Faced with a tight game, on the road, and desperate for a win, the Bobcats took the drastic step of turning the clock back.
Leaning on a retro-looking, run-first, -second, and -third offense, Ohio scored on every second-half possession to batter the Zips, 34-17, on Saturday at Infocision Stadium in Akron.
For the Bobcats (1-4, 1-0 MAC), it ended a four-game losing skid to open the season and came with the added benefits of the best offensive outing of the season complete with what may be a discernible offensive identity.
Tim Albin got his first win as Ohio’s head coach, and did it with an offense that called two pass plays the entire second half. The Bobcats rushed for a whopping 398 yards, and every yard gained after halftime (235) came on the ground. Ohio paved over Akron (1-4, 0-1 MAC) with backup quarterback Armani Rogers, multiple tight-ends, and a shuffled offensive line that seemed to relish the chance to be proactive.
“That’s a straight running Frank Solich game right there,” Albin said afterward, referring to his predecessor and mentor. “It was a physical ballgame and that’s how this program was built.”
Ohio trailed 17-10 midway through the third quarter before it had the chance to unveil its big halftime adjustment. Rogers — all 6-5, and 225 pounds of him — played quarterback for every rep of the second half. Ohio used two tight ends more often than not, and seemingly limited the playbook to half a dozen calls.
The steamrolling commenced. Rogers kept the ball on a 7-yard read to the left side and bowled over a defender crossing the goal line to tie it 17-17 with 5:41 left in the third. Rogers ate up 22 yards on another keeper to set up a field goal for a 20-17 lead with 13:30 remaining. Rogers scored another 22-yard run to the left side for a 27-17 lead with 6:12 left.
Then RB De’Montre Tuggle added the finisher, a 26-yard scoring run around the left end for the 34-17 final score with 1:16 left.
Rogers tallied 83 rushing yards on 12 carriers and added two touchdowns. And Tuggle, demoted from the starter’s role a week ago, exploded for a career high 201 yards on just 17 carries with the late score (11.8 average).
“What? What? It’s amazing,” Tuggle said, shocked at his final yardage total. “Big shout out to my line and the receivers — those guys were blocking their tails off today.
“The past is the past, I can’t really do anything about that,” he added. “I’m glad the coaches trusted in the run game and in me to give me the ball as many times as they did.”
Ohio starting quarterback Kurtis Rourke hit 7 of 12 passes for 56 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Starting RB O’Shaan Allison had 47 yards on seven carries on the ground. Neither played poorly, exactly, but the Bobcats found something that worked and stuck with it.
“Adjustment wise…we were having trouble protecting Kurtis. He was getting bumped around,” Albin said. “This is what we need to do. It worked out.”
Ohio also needed to show improvement defensively, and that also happened. Akron quarterback D.J. Irons was 9-of-10 for 114 yards and two touchdowns, and led the Zips with 69 rushing yards on 16 carries. But Akron couldn’t exploit Ohio’s defensive front — which entered as the worst rushing defense in the country. The Zips were held to 112 net yards rushing, just 2.9 per carry, and the Bobcats racked up a season-high seven sacks.
DE Will Evans and LB Cannon Blauser had two apiece, while LB Bryce Houston, and DTs Kai Caesar and Denzel Daxon each had one sack apiece. Daxon’s sack — the first of his career — ended Irons’ day with just over five minutes remaining. The Bobcats had their most impactful day of the season from the defensive front.
“We knew that we just had to play harder. We had to keep putting it on them,” Evans said. “Those were the results.”
Along with an offensive identity and havoc-causing defensive plays, Ohio even landed consistent kicking. Stephen Johnson, back in the kicker’s role after being passed over by Tristan Vanderberg a week ago, made all of his attempts — including a 25-yarder late in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead. It was Ohio’s first lead this season against an FBS opponent.
After Akron tied it 3-3, the Zips took a 10-3 lead with 3:12 left in the half when Irons found Konata Mumpfield for a 45-yard touchdown down the right sideline.
With just 45 seconds left in the half, Rourke led his best drive of the day. He found Tyler Walton for a 34-yard gain on a deep crossing route, took off for a 21-yard gain on the ground, and then a 2-yard touchdown to Isiah Cox at the goal post for a 10-10 tie with nine seconds left in the half.
But Rourke didn’t see the field in the second half as Ohio toggled its approach.
Is that approach feasible for the rest of the season, or against teams better than Akron — which also played without all-conference linebacker Bubba Arslanian due to a wrist injury? The Bobcats will cross that bridge when they come to it.
For now, they’re 1-0 in the MAC, the skid is over, and the ‘Cats have quantifiable proof that continuing to work hard can and will pay off.
“That was the best two quarters I’ve seen in a long time. Dynamic,” Albin said after Ohio won the last in a stretch of three straight road games. “I’m happy for the players.”
Albin’s first win came a month later than he would’ve liked. And Ohio has suffered four games of disappointment and embarrassment. But they’re still capable of finding ways to win, and not afraid to pull any level to try to get there. Ohio won its fourth straight over Akron, and won its MAC opener for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons.
Ohio returns to Peden Stadium next Saturday for Homecoming, and a matchup against Central Michigan (2-3, 0-1 MAC) at 3:30 p.m. The Bobcats can’t change their awful September, but they’re undefeated in league play. That’s the only thing that matters now.
“We have it in the back of our head… but right now we’re 1-0,” Evans said. “We’re basically coming to feed off each week.”