In a game chock-full of symbolic similarities to the year in general, the Ohio Bobcats opened their delayed 2020 season with a 30-27 loss at Central Michigan on Wednesday night at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant, Mich.
There were starts and stops as Ohio shuffled between quarterbacks Kurtis Rourke and Armani Rogers. There was the completely unexpected as the teams headed to halftime nearly 90 seconds earlier than planned thanks to a power outage at the stadium.
But mostly the Bobcats (0-1) were left feeling empty and unfulfilled after a second half that included two turnovers, a missed field goal and a lot of frustrating self-harm in the form of penalties and sacks.
“You can’t play the kind of game we played and expect to win,” said Ohio coach Frank Solich, still wearing a facial covering in the postgame conference video call.
“A lot of things popped up. We need to take a look at a lot of those things,” he continued. “But all those things are correctable.”
Central Michigan (1-0) didn’t beat itself and simply wore the Bobcats down. The Chips finished plus-two in turnover ratio, controlled the line of scrimmage and broke a 27-27 tie with 9:05 left on Marshall Meeder’s 22-yard field goal.
OU got the ball three more times but failed to find the equalizer. After two straight 3-and-outs, the Bobcats’ last series – set up by Jarren Hampton’s brilliant tackle on CMU’s fourth-and-short try at the OU 33 with 2:10 left – managed to get inside the Chips’ 30-yard line.
But Rourke’s apparent first-down scramble was wiped out by a holding call, one of 11 penalties on the night against Ohio, and two downs later Rourke’s fourth-down pass to tight end Ryan Luehrman was broken up by Troy Brown.
“We were just facing long-yardage situations all night long,” Solich said, referencing the assortment of flags and sacks (5) that handcuffed the ‘Cats throughout a sluggish second half.
“We’re a smart football team. We’re going to have to prove that in the games coming up.”
Daniel Richardson, a redshirt freshman making his first start, threw for 243 yards on 23-of-41 with a touchdown and added touchdown sneak in the first half for CMU. Kobe Lewis scored twice on the ground for the Chips, and piled up 112 rushing yards on 28 carries. Kalil Pimpleton had five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown, and tormented OU with several chains-moving receptions on short catches in the flat.
The Chips ran 88 plays to Ohio’s 58, a difference that became apparent in the second half. The Bobcats were just 1-of-7 on third downs in the second half, and got another conversion thanks to a pass interference call.
The ‘Cats second half was a laundry list of missed opportunities. De’Montre Tuggle lost a fumble on the first play of a possession when Ohio led 27-20, and CMU tied it on Lewis’ 8-yard run two plays later.
Rourke lost another fumble on a bad mesh with running back O’Shaan Allison.
Freshman kicker Tristian Vandenberg, who missed a PAT in the first half, badly shanked a 45-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. Freshman punter Jack Wilson had punts of 25 yards (first half) and 23 yards (second) that both led to CMU scores.
“They’ve showed in practice they can perform better than they did tonight,” Solich said of the freshmen P/K duo. “It’s one game. They’ll get better.
“But they can’t take too much longer either.”
Ohio also didn’t quite settle its quarterback competition. Rourke had the better passing night, and was good in that regard after hitting 12-of-19 for 231 yards and two touchdowns. But he was also sacked four times, the ground game was stagnant when he was in the game, and he had a turnover on the fumble.
Rogers, however, looked out of sorts doing anything other than running zone read options. He was 1 of 3 passing for 4 yards, took one sack and finished with 37 rushing yards on seven attempts.
“I don’t know if I’m happy with anything right now,” Solich said when asked if he was satisfied with his team’s approach in shuttling in both quarterbacks.
“There is a time and place for both those guys. We’ve got to work at trying to make that work.”
Tuggle had a team-high 79 rushing yards, and scored twice. His 94-yard kick-off return touchdown to open the second half gave Ohio its only lead at 27-20 and was a thing of beauty. Weaving in and out traffic, he found open space at midfield and took it the distance.
“He’s a special talent,” Solich said. “I marveled at that.”
CMU opened the game with a 16-play drive that took 7:58 off the clock and led 7-0 after Richardson’s 1-yard sneak.
Ohio answered quickly when Rourke fired a 21-yard touchdown to Shane Hooks down the left sideline.
The Chips stormed back with 50-yard bomb from Richardson to Pimpleton over the top and a 14-7 lead with 3:32 left in the first quarter.
Rourke dropped in his own long-range shot, a 58-yard touchdown to Isiah Cox (who finished with 104 yards and four catches), early in the second quarter. Vanderberg missed the PAT and OU trailed 14-13.
Lewis plowed in from the 2-yard line with 5:05 left in the half to make it 20-13 after Meeder missed his own PAT.
Rogers then came in for the first time. He engineered an eight-play drive that had OU at the 10 with 1:17 left in the half.
Then the power went out, literally. Officials made the decision to have the teams hit halftime early, then resumed play roughly 25 minutes later.
After the restart, Rogers converted a third-and-6 with an eight-yard keeper, and Tuggle tied it 20-20 on the next snap with a two-yard touchdown.
The second half began immediately, and Tuggle gave OU the lead with his kick-off return. It proved to be the Bobcats’ high-water mark.
Ohio played without several projected regulars. Junior walk-on Brody Rodgers notched his first start at left guard in place of an injured Kurt Danneker. In addition, projected starters/contributors in DT Kai Caesar, S Alvin Floyd and WRs Tyler Walton and Jerome Buckner were all left in Athens, Solich confirmed.
The coach did not offer an explanation why those players were not on the trip.
“A lot of guys were not here tonight,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”