In a season, a year really, when nothing has played out according to plan, the Bobcats finally enjoyed more than three hours of blissful football nirvana without a care or hassle in the world.
Well, almost anyway.
The Bobcats, back after an 18-day layoff forced in part due to COVID-19 issues, outclassed visiting Bowling Green 52-10 at Peden Stadium on a gorgeous late autumn afternoon – complete with a cloudless blue sky – Saturday in Athens.
Ohio (2-1) never trailed, and blew out the Falcons (0-4) for a fifth straight time. OU is plus-143 in point differential in the last five meetings against their MAC East rival.
The Bobcats scored touchdowns on six of their first eight possessions, rushed for 355 yards, came away with three interceptions and had nearly flawless special teams play. If Frank Solich could bottle Saturday, he’d package it up and give it to every recruit who stepped foot on campus.
“What you saw is more what we’re about,” said Solich, who pulled off the gas with liberal substitutions and a dull-edged offensive game plan in the second half. “Guys have been growing into their positions and they do that game-by-game. The only problem is we haven’t had many games.
“They took a big step today.”
The Bobcats had a legion of positives to draw from afterward, but one very noticeable negative. Redshirt freshman quarterback Kurtis Rourke left the game with just over two minutes left in the first half and did not return.
Rourke hung in the pocket to deliver a first-down throw, but was hit hard underneath his right shoulder and driven into the turf on his left shoulder. Rourke was helped off the field with a limp left (non-throwing) arm, and Solich said his return in the near future is doubtful.
Rourke finished with a sharp 10-of-11 passing day for 63 yards and a touchdown. He also posted a career-best rushing afternoon with 43 yards on three carries.
“It’s an injury that’s probably going to take some time to recover,” Solich said. “We’ll get more information from the doctors, but yeah, it’s something that will probably take a little bit of time.”
Rourke has split time at QB with grad transfer Armani Rogers this season, but has been the starter in all three games. Rogers played the next quarter and a half before giving way to freshman C.J. Harris in the fourth. Rogers threw for 14 yards and a touchdown after hitting 2-of-3 throws, and rushed for 65 yards and a score.
Running back De’Montre Tuggle piled up a career-high 186 yards and three touchdowns on just 15 carries. He capped Ohio’s first possession with an 8-yard TD run up the middle, then gave OU a one-play TD on the next series with a 70-yard, untouched, burst that put the Bobcats up 14-0 with 9:28 left in the opening frame.
It was Tuggle’s sixth game with at least two touchdowns, and his three scores were a career-high.
“It was nice to show the explosiveness that we’ve been talking about for the longest…it was good to put that on display,” Tuggle said.
After BG pulled to within 10-3, junior RB Julian Ross – in his first appearance this season – took the ensuing kickoff back 96-yards for a touchdown and a 21-3 lead with 30 seconds left in the first quarter. It was the first kick-off return touchdown of Ross’ career, one that has been hampered by multiple injuries.
The Falcons threatened just once to make a game of it, after QB Matt McDonald found Javonte Kinsey for a 26-yard touchdown to make it 21-10 early in the second. Ohio responded with a 75-yard drive that took 8:53 off the clock, and finished with Rourke flipping a 5-yard touchdown to tight end Ryan Luehrman.
Up 28-10, Ohio closed the half with 17 points in the final 1:54. First Rogers, subbing in for the injured Rourke, broke loose on an option keeper for a 29-yard touchdown run.
On BG’s next offensive play, Alvin Floyd picked off McDonald at midfield. Three plays later, Rogers hit Luehrman with a 2-yard touchdown pop pass and a 42-10 lead with 42 seconds left.
The Falcons tried to get late points, but McDonald was picked off again—this time by Tariq Drake – and the INT return set up Ohio at the BG 13 with two seconds left. Tristian Vanderberg hit the 30-yard field goal on the last play of the half and OU led 45-10.
The 45 points tied the most scored in a half for the Bobcats under Solich.
“We’re still banged up right now. But a few pieces of the puzzle kind of came together for this game and I think it showed really well out there,” Solich said.
Ohio finished the scoring when Tuggle busted off a 43-yard on its first possession of the second half. After that, the benches emptied and the play-calling became rudimentary.
Bowling Green ran for 181 yards on 32 carries (5.7 average), and Andrew Clair netted 118 yards on 15 carries. But McDonald was just 9 of 20 for 125 yards with a touchdown, and doubled his season interception total with three picks.
Redshirt freshman safety Jett Elad joined Floyd and Drake – also safeties – with interceptions. It was Elad’s second of the season.
“What can I say? I’m just blessed. Our defense is doing good and I couldn’t be happier,” Elad said.
Other positives to note for Ohio included:
- Vanderberg made all but one kick, he missed a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, after struggling the first two games.
- DT Kai Caesar, Floyd and Ross all returned to the field after missing the first two games with COVID-related issues.
- The offense had something approaching a typical day with 436 total yards, 63 plays and a 14-minute edge in time of possession.
- The program honored the national title winning team of 1960 (College Division) with a pregame video and retro first-time uniforms.
Ohio has two scheduled games left, and two weeks to play them. Buffalo (4-0) visits Peden next Saturday in a game that will likely decide the East Division. The Bobcats have personnel questions aplenty; Besides Rourke, regular defensive starters in DE Will Evans, DT Zach Burks and LBs Jeremiah Wood and Keye Thompson were all absent on Saturday.
But the Bobcats got back on the field, and got to have one day that felt nearly complete and whole.
“Seemed like it was a long time coming,” Solich said.