More of the same for Ohio in 35-6 loss at Northwestern

QB Armani Rogers (left) saved Ohio from a shutout in the Bobcats’ 35-6 loss at Northwestern on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021 at Evanston, Ill. Photo by Jason Arkley

With 10 days off, and promises of changes and examinations of all factors, head coach Tim Albin was hopeful he’d see something different in the Bobcats’ fourth game of the season.

Instead, it was more of the same for Ohio — if not worse — in a 35-6 drubbing at the hands of the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. The Bobcats were held to a season-low six points, gave up a season-high 373 rushing yards, and fell to 0-4 for the first time since 2008.

OU avoided the shutout only when backup quarterback Armani Rogers scored on a 55-yard keeper down the left sideline on the game’s final play. The Bobcats did not try the PAT. It was a weird ending — complete with celebratory fireworks from the Chicago’s Big 10 team — to a game that felt all too familiar to those who have watched Ohio this season.

“I’m not excited about the outcome but we’re going to keep getting better,” Albin said afterward, again citing some flashes and things he liked amidst all the debris of another blowout loss. 

Ohio has played three FBS opponents this season, and has been outscored a combined 113-29. In those three games, opponents have rushed for a combined 966 yards and are averaging 6.7 yards per rushing attempt. OU never led at any point in the three games.

Northwestern (2-2) kept things brutally straightforward and counted on quarterback Ryan Hilinski to simply not give the game away. Sensing a weak front seven, the Wildcats just ran the ball over and over. Northwestern had called runs on 51 of 71 offensive snaps, and Hilinski completed 12 of 20 passes for 88 yards.

RB Evan Hull was the biggest beneficiary as he piled up a career-high 216 rushing yards and two first-quarter touchdown runs on just 22 carries. Hull’s 216 yards were more than he had throughout the entirety of 2020, and nearly matched his total in the season’s first three games combined. 

Ohio changed some things defensively — using more four-down linemen, more aggressive calls for the linebackers, starting two new safeties (Tariq Drake and Michael Ballentine) — and those things appeared to help in spots. OU forced two three-and-outs defensively, and turned three first-and-goal situations into field goal attempts for the Wildcats.

But at the end of the day, the yards on the ground (373) and per attempt (7.3) were the worst of the season for the ‘Cats.

““For us, it’s just stopping the run,” said defensive tackle Kai Caesar, inserted into the starting lineup for the first time this season. “That’s something we need to get better at. They kept running the ball and, shit, we just got to stop the run.”

“Everybody has to do their job and execute the play that’s called.”

Ohio’s best drive of the day came on its first possession, and resulted in its only red-zone opportunity of the afternoon — and more frustration. A third-and-4 run from the NW 12 was wiped out by a holding call. On fourth down from the 14, new starting placekicker Tristan Vandenberg pushed a 31-yard field goal attempt wide right. 

It was the fourth missed FG in four games for OU (1 of 5 from outside 29 yards), and marked the fourth straight game where the Bobcats capped their first or second possession with a missed kick. 

“We got to get the ball in the end zone fellas. It can’t be a field goal, it’s got to be touchdowns,” Albin said. “We got to complement the defense, we got to help them.”

From there, Ohio barely crossed midfield the rest of the way. The Bobcats never again got deeper than the 42 — until Rogers’ touchdown run on the final play. 

Rogers had a team-high 68 yards rushing and the Bobcats’ team total looked a lot better (31-179, 5.8 average) after his long jaunt. RBs De’Montre Tuggle (6-42) and O’Shaan Allison (9-35) were essentially non-factors. Kurtis Rourke started at QB and added 33 yards rushing, but lost a second-quarter fumble and left the game with a knee injury with just over five minutes remaining.

Rourke hit 20 of 29 passes for 166 yards, while Rogers was just 1 of 3 for 3 yards. Both QBs had tipped ball interceptions as Ohio finished with three turnovers. Wide receivers Jerome Buckner (2 catches for seven yards) and Isiah Cox (3-22) were back in the lineup but held under wraps. Cam Odom (5-42) and Tyler Walton (4-44) led the way among the pass catchers.

Ohio converted each of its first three third-down conversions on its opening drive, then didn’t convert another the rest of the day (3 of 13).

“Offensively, we could not help the defense today,” Albin said.

Hull erupted for 161 yards and two scores in the first half alone to power the Wildcats to a 17-0 lead by intermission. 

Northwestern cashed in Rourke’s fumble with Hull’s 17-yard touchdown run around the right end for a 7-0 lead on its second possession. Late in the first quarter, Hull exploded up the middle for a 90-yard touchdown strike — barely touched — and the Wildcats led 14-0. 

Charlie Kuhbander made a 24-yard field goal inside the final minute of the opening half for the 17-0 lead. Kuhbander made it 20-0 with a 26-yard field with 14:52 remaining.

Northwestern tacked on a 7-yard touchdown from Anthony Tyus III, and the 2-point conversion, to make it 28-0 with 6:00 left. Jake Arthurs added a 5-yard touchdown with 42 seconds left to make it 35-0. 

Rogers’ run avoided the shutout — Ohio’s last zero on the scoreboard came in 2013 — but the final score may not have been the worst thing for the Bobcats. Rourke was injured late, and starting center Nick Sink appeared to suffer a significant knee injury in the first half and did not return. Starting safety Jarren Hampton missed his second consecutive game, and defensive tackles Zach Burks and Kylen McCracken both left with injuries and did not return.

Ohio is scheduled to begin MAC play next Saturday at Akron (1-3) in a 3:30 p.m. start.  

“We are beat up, up front,” Albin admitted. “We’re in a tough spot. With the youth we have right now playing up there and trying to do too many things at the line of scrimmage with those guys. We’re going to have to look at that as a staff.”

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