Pitt, and did not dress for Marshall. Allison has started each of the first three games, but left and did not return after a hard hit in the fourth quarter at Marshall.
It’s a lot of offensive firepower on the sidelines, but Solich believes there is a chance some of those injured could return on Saturday.
Asked specifically about Tupa, Odom, Hayes and Allison, Solich said: “Two of those four are out. Two of those four have a chance.”
Asked to clarify who had a chance and who was out, Solich declined to offer specifics.
Ross, on the other hand, was declared out early last week. His absence is expected to be several weeks, at a minimum.
Rourke lands MAC honor
Senior quarterback Nathan Rourke was named the MAC East Division Offensive Player of the Week by the conference office on Monday.
It was Rourke’s first such honor of the season, and the seventh in his three-year career at OU.
Rourke threw for 215 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 118 yards and another score in the Bobcats’ 33-31 loss at Marshall on Saturday night.
With the four touchdowns, Rourke became the Ohio career leader in touchdowns accounted for with 84 in 29 career games. He broke the record set by former OU, and Solich, quarterback Tyler Tettleton (82, 2009-13).
Rourke’s 5,217 career passing yards ranks second in Ohio history, his 45 touchdown passes also rank second, and his 38 career rushing touchdowns rank third in program history.
Solich was asked about the Tettleton and Rourke comparison on Monday.
“They’re NOT polar opposites,” Solich said. “They think alike, and play alike.
“They’re great under pressure, they finish plays out,” Solich added, while running down a long list of positive attributes for both. “They’ve set an example. We hope to find more players that will be able to follow what they’ve done.”
Tettleton helped Ohio amass a 26-14 record as the starter during his run from 2011 through 2013. Rourke, three games into his senior season, has helped Ohio to a combined 19-10 record over the past two-plus years.