Eyes on the Red Zone, Depth with Duquesne Up Next

Kurtis Rourke
Ohio QB Kurtis Rourke (7) signals at the line of scrimmage behind OG Gary Hoover and beside RB De’Montre Tuggle.
Photo by Jason Arkley

It’s clear to identify the biggest concern for Ohio following Saturday’s 29-9 loss to visiting Syracuse in the season opener. 

The Bobcats had six scoring opportunities (first downs inside the opponent’s 40-yard line) on eight total possessions, but tallied just nine points on those chances. Ohio had three red zone trips, and finished with only a field goal each time. 

“Good and bad. We definitely had our opportunities,” Ohio head coach Tim Albin said Monday, during his weekly press conference at Peden Stadium. 

“We need touchdowns, that’s very obvious.”

The good news is a touchdown-less performance has been a rarity for the program since 2005. Saturday’s no-touchdown showing was the first for Ohio in nearly five years — OU won 9-3 on three field goals against Akron on Nov. 22, 2016. 

The Bobcats have been held without a touchdown just 10 times since 2005, and shutout just twice over the same span. There have only been three such games for OU since 2014 as Albin has helped orchestrate an offense that regularly checks in near or at the top of the MAC in terms of points, yards per play, and rushing offense. 

Saturday’s issues were two fold: First, Syracuse deserves credit for execution and tackling. Ohio, for instance, had just 73 yards after the catch on 23 receptions. Secondly, Ohio failed to make key plays when it mattered most.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Kurtis Rourke made his fourth career start, and that inexperience showed a couple times in the red zone. Hitting the check down too early, or waiting another second for a route to develop were things that Albin believes were factors in a couple of trips inside the Syracuse 40.

But the head coach wasn’t complaining. Rourke finished 21-of-28 for 142 yards, did not take a sack, and the fourth-quarter interception was the first of his college career. All signs point toward Rourke continuing to be the starter, and in line to get the vast majority of reps.

“I really like where he’s at,” Albin said. “I don’t want to put a bridle on him, I don’t want to hand-cuff him.”

Roster update

The Bobcats were missing several regular contributors in the opener. Defensively, linebackers Keye Thompson and Jermiah Wood will be out indefinitely with injury, while defensive line was missing DE Bryce Stai (illness) and DT Jeremiah Burton. 

Offensively, Ohio played without two projected starters — WR Isiah Cox and OG Hagen Meservy — and saw the other starting guard (Kurt Danneker) leave with a knee injury in the first quarter and not return.

Albin said he was hopeful about Danneker being available in Week 2 against Duquesne, but declined to offer specific updates for anyone else. Cox and Meservy, for instance, are out for non-injury reasons. 

“There’s some guys…they want to get in there. As a staff, we have to make sure those guys understand why they didn’t get in,” Albin said. “It’s a long season. We’ve got to keep those guys engaged and working hard. We’re going to need, at some point and time, that entire sideline.”

On the flipside, there were a number of first-time contributors as well. DT Denzel Daxon got his first reps as a college player, and last played live-game reps in high school in 2018. Linebacker Cannon Blauser made his first career start at MLB. True freshman WR Miles Cross played in his first collegiate game. Transfer James Bostic was in the rotation at wide receiver. RB Jake Neatherton was a special teams regular, and got his first game reps since 2018.

Welcome back Joe, maybe

Ohio (0-1) will take on FCS opponent Duquesne (0-1) on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Peden Stadium. The Dukes enter after a 45-3 loss in Week 1 at TCU; the game was shortened to 12-minute quarters in the second half after a 35-0 margin at the break and several injuries for the Dukes.

One of the injuries was to starting quarterback Joe Mischler, who left with a knee injury in the first quarter. His status for Saturday is uncertain.

Mischler signed with Ohio out of high school, and played in three games with the Bobcats in 2019 before transferring to the Pennsylvania school. Duquesne played an abbreviated season this spring, after cancelling the 202 campaign due to the pandemic. Mischler was the Dukes’ starter in the spring and completed 65.4 percent of his throws for 1,195 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions as Duquesne was 4-1.

Albin said OU will change some things in the communication chain this week, knowing Mischler is on the other side.

“We are doing things for that very reason, how we communicate,” Albin said. “He knows our system inside and out. He’s a really good player. I wish he was still here but as you guys know the portal is the world we live in. 

“To me, that’s the guy we recruited,” the coach added, referring to Mischler’s spring season. “He felt like that was what was best for him, and we support that, whole-heartedly.”

The game at Ohio will be only the Dukes’ fifth against FBS competition since they jumped to the FCS level in 1993. Duquesne had just 137 total yards in the loss at TCU.

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