Game 8 Preview: Home Sweet Home?

Ryan Luehrman (left), De’Montre Tuggle, and Gary Hoover will try to lead the Bobcats to a home win on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021 against visiting Kent State. Photo by Jason Arkley

A week before Halloween, the Bobcats will put the wraps on weekend football. 

With another loss, Ohio will also say goodbye to any realistic chance of winning a MAC East Division championship. While it may be foolhardy to think of the Bobcats (1-6, 1-2 MAC) as in the thick of the league chance, Ohio still controls its own destiny in search of a spot in the MAC Championship game.

If OU bucks all expectations, and wins its finale five games, then Ohio will be MAC East champions. But a loss Saturday to visiting Kent State (3-4, 2-1 MAC) would essentially end that. The Golden Flashes, the preseason favorite in the division, are tied with Miami for the division lead. A loss in either of the next two weeks, and Ohio would be on the wrong side of pivotal head-to-head tiebreakers coming down the stretch.

All of it — the talk of division title and championship games — seems like wasted breath with the Bobcats. Ohio, despite changes and positive attitudes and close calls, remains very much the team that started the season 0-4. The Bobcats can’t finish drives, or fourth quarters, can’t get stops when they need them, and of late have been prone to the kind of late-game mistakes that cause ulcers. 

A loss in the final Saturday game of the season — it’s all midweek #MACtion the rest of the way — will guarantee a losing season for Ohio for the first time since 2008 (4-8). It would also drop Ohio to 0-4 at home this season. The Bobcats haven’t had a winless home season since 2001, when Brian Knorr and company finished 0-5 at home en route to a 1-10 mark.

Ohio has had just one losing home record since the onset of the Frank Solich era (2005); that came in 2019 (2-4).

It’s just another way in which the 2021 season has been fright-fest from the start. Ohio head coach Tim Albin hasn’t buckled publicly, maintaining an almost painful even-keel and positivity spewing persona whenever in a press conference or radio interview. 

“We’re excited to get to play at home again this week in front of our fans. It should be a whale of a game,” Albin said Monday, for instance. 

It’s not hard to imagine the tenor and tone is much different behind closed doors. At least two players have entered the transfer portal during the season — previously unheard of. A handful of players have clapped back on social media channels. 

It’s not hard to wonder why. The season has been dreadful from an on-the-field performance standpoint, and sprinkled with enough ‘you-got-to-be-kidding-me’ spice to cause heartburn for even the most jaded of stomachs. Let’s take a quick look at the 2021 season so far.

Whew. 

Albin has tried to keep the Bobcats moving forward. OU re-invented itself offensively in the middle of the season, and juggled the defensive lineup all year as injuries have ravaged the defensive side. 

QB Armani Rogers was inserted as the every-down signal-caller, and the offensive productivity has increased. But while Rogers (448 rushing yards, 6 TDs, and an NCAA record) has helped invigorate the run game, the offense is still not closing out games. 

Ohio has attempted just 30 passes in the last 10 quarters combined, hasn’t thrown a TD pass in the 2.5 games, and hasn’t scored inside the final 10 minutes of either of the last two fourth quarters. The ‘Cats have converted just 8 of their last 24 third downs, which — remarkably — is a slight improvement on their 32% rate for the season.

Albin admits his team needs more balance, but isn’t budging from Rogers as his quarterback.

“He’s done some really good things,” Albin said. 

“His competitive nature is what fuels him. He definitely got a unique skill set and we’re trying to use that skill set to give us our best chance to produce points and touchdown and win games.”

The one-handed offense hasn’t been enough to outweigh a defense that ranks 10th in the MAC in points allowed (30.7 ppg) and last — and 127th nationally — in rushing defense (228.0 yards per game allowed). Ohio is -2 in turnover ratio on the season (90th nationally). 

The good news for Ohio is Kent State is up next. The Bobcats have won six in a row against the Golden Flashes and 10 of the last 15 meetings. 

More good news? The Flashes may be worse defensively than Ohio despite creating an insane amount of turnovers (16, with 12 interceptions) this season. KSU is giving up a whopping 34.3 points per game, ranks 121st nationally in rushing defense (213.9), and enters after an embarrassing 64-31 loss at Western Michigan last weekend. 

However, KSU leads the MAC in total offense, and is 16th in all of the FBS with 223.0 rushing yards per game. 

Kent State was the preseason favorite to win the MAC East, and has 19 of 25 starters back from a year ago. Leading the way is QB Dustin Crum, the MAC Preseason Player of the Year. Crum has thrown for 1,513 yards, rushed for 275 more, and has accounted for 13 total touchdowns. 

Crum’s expertise in the RPO game, with RB Marquez Cooper (508 rushing yards), has excelled in putting the Flashes in great positions to take advantage — as needed — of light boxes or blitzes. 

“We’ll have our hands full. Hopefully we can keep pace,” Albin said. 

Ohio had done just that in every MAC game so far. The issue has been the finish. One more faulty fourth and the ‘Cats season will follow suit.

Around the MAC

  • Eastern Michigan (1-2) at Bowling Green (0-3), 12 p.m.
  • Northern Illinois (3-0) at Central Michigan (2-1), 12 p.m.
  • Kent State (2-1) at Ohio (1-2), 1 p.m.
  • Western Michigan (2-1) at Toledo (1-2), 3:30 p.m.
  • Buffalo (1-2) at Akron (1-2), 3:30 p.m.
  • Miami (2-1) at Ball State (2-1), 3:30 p.m.

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