Given the circumstances, it’s probably for the best that the Bobcats didn’t have long to ponder their Week 3 opponent or for head coach Tim Albin to become too verbose.
The stakes and mission are both crystal clear: The Bobcats need to get better, and need to do it quickly with a primetime battle on tap for Thursday night. Ohio (0-2) will face Louisiana (1-1), from the Sun Belt Conference, in Lafayette, La. in an 8 p.m. start. The game at Cajun Field will be broadcast live on ESPN (the mothership not an auxiliary).
“We’re excited to get back out there and get our first victory,” Albin said Monday during a weekly press conference that clocked in under nine minutes.
It could be the biggest showcase game of the season for Ohio, and comes after the most humbling setback for the program in the last 19 years. The Bobcats lost 28-26 at home to Duquesne on Saturday for their first loss against an FCS opponent since 2002.
So there’s that hanging around OU’s proverbial neck. It’s a short week prep wise, and the trip itself has complications centered around the region’s response to Hurricane Ida — which rolled through the state of Louisiana less than a month ago. Ohio’s lodging plans, for instance, were changed as local facilities were set aside for hurricane response efforts.
And there’s the fact that before the season many (including myself) pegged this game as the most difficult on the schedule. The Ragin’ Cajuns have developed into a constant SBC threat under head coach Billy Napier and Louisiana garnered some fringe Top 25 interest before the season started.
The Cajuns, however, aren’t running on all cylinders either. Louisiana faded in the second half of an upset bid against Texas in the opener (38-18 loss) and then needed a second-half pick-6 to hold off Nicholls State (another FCS program) in a 27-24 win in Week 2.
But the Cajuns at least know who they are offensively. They’re Levi Lewis’ football team. The quarterback, now in his third full season as a starter, is athletic enough to be a threat on the ground, spreads the ball around plenty, and has thrown for 586 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions through two games this season.
The ground-and-pound stylings that Louisiana brought to Peden Stadium in 2019 have been eased out for Lewis to pick and choose where to distribute the ball.
“Dynamic player,” Albin said. “They do a great job on their target chart.”
It will be the fourth meeting between the two programs, and Ohio leads the all-time series 2-1. In 2007, Ohio rallied — in the damp, humid conditions at Cajun Field — for a 31-23 victory behind two fourth-quarter TD runs from program great Kalvin McRae. In the rematch in Athens in 2010, QB Boo Jackson survived four interceptions to account for four touchdowns — and OU scored 3 TDs in the fourth — as Ohio posted a 38-31 win.
The most recent meeting was in 2019, with Napier and Lewis, when the Cajuns piled up 285 rushing yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away late for a 45-25 victory.
The Bobcats will bring a host of their own concerns, outside of travel and the first real road game in two years. The defense hasn’t forced a single turnover yet this season, and has been too accommodating against subpar offensive teams in two games. The offense is averaging just 17.5 points per game and converted just 1 of 7 third downs against a FCS defense last weekend.
It’s doubtful Ohio will unveil widespread or substantial changes given the short turnaround. Albin said the obvious — his defense needs more stops and turnovers — but didn’t indicate changes in overall scheme or technique were on the way. For instance, Ohio had seven defensive penalties that led to first downs for Duquesne a week ago.
It won’t broker a change in Ohio’s core principles or approach, the coach said.
“When we play press-man, we’re aggressive,” he said. “That’s our technique. We’re going to continue to be aggressive. We have to trust our technique.”
The game is the first of three in a row on the road for Ohio, with a noon kickoff at Northwestern set for Week 4. The MAC season — the games that really matter for Ohio’s conference title hopes — are less than three weeks away. The clock is ticking to show improvement.
“We’re on our five-day plan right now, and we’ll follow that and prepare to go out and win the game,” Albin said.
- WR Cam Odom broke the 1,000-yard career receiving mark against Duquesne, and now has 76 catches for 1,060 yards in 44 career games.
- RB O’Shaan Allison hit 1,000-yards rushing over his career against Duquesne, and leads OU with 119 rushing yards this season.
- RB De’Montre Tuggle accumulated 175 all-purpose yards in Week 2, but has been slow to get rolling on the ground (109 rushing yards).
- QB Kurtis Rourke is hitting 70% of his passes (35 of 70) has been limited in his throws down the field (310 passing yards).
- Ohio has 10 ‘Super’ Seniors on its roster, or seniors who elected to take advantage of the NCAA’s extended eligibility plan due to COVID-19 last fall; The Cajuns have 8 Super Seniors
- Louisiana is undefeated in home non-conference games under Napier (5-0).