Throughout the 2021 season, the Bobcats never seemed to capitalize when it mattered most. The end result was an atypical 3-9 season in Tim Albin’s first season at the helm, marked by swapping quarterbacks, too many injuries, and four 1-possession losses.
Albin and the Bobcats wrapped up the 2022 spring season on Saturday inside Peden Stadium. And while Ohio’s 2022 season opener, against visiting FAU, is still more than four months away, the early signs are OU won’t have nearly as much doubt about its QB plan this fall.
Junior Kurtis Rourke spent the spring as Ohio’s first team quarterback and capped the season with a brilliant showing during Saturday’s 60-play scrimmage. Rourke completed 10 of 12 passes for 92 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Rourke, a live target for half of his reps, wasn’t sacked. None of his throws were any danger from Ohio’s reworked defense.
Rourke was in control, on target, and competently ran the offense for 20 live snaps.
“It’s always good to throw touchdowns and to people that I haven’t got too many reps with too,” said Rourke, who threw for 1,801 yards, 11 TDs and seven interceptions while splitting time with Armani Rogers last season.
“It was a huge confidence boost.”
Rourke was the first team quarterback last spring as well, though locked in an ongoing competition with Rogers at the time. Then, he struggled. He had his moments last season – particularly at the end of the year – but struggled early on.
Albin’s tenure didn’t get off to the start he had hoped after being elevated to replace Frank Solich last July. If the Bobcats get back on track in 2022, Rourke figures to be a major reason why. So far, so good, Albin said.
“He had a great spring last year, but didn’t finish it well,” Albin said. “He finished today. He’s been good all spring, and he was great today. I’m very excited about where he’s at.”
While quarterback play will always be a focus during spring camp, Ohio also needed the last five weeks to come to grips with a reworked defense. Spence Nowinsky was hired away from Miami during the offseason and will be the Bobcats’ first-year defensive coordinator (while also coaching defensive ends). Another Miami hire, and Nowinsky’s co-defensive coordinator with the RedHawks, John Hauser is on board and coaching Ohio’s safeties.
That defense didn’t land many impact plays on Saturday. The Bobcats had just two sacks, and didn’t force a turnover. Everything wasn’t expected to be perfect after five weeks of intermittent practices, Albin said.
“All indications are at this point, after 15 spring practices, I think we are taking steps to be a better defense.”Ohio head coach Tim Albin
The offense scored four touchdowns, but three came in red zone specific segments. Ohio worked in a pair of two-minute drills, and 10-play scrimmage segments as well. Special teams work broke up the scrimmage segments of the roughly 90-minute practice.
Once the scrimmage ended, Solich was on hand to speak to the team after being presented with his own brick – an honor the program has developed to recognize those who exhibit the proper work ethic on an every-day basis.
Many of Ohio’s regulars were held out from live scrimmage plays, or saw minimal reps. Live tackling was used throughout, with even the quarterbacks being live targets for at least half of their reps.
Rourke said the Bobcats have to make amends for 2021, which left no one satisfied.
“We knew that we underperformed for sure. We knew we had the talent to win more than three games. It was a lot of disappointment but it also led to a lot of reflection,” Rourke said.
“A big thing this offseason was getting to know everyone on the team, on that deep level, so you can trust each other. And use that talent with that.”
Young QBs Excel
Sophomore CJ Harris finished 8 of 12 passing for 81 yards and a touchdown, a short flip to RB Nolan McCormick. His longest play came on a 35-yard gain to flanker Aramoni Rhone.
True freshman Callum Wither, a member of the 2022 signing class, took the scrimmage’s first reps and engineered a touchdown drive. After keeping the ball for an 18-yard gain on a read keeper, Wither found Jacoby Jones (another 2022 signee) with an 18-yard touchdown in the corner.
Jones also hauled in a nine-yard score from Rourke, and James Bostic III caught a 5-yard touchdown from Rourke. Bostic had a 50-yard scoring play wiped out with a holding penalty.
Walk-on quarterback Kadin Beler finished 3 for 5 for 17 yards and gained three rushing yards on three carries.
Running Game Quiet
Ohio gave the bulk of the carries in the scrimmage to walk-on backs Nolan McCormick (6 for 26 yards), Tyler Toledo (3-12), and Bryce Kitrell (6-16). Kitrell switched to RB from safety midway through the spring season.
Sophomore Sieh Bangura, the potential starter, had just one carry. Other scholarship RBs O’Shaan Allison and Julian Ross did not receive live reps.
Out of Action
Many regulars were out due to injury, held out of live reps due to experience or workload, or held out because they were rehabbing from injury. Non-exhaustive lists of those held out include:
Offense – TE Casey Clanton, OLs Parker Titsworth, Kurt Danneker, Hagen Meservy, Shedrick Rhodes, Demond Arter, WR Tyler Walton; Defense – LBs Jeremiah Wood, Keye Thompson, Jayden Spires, and Bryce Houston, DBs Jamison Collier, Justin Burchette, DLs Kai Caesar, Bryce Stai, and Kylen McCracken.
There were two noticeable injuries during the scrimmage. Starting DE Dontay Hunter II and walk-on QB Kadin Beler both suffered lower leg injuries.
Just for Kicks
Junior Tristan Vandenberg had an inconsistent 2021 season, but capped the spring with a perfect day on field goals. He connected on all of his place-kick attempts, including three of over 40 yards (41, 41, 47 yards).
LB Kyle Kelly had the two biggest hits of the day, on back-to-back snaps. Kelly hit Harris square and forced an early throw, then followed up with a form tackle on a quick WR screen on the next play.
Safety Giovanni Scales had a PBU (and nearly a pick-6) off Wither on the sixth play of the scrimmage. Cam McCullum, a cornerback and member of the 2022 class, broke up a pass in the back corner of the endzone.
Tight ends Alec Burton and Tyler Foster appear poised to fill in as Ohio’s top two options in that area. Both were involved in a variety of routes, and were targeted several times. The duo played part-time last season, and will be backed by intriguing like-sized younger players in Will Kacmarek and Caleb Gossett.
Defensively, Ohio’s talent and depth at linebacker was noticeable. Bryce Houston and Cannon Blausers return as the team’s top two tacklers, Ben Johnson and Jack McCrory return as vital pieces in special packages, and both Jeremiah Wood and Keye Thompson are on track to be back after injuries in 2021. It bodes well for Ohio’s hopes of improving against the run this fall.
Exciting camp, here are the areas I identified as the ones of greatest concern for Ohio.
First, Ohio needs depth at offensive tackle. Jay Amburgey is flipping from RT to LT this season, and Joe Habinowski is the starter for now at RT. But depth is a concern and this would be a prime spot for some portal help later this spring.
The Bobcats could use more impact-makers on the edges of the defense – rush end and corner. Granted, many options there we didn’t see in the scrimmage but there was a lack of edge pressure and not many of the receptions were contested.