On the one hand, Ohio head coach Frank Solich said the Bobcats made it through the season opener – a 30-27 loss at Central Michigan – without the roster suffering the impact of any “major” injuries.
On the other hand, that roster won’t be receiving any returning players before the next contest. Ohio (0-1) has a short turnaround for Week 2 in this hurried season, and will host Akron (0-1) on Tuesday night at Peden Stadium in Athens.
Solich, speaking Saturday afternoon during his weekly video press conference, indicated that OU will have who it had in the opener – with no surprise additions.
“Our roster really remains the same as it was,” Solich said.
It was the coach’s way of saying that six starter-type players, who all missed the opener, won’t be suiting up against the Zips either. That list includes RB Julian Ross, OG Kurt Danneker, WRs Jerome Buckner and Tyler Walton, DT Kai Caesar and S Alvin Floyd.
Danneker has an injury, in the traditional sense, Solich confirmed Wednesday. Walkon junior Brody Rodgers made his first career start in his place.
As for the other five, given the murkiness of comments from the coach about the group, it can be assumed it has to do with COVID-19. A university spokesman confirmed Saturday that player discipline was not the reason for their absence.
Neither Ohio, nor Solich, has indicated they would be willing to discuss individual testing results this season. And it’s not accurate, or fair, to assume any of the missing five have tested positive. It’s entirely possible each have been sequestered away from the team as a result of contact tracing. If any player has been in contact with someone else with the virus, the program’s protocols would also force them into a quarantine period regardless or not if there was a positive test.
At this point, it’s all speculation about why the players were held out. But the player absences did affect OU at Central Michigan. Without Walton and Buckner – the ‘Cats best slot WR options — Ohio stayed in two tight-end formations for a vast majority of snaps on Wednesday. Ohio played more snaps with two tight ends than in any game in 2019, for example.
The impact on the defense was greater. Floyd was the projected starter at one of the safety positions, and Caesar was to man one of the interior defensive tackle positions. Instead, sophomore Jamison Collier made his first career start at safety and OU relied on redshirt freshman Jeremiah Burton and sophomore Kylen McCracken – also first-time starters – for the majority of reps on the interior.
It also left Ohio’s substitution rotation perilously thin. Senior safety Jarren Hampton said the team missed Caesar in particular. The junior DT from Oklahoma had developed into a team leader during his fourth season.
“That’s big hit for us. That’s a lot of communication up front and another guy in the rotation on the d-line,” Hampton said. “They’re older guys. We can communicate in a certain way, we know how to talk to each other. We know what we’re going to do on the field. “
The good new for Ohio is that after a porous first quarter-and-a-half, the defense did manage to stack up stops in the second half. CMU’s final two scores came on short fields, set up by a lost fumble and short punt.
“We adjusted, we settled in,” Hampton said. “We got better.”
Like the state of the roster, Solich said there will be no major changes to the plan at quarterback. Both redshirt freshman Kurtis Rourke and grad transfer Armani Rogers will play against Akron.
Rourke was sharp in the air (12 of 19, 231 yards, 2 TDs) and Rogers was better on the ground (32 rushing yards to Rourke’s negative-19). Rogers was just 1 of 3 passing for four yards; Rourke took four sacks and Rogers was sacked once. Solich didn’t believe either QB got to show their full potential.
“Ideally, we’d like to get both quarterbacks more reps,” he said. “I don’t either got the chance to show their true ability.”
Splitting reps is something unfamiliar for Rourke. But he’s on board with the plan.
“It’s something I’ve never done before but Armani is a great player, a talented guy,” Rourke said Friday. “I’m just trying to do whatever and help the team win the game.
“If I’m on the sidelines, then I’m cheering my team on and I’ll do that too,” he added. “I just want to win.”
Solich has played multiple quarterbacks more seasons than not during his 16-year run with Ohio. He understands what’s lost in terms of rhythm and consistency when quarterbacks are shuttling in and out. He also understands the potential benefits with having more than one quarterback with playing experience.
For now, he’s committed to having both Rogers and Rourke continue to split the reps.
“We have got to continue to work on that,” Solich said. “But you can see the potential of this football team.”