Despite starting the season 0-4 and 1-7, the Bobcats remain alive in the search for a MAC East Division title.
It’s not easy, or likely — I mean, Ohio did start the year 1-7 — but after spring upsets in each of the past two weeks the Bobcats can in theory still win a spot in Detroit for the MAC title game in early December.
How does that happen? Well, this is one scenario (and no I haven’t accounted for every possible thread or resolution):
- Ohio wins its final two games of the year, versus Toledo and at Bowling Green.
- Miami loses its next game (vs. Bowling Green on Tuesday) and wins its finale at Kent State
- Kent State loses its rivalry matchup Saturday at Akron, and in the home finale against Miami
No, it’s not likely. Any time you’re pinning hopes on Akron and BG winning games you’re in dire straits. But the fact that a path exists points to how Ohio has continually tried to move forward this season in the face of gut-punch losses and a horrendous start.
The Bobcats (3-7, 3-3 MAC) wrap up the home portion of the schedule on Tuesday night by facing Toledo (5-5, 3-3 MAC) in a 7 p.m. start at Peden Stadium. The game will be streamed on ESPN 3 and/or ESPN+. For the third straight week, Ohio will enter as a touchdown (or more) underdog.
The oddsmakers didn’t dent Ohio’s fortitude in winning the last two games, however. The Bobcats upended Miami 35-33 on Nov. 2 in a rivalry showdown. OU followed up with a 34-26 victory at Eastern Michigan last Tuesday.
Ohio head coach Tim Albin said his team had its best four quarters of the season at EMU. It’ll take another quartet to make it three straight wins and down Toledo.
“If we can find a way to play our best four and steal another one — because no one is going to give us much of a chance — we all know what the data is. It is what it is,” Albin explained Thursday.
“But it’ll dang sure it’ll make it that much more sweeter, I do know that.”
A division title won’t be among the things the Bobcats will be thinking in preparing for the game. Albin said the focus has become simple for Ohio in recent weeks as injuries have made stitching together predictable lineups impossible.
“Whoever is getting the reps this week, get them better. Focus on the guys who are playing getting better. And let me worry about the rest of it,” Albin said of the directives to the coaching staff. “Just get them better than the week before.
“Do it for us, play for each other,” he continued. “Not a lot of pressure in those types of games. They have responded to that method.”
Ohio is certainly better than it was a month ago. More drives are ending in touchdowns as Kurtis Rourke has taken the reins of the offense. The defense has made improvements despite a revolving door in the secondary due to injuries.
Ohio sits at fourth in the MAC (conference games only) in scoring defense and third in rushing defense, for instance. The running game, powered by De’Montre Tuggle (699 yards, 7 TDs, sixth in the MAC) and a half-dozen others is the tops in the league with 228.7 rushing yards per game.
Rourke, now eighth in the MAC for the season in passing efficiency, has been on a tear in the last three games; He’s completed 71.3% of his throws for 826 yards and 6 TDs to one interception in that span. Flanker Isiah Cox has come on with four touchdowns in the last two games.
“More execution at the right time is the reason for the success,” Albin said.
Toledo, like Ohio, has been stung by three close losses in conference play and cannot win the West Division. The Rockets were clipped 22-20 by Northern Illinois and lost in overtime 26-23 at Central Michigan. Two weeks ago, Toledo lost 52-49 at home against Eastern Michigan.
The Rockets got back on track with a 49-17 win at Bowling Green last week. Yep, Ohio is facing a team for a second straight week that enters coming off consecutive 50-point games (or darn close).
“They’ve kind of settled in at quarterback I think, and they’re getting a lot of things done offensively,” Albin said. “Defensively, they’re top three basically in every category.”
Toledo (conference games only) does lead the MAC in total defense, is second in scoring defense and second in passing defense. The offense remains explosive with RB Bryant Kobach (936 yards, 9 TDs, 6.1 per carry average) having the best season this side of Lew Nichols in the league.
UT toggled quarterbacks much of the year, but of late have gone with Daquan Finn nearly exclusively. Finn is a gifted runner (377 rushing yards, 8 TDs) as well as a talented thrower. He’s third in the league in passing efficiency with 1,452 yards and 11 touchdowns against just one interception this season.
The game will be the last in Peden Stadium for Ohio’s seniors, including the group of ‘super’ seniors who came for another NCAA granted year in lieu of 2020’s COVID-19 influence. That group of Super Seniors includes standout DE Will Evans, leading receiver Cam Odom, OL utility man Nick Sink, and identical tight end twin brothers Adam and Ryan Luehrman. The Luehrman brothers, Athens natives, will be wrapping up their seventh seasons associated with the program after growing up rooting for the Bobcats.
No, it won’t be a division title or a win streak at the forefront of Albin’s thoughts this week. It’ll be trying to find a way to reward those players who have continued to — in his words — invest in the program week after week despite the trials and tribulations of the last four months.
“It’ll be emotional for me. I’m a big teddy bear when it comes to these young men,” Albin admitted. “The relationship grows and grows and grows. You know they’re going to go on and be productive citizens, and they’re going to be great husbands and be great fathers.
“I’ve challenged the team to play their best four quarters in their honor because I want it to be a special moment.”
Around the MAC
With a win at Buffalo on Wednesday, Northern Illinois (5-1) will clinch the Western Division title to complete one of the most remarkable one-year turnarounds in conference history. The Huskies were 0-6 in 2020, and picked to finish last in the division this fall. They’ve responded by going 6-2 in one-possession games this year, including winning five of six games in league play with one-score margins.
In the East, Miami and Kent can set up a winner take all scenario on Saturday, Nov. 27 IF they beat East bottom dwellers BG and Akron — respectively — this week.
Toledo (3-3) at Ohio (3-3), 7 p.m.
Western Michigan (3-3) at Eastern Michigan (3-3), 7:30 p.m.
Bowling Green (1-5) at Miami (4-2), 8 p.m.
Northern Illinois (5-1) at Buffalo (2-4), 7 p.m.
Central Michigan (4-2) at Ball State (3-3), 7 p.m.
Kent State (4-2) at Akron (1-5), 12 p.m.
MAC Standings (thru 11/15) East Division MAC PF PA Overall Miami 4-2 176 121 5-5 Kent State 4-1 222 250 5-5 Ohio 3-3 183 167 3-7 Buffalo 2-4 189 209 4-6 Akron 1-5 148 209 2-8 Bowling Green 1-5 163 244 3-7 West Division MAC PF PA Overall Northern Illinois 5-1 199 185 7-3 Central Michigan 4-2 207 177 6-4 Ball State 3-3 172 152 5-5 Eastern Michigan 3-3 197 184 6-4 Toledo 3-3 197 184 6-4 Western Michigan 3-3 198 209 6-4