At this point, Adam Luehrman knows the Bobcats are in the middle of a football season – or what can be passed off as one in 2020.
But it sure hasn’t felt like it yet.
Ohio (1-1) begins the second-half of the six-game regular season on Saturday with a 12 p.m. kickoff against Bowling Green (0-3) inside Peden Stadium. The game represents, essentially, the fourth different start of the year for the Bobcats.
There were the preparations in late July and early August before the MAC declared a no-go on the 2020 season. When the conference decided to push through on a season in the middle of October, the Bobcats ramped up again.
And OU officially started the season on Nov. 4 with a road game at Central Michigan. But less than two weeks later the Bobcats shelved Game 3 – the rivalry bout at Miami – after COVID-19 testing and contact tracing left the roster with a hole at a position group that made it impossible to play.
Now, 18 days after their last game, the Bobcats try to get going again.
“It’s been unique,” said Luehrman, a fifth-year senior tight end. “It throws you off. You cannot tell what day of the week it is a lot of the time.”
The Bobcats’ offense, also, remains in a state of pause. Ohio has not been able to find any consistent flow or rhythm in two games. Simply put, the ‘Cats haven’t been able to stay on the field long enough.
Ohio ranks eighth in the MAC in points per game (25.5), but is 11th (6-of-21, 28.6 percent) on third down conversions. The Bobcats were the best in the MAC over the last three years in that department, but now the offense on the sideline too often.
Ohio has run just 108 plays through two games. The Bobcats have had a combined 52 plays fewer than the opposition so far in 2020, and been nearly 10 minutes on the wrong side of time of possession in each of their first two games.
Take out senior running back De’Montre Tuggle (218 yards, 4 total touchdowns) and you’d be hard pressed to state exactly what OU does best this season offensively.
Head coach Frank Solich seems determined to continue to play two quarterbacks – transfer Armani Rogers and redshirt freshman Kurtis Rourke have divvied up possessions to this point – and he believes the offensive inconsistency isn’t simply a result of the QB two-step.
With more plays, more drives, and more chances, he believes both quarterbacks will show why he’s been reluctant to cut back reps for either so far. Rourke has thrown for 323 yards and two scores, but has taken the bulk of the eight sacks for OU this season and fumbled once. Rogers had just 34 passing yards, but has rushed for 49 and a touchdown.
“We’ve talked about that, the pluses and the minuses of a two-quarterback system. The same can be true if you take that and put it to another position,” Solich said. “But you always want to try to get as many players involved in the game as possible without breaking the momentum of your team or the momentum of a position.
“We need to get more opportunities, period, for whoever is there.”
That holds true for Luehrman, a break-through performer in 2019 who has just two catches for 19 yards this season. He said everyone on the offense can help make sure the play count rises, and the points follow, with better execution.
“Be more crisp, get more open, block better or longer,” Luehrman said. “There’s lot of things every guy can do.
“We’ve just got to find ways to get more snaps, finish more drives and never turn the ball over.”
Bowling Green could be just the salve Ohio is looking for. The Falcons are only 3-12 under second-year head coach Scot Loeffler and will enter as perhaps the worst team this season in the MAC.
Bowling Green ranks last in the conference in scoring offense (14.7 ppg), 11th in scoring defense (47.3 ppg allowed), last in total defense (553.7 yards per game allowed) and last in rushing defense (333.7).
Additionally, BG suspended four players for the remainder of the season early in the week – including three defensive contributors. If Ohio can’t dominate a game offensively against the Falcons, then it likely won’t all season.
“We weren’t there the first game totally. We made some progress in the second game,” Solich said. “I think we’re a football team that will just keep getting better and better. And so, that’s how I view us.”
As of Monday, Solich believed the game would be played. And as of Friday evening that had not communicated any differently from Ohio. But as the last week as shown, there are no sure things in college athletics at the moment.
The Bobcats are expecting junior defensive tackle Kai Caesar to return to action on Saturday, and he was perhaps the most vital missing – due to COVID issues — defensive piece during the first three games. Solich was mum when asked Monday if there were any developing roster issues.
“Well, normally I’m not into sharing bad news, so I’ll move on from that,” Solich said. “But we’ve gotten Kaieem back, which has been big. Other than that, I won’t go into discussing some things because things are still day-by-day and the game is not tomorrow.”
Take each day as it comes has been the lesson drilled home throughout 2020, said junior cornerback Jamal Hudson.
“It’s all about staying positive and trying to control what you can control,” he said. “We have to be on point and take it one game at a time.”
With MAC East-deciding battles against visiting Buffalo and at Kent State – which lead the division with identical 3-0 marks – still to come, Ohio will need to shake off any rust and take care of business against BG to stay in the hunt for a MAC championship.
To that end, and because of rising virus issues in the state and across the country, the Bobcats spent Thanksgiving sequestered – together – in Athens. None were leaving town for the holiday.
“We’re here. We’re playing football,” Solich said.