Coach Frank Solich looks into the stands before he greets his senior players on Senior Night and the last home game of the 2015 season against Ball State on Nov. 17, 2015. (FILE)
Ohio is heading into the meat of Mid-American Conference play after its 48-30 win against Bowling Green, and coach Frank Solich and his team are prepared.
Solich knows that despite any team’s overall record, each opponent in the MAC will be tough. In Ohio’s two conference wins, which came against Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green, the team’s average margin of victory is 12.5 points.
Solich held his weekly press conference Monday, and he addressed what the Bobcats need to continue doing well, along with what needs work.
The run game remains atop the MAC
A.J. Ouellette, Dorian Brown and quarterback Nathan Rourke make up the three-pronged attack that is Ohio’s running game. The Bobcats rushed for a season-high 335 rushing yards against Bowling Green.
Ouellette and Brown are similar runners in that they run with power and a touch of speed. When the Bobcats are playing downhill with Ouellette and Brown, they’re difficult to contain.
And Rourke, the run game’s added dimension, only makes it harder for defenses.
Rourke accounted for 143 of the Bobcats’ rushing yards against the Falcons, and he scored three rushing touchdowns.
“He gives you that extra running back in the backfield,” Solich said. “A lot of times you’re dealing with a one-back set, but really, we got two running backs with him there.”
Ohio ranks No. 2 in the MAC for rushing yards per game (230.1), right behind Western Michigan. With Ouellette, Brown and Rourke in the backfield, the Bobcats are poised to continue its consistency in the run game.
The pass defense improved, and the cornerbacks got a pizza party
Ohio’s secondary has been the weakest part of the defense, but the unit played well against Bowling Green.
Ohio allowed 192 passing yards, the lowest it has allowed since playing Hampton in the season-opener. Cornerbacks Bradd Ellis and Jalen Fox have recently began to receive a reprieve from the second string, which consists of freshmen Marlin Brooks and Jamal Hudson.
Solich said that the Bobcats began splitting reps between Brooks and Hudson during the Central Michigan game to give Ellis and Fox, the starters, some rest.
“Those two freshmen kept improving and are very athletic guys,” Solich said. “So it made sense to get them in the mix.”
Brooks said that cornerbacks coach De’Angelo Smith awarded the position group with a pizza party because it didn’t allow any deep passes during the Bowling Green game.
“We’ve been targeted, but we’ve been holding it down,” Brooks said.
Wide receiver and defensive end health
Papi White hasn’t played since the Kansas game because of a hand injury, but he is expected to play against Kent State. White, a wide receiver, will be available for practice this week.
With White coming back, a slightly depleted wide receiver depth chart becomes healthier. Brendan Cope has been battling an injury, but he has played in games. Still, he has been limited in practices, which contributes to a lack of being in a rhythm for games.
As White returns, Solich and the Bobcats will have their No. 1 receiver back. Like Rourke, White creates an additional dimension, and in his case, it’s in the passing game.
The Bobcats had a season-low 105 passing yards against the Falcons, so with White likely back, expect the Bobcats’ passing game to improve.
Along with White and other receivers trying to get healthy, the defensive ends are trying to do the same. Though Kevin Robbins couldn’t play in the first half of the Bowling Green game because of a targeting call, he wasn’t able to play because of an injury.
Andrew Payne and Austin Conrad have contributed despite the injuries to the group. Conrad, though, will not be able to play in the first half against Kent State on Saturday because of a targeting call he received against Bowling Green.
“We’re starting to get some guys healthy there (at defensive end),” Solich said. “We’ll see how that goes this week in terms of how much practice time some of those guys are going to be able to get.”