Football: Ohio running game shows against UMass why it’s the best in the MAC

Football: Ohio running game shows against UMass why it's the best in the MAC

 

Ohio redshirt junior running back A.J. Ouellette (#45) breaks downfield during the second half of the Bobcats’ 42-30 win over Kansas on Saturday.

 

A.J. Ouellette and Dorian Brown just needed to find the holes. And then they needed to burst through them.

Finding gaps against Massachusetts on Saturday wasn’t difficult, though. Ohio’s offensive line obliterated UMass’, and because of that, the team’s running game continued to thrive.

Ouellette and Brown combined for 197 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns during the Bobcats’ 58-50 win on the road over the Minutemen.

The ease with which the Bobcats gained rushing yards was remarkable.

“It’s just reassuring that no matter who’s in there at running back you know is going to get the job done,” Ouellette said of Brown’s performance.

Ouellette’s praise of Brown could be extended to other agile Bobcats. For the second time this season – the first being against Hampton – Ohio rushed for 200 or more yards. The Bobcats’ 292 rushing yards against the Minutemen were a season-high.

For a third straight game, Ouellette rushed for 100 or more yards; Brown rushed for 72 yards and two touchdowns; quarterback Nathan Rourke rushed for a season-high 113 yards and two touchdowns. And all averaged at least five or more yards per carry.

Through five games, the Bobcats boast the best running game in the Mid-American Conference.

“If you look at some of those plays, (the) ball carrier really isn’t touched until 10 yards down the field, which is just a testament of our (offensive line),” Rourke said.

Ouellette and Brown benefited from the offensive line, but Rourke benefited from the duo’s success. The Minutemen were focused on containing Ouellette and Brown, so Rourke had opportunities to slip through the defense for solid gains. It was the first time Rourke rushed for more than 100 yards this season.

With Rourke’s running abilities, the Bobcats’ offense is capable of being multi-dimensional. The running backs aren’t the only players capable of gaining yards after contact.

And then once the Bobcats’ running game is established, a passing attack is opened – and then the Bobcats can continue to run, too.

That is how the Bobcats’ offense was supposed to be set up last season. With Ouellette, Brown and Maleek Irons, the Bobcats had solid depth at running back. And with solid depth at running back, whoever played quarterback simply had to get the ball to the unit’s playmakers.

But Ouellette suffered a season-ending injury and Brown and Irons struggled with injuries throughout the season, too. Now, Ouellette and Brown are healthy, though.

Ouellette is the top-ranked back in the MAC. Brown is like Ouellette in his style – he’s powerful, yet explosive. Add in shifty freshman running back Julian Ross, who has three touchdowns this season, and the Bobcats are set for success.

The holes for the Bobcats to run through are still there. And all they have to do is burst through them.

 

 

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Football: Ohio defeats Massachusetts 58-50 behind stout rushing attack

Football: Ohio defeats Massachusetts 58-50 behind stout rushing attack

 

Ohio redshirt senior running back Dorian Brown (#28) runs downfield in the first half of the Bobcats’ 42-30 win over Kansas on Sept. 16 at Peden Stadium. (FILE)

 

With 1:42 left in the game, Ohio needed to score again. Massachusetts was still within reach.

On third down, at the Massachusetts 42-yard line, running back Dorian Brown dashed any doubt. Brown rushed for a 42-yard touchdown, and UMass was done.

Ohio’s rushing attack stifled UMass on Saturday en route to a 58-50 win at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Brown, A.J. Ouellette and Nathan Rourke led the Bobcats’ multi-pronged rushing game, but Ouellette contributed the most. He rushed for 125 rushing yards and a touchdown. Along with the rushing touchdown, he also caught a pass for touchdown.

For a third straight game, Ouellette — who is ranked No. 2 in the Mid-American Conference for rushing yards — totaled 100 or more yards on the ground.

Ouellette is thriving, and Ohio’s offense is, too.

In their past two games, the Bobcats’ rushing game has been the reason for their success on offense. Ohio has rushed for an average of 219.6 yards per game in the past three games.

It’s the No. 2 rushing offense in the MAC for a reason, what with its depth. Ouellette had a 60-yard run at the beginning of the fourth quarter, which set up a Brown touchdown that put Ohio up 47-29.

Ouellette and Brown combined for 197 rushing yards, but another 113 didn’t come from a running back.

It came from Nathan Rourke.

“I think he’s starting to show people that he has the ability to do some special things,” coach Frank Solich said.

Rourke has repeatedly shown his ability to evade the pocket, and even to gain extra yards after contact. The Bobcats (4-1, 1-0 MAC) have a dual-threat quarterback, which only makes for an offense that is markedly different from last year.

It’s unpredictable, but it thrives on the one component it needs to: the run game.

“Once we get a running game going, the passing game coming off of it, we can be effective,” Solich said.

Rourke didn’t eclipse 10 pass attempts until the second quarter, and he still finished with two passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and 294 total yards.

While the Bobcats have reason to be satisfied about their offensive output this season, they have reason to be concerned about their defensive performance against the Minutemen.

Ohio gave up 50 points, the most it has given up this season.

“I don’t think any of us are satisfied with 50 points on the board by the opponent,” Solich said.

As the Bobcats finish their two-game road trip, they will play Central Michigan at home next Saturday at 2 p.m. The Bobcats lost 27-20 on the road against the Chippewas last season.

“We’re glad to get the two-game road span behind us,” Solich said. “That’s been hard on us. Those are two hard trips, two hard games. We got another hard one coming up.”

 

Football: The Best Gamers on the Bobcats

Football: The Best Gamers on the Bobcats

 

(left to right) Chukwudi Chukwu, Bryan Long Jr. and Andrew Cree II pose for a photo illustration about the best gamers on the team in Peden Stadium on September 26, 2017 (Blake Nissen | Photo Editor)

 

At first, Andrew Cree II had to respect Bryan Long Jr.’s “Madden” skills.

Cree, a linebacker at Ohio, said he’s one of the top five “Madden” players on the team. And in saying that, he also named some other good players. Long was a part of that group, along with Michael Ballentine and Jaylen Morgan. Those were the top three Cree knew.

Long, a wide receiver, couldn’t acknowledge Cree’s “Madden” skills, though.

“I’m No. 1,” Long said. “I feel like Cree is at the bottom pretty much. He can’t beat me.”

While the Bobcats play real football, they like to indulge in “Madden” and other video games when they have free time. Playing video games is an off-field activity, but it still allows the Bobcats to build chemistry and friendship.

Cree, Long and others don’t hesitate to talk trash to each other when they’re on the sticks, though.

When Cree heard what Long said, he had to reply with some heat.

“I emptied his pockets,” Cree said of the last time the two played.

Madden And Virtual Football Schemes

Cree likes to use any team on “Madden,” so long as it has a good defense. As a linebacker, he understands various defensive schemes.

Though Cree proclaims to be solid on defense, Long thinks differently.

“If Andrew Cree (II) tells you that, he should be a comedian,” Long said.

And then once again, Cree had to reference when he defeated Long the last time.

“Well then how did he lose?” Cree said.

Trash talk aside, playing “Madden” does have an educational element. The plays on the game, whether it be halfback screen on offense or Cover 2 man on defense, are actual football plays.

Cree plays on defense in real life, and Long plays on offense – both can learn about the other side’s ways of thinking through playing the game.

Long runs a solid pass-oriented offense that’s indicative of his acumen on that side of the ball. He knows where the holes are on defenses. Long said Cree runs a lot of Cover 4 and Cover 3, so he just throws into the defense’s holes.

“He can’t really tackle, he tries to hit stick a lot,” Long said.

UFC: The Ultimate Virtual Fighting Duel

Chukwudi Chukwu was once the best at “UFC,” but he’s willing to say he’s not anymore. For now, at least.

“Cleon (Aloese), honestly I probably would say is the best,” Chukwu said. “I’ll give it to Cleon now. He’s definitely the best. I mean I’m gonna claim my title one day again.”

Chukwu, a defensive lineman, is an avid player of the EA Sports “UFC” franchise, a video game based on the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Along with Chukwu, Aloese and right guard Durrell Wood are viewed as some of the best “UFC” gamers on the Bobcats.

The violence between mixed martial arts and football is different – mixed martial arts is combat.

But Chukwu acknowledges a similarity in the sense that offensive linemen and defensive linemen jockey for position at the line of scrimmage.

“One thing when you’re (offensive line) versus (defensive line), one thing is we use our hands a lot,” Chukwu said. “Boxing is great for a lot of (defensive linemen) because what you want to work on at the end of the day is hand down your opponents’ hand.”

Though Chukwu has not reclaimed his title, he has recently gave Aloese some competition. When Ohio traveled to Purdue earlier this month, Chukwu brought his PlayStation 4 on the road. The two played in the team’s hotel. Chukwu won.

Aloese believes Chukwu still has some work to do, though.

“He did beat me a couple times, but other than that, the record tells everything,” Aloese said. “It’s like 15-1.”

Dragon Ball Z and RPG Games

Javon Hagan and Kylan Nelson are part of a different group of gamers on the Bobcats. They’re not heavy sports gamers. Hagan and Nelson, Ohio’s starting safeties, prefer role-playing games like “Call of Duty,” “Destiny” and “Dragon Ball Z.”

“You don’t want to see me in those at all,” Nelson said. “You do not want to see me in those. Javon thinks he can beat me in Dragon Ball Z, but that’s over.”

Hagan’s favorite character in Dragon Ball Z is Gohan, but Nelson doesn’t want to hear any of that.

“He thinks he can be Gohan, but that doesn’t matter,” Nelson said. “I don’t even worry about him in that one.”

Hagan plays “Dragon Ball Z Xenoverse 2” on Xbox One, and though he and Nelson love the franchise, they occasionally play sports games. When “NCAA Football” was still on the market, Hagan liked playing that, and he was even ranked online at one point.

Nelson’s sports game of choice isn’t as popular as other games on the team. Just like he claims no one can touch him in “Dragon Ball Z,” he also says he’s good at “MLB: The Show.”

But not too many people on the team want to play that.

“They only want to play FIFA or Madden,” Nelson said. “Nah, they don’t want to see me in MLB: The Show.”

As Nelson finished talking about his favorite video games, he had to add one more thing. Hagan stood off to the side, waiting to speak about his favorite games.

“Majin Vegeta is definitely better than Gohan,” Nelson said as Hagan cackled with playful disbelief. “Majin Vegeta is way better than Gohan on record.”

“You out your mind,” Hagan said.

 

Football: Coach Frank Solich speaks about A.J. Ouellette, red zone offense

Football: Coach Frank Solich speaks about A.J. Ouellette, red zone offense

 

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)

 

After coming off a solid win against Mid-American Conference foe Eastern Michigan, Ohio is poised to win a third straight game Saturday when it faces Massachusetts on the road.

The game against the Minutemen marks the Bobcats’ last non-conference game of the season. Coach Frank Solich held his weekly press conference Monday, and he is focused on picking up a second straight road win.

Massachusetts has yet to win a game this season, but it hasn’t been blown out, either. Through five games, the Minutemen have lost by an average of seven points per game.

A.J. Ouellette is the difference in the offense

When A.J. Ouellette suffered a season-ending foot injury last year, Ohio’s offense suffered. It couldn’t use Ouellette’s running abilities to open the passing game.

This season, though, Ouellette is back, and he has proved why the offense revolves around him.

Ouellette rushed for a season-high 145 yards on 26 carries against Eastern Michigan, and he showed his best quality: the ability to lower his pads and burst through any opposing players in his way.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen many running backs that can get as low as he gets going into contact,” Solich said. “You can come in thinking you’re going to cut his legs out from under him, but his pad level is right there where you’re coming.”

On Monday, Ouellette was named the MAC East Offensive Player of the Week for the second straight week.

“He’s come off a year which was difficult for him, difficult for us,” Solich said. “Difficult to come from that year and play at the level that he’s playing now, but he’s been able to accomplish that.”

Ohio has improved offensively, even after a setback against Eastern Michigan

The Bobcats didn’t score an offensive touchdown against the Eagles until the first overtime.

Through three games, though, the Eagles are the No. 1 ranked scoring defense in the MAC with 15.7 points allowed per game.

For the Bobcats, scoring touchdowns in the red zone was a challenge last season. Not this season.

Despite only scoring 13 points in regulation against the Eagles, the Bobcats are the No. 2 ranked scoring offense in the MAC. This season, the Bobcats are also the No. 1 ranked red zone offense in the conference, as they have scored on 17 of 18 chances.

Though the Bobcats took a step back offensively against the Eagles, Solich isn’t concerned.

“I feel comfortable where we’re at in terms of our red zone offense and our ability to get into the red zone,” Solich said.

Odds and Ends

— Notable players out this week: Papi White (hand), Sam McKnight, Durrell Wood.

— The Bobcats have three players — Trent Smart, Evan Croutch and Cleon Aloese — ranked in the top 10 of the MAC for sacks this season. Smart and Croutch are tied for No. 2 with three sacks, and Aloese is tied for No. 7 with two.

— The MAC has four teams that allow under an average of 20 points per game. The Bobcats, ranked No. 5 in scoring defense, have allowed 23.5 points per game.

 

Football: Tariq Drake’s journey to Ohio

Football: Tariq Drake's journey to Ohio

 

Freshman Tariq Drake poses for a portrait at Peden Stadium.

 

Correction appended.

Tariq Drake went on a class trip to Europe after he finished his junior year of high school.

But before he left, he wanted to commit to Marshall, the first school to offer him a scholarship to play Division I football.

On June 1, 2016, Drake gave the Thundering Herd a call.

When he spoke on the phone with them, though, they didn’t show the same level of commitment to him.

“Marshall said they had to think about it again,” Chris Drake, Tariq’s father, said.

Tariq was irritated. He had felt obligated to commit to Marshall since it was the first school to show interest. No others else mattered at that point.

As soon as he got off the phone with Marshall, Tariq called Ohio, a school also at the top of his list. He was ready to be a Bobcat, and, unlike the Thundering Herd, the Bobcats didn’t have any misgivings about bringing him on.

“I’m just glad Ohio U. welcomed him with open arms,” Chris said. “It was probably one of his best moves ever.”

A freshman cornerback for Ohio, Tariq hasn’t played in any games yet. But his goal of playing college sports has been obtained.

Drake, who grew up in Warren, came out of Labrae High School in Leavittsburg. And going to school for free to play college sports was a goal that he wanted and needed to achieve.

“About the seventh grade I told him, ‘Tariq, we really can’t afford to pay for you to go to college,’” Charmaine Drake, Tariq’s mother, said.

The only way Tariq was going to college was through sports. Fortunately, he was destined to play sports.

His father played football and basketball through high school; his mother played baseball until she was 10 years old and played softball as she progressed through school. One of his uncles ran track at Ashland for two years, and another uncle played basketball at Tennessee State for two years.

Tariq was exposed to sports early and started playing football at 5 years old. Football wasn’t always his favorite sport, though. He didn’t like the aggressiveness of it, and, because he loved basketball, Tariq thought he was going to be a basketball player.

When Tariq was in the third grade, his dad signed him up for the basketball team at the local YCMA. Chris coached Tariq in basketball until his son got to high school, and he coached him in baseball and football through high school.

Now, Chris is an assistant football coach at Labrae High School and the eighth-grade basketball coach at Labrae Middle School. He is also an assistant track coach at the middle school and high school.

Though Tariq didn’t like football’s aggression, Chris wanted to explain to his son why football is the way it is.

“This is the only sport where you can be a bully and get away with it,” Chris told his son. “You can be aggressive, take out all your frustrations and there would be no repercussions.”

Tariq realized the fun part of football is hitting other players. And hearing fans cheering for him when he scored touchdowns wasn’t too bad, either.

His love for basketball remained, but the athleticism required to be a good basketball player translated to football. Lateral quickness, agility, jumping ability — all those traits factored into being a good football player.

Drake’s athleticism showed around the sixth grade, when he was one of the first kids to touch the backboard of a basketball hoop.

“That’s where I started to notice where maybe I have some kind of potential in some kind of sport,” Drake said.

Drake’s athletic potential was initially going to be harnessed in basketball. But in his sophomore year of high school, he realized basketball wouldn’t be his sport in college.

He was still only 6 feet tall, and he wasn’t a point guard.

“I honestly couldn’t really dribble, either,” Drake said. “I was just (a) shooter and occasionally (got) an alley-oop.”

Ohio wide receiver Keevon Harris knows how athletic Drake is. Harris, a redshirt freshman, went to high school with Drake and played on the basketball team, too. He remembers Drake doing a Euro-step as if he was about to do a layup, only to suddenly dunk on a 6-foot-4-inch teammate who tried to defend the play.

Drake didn’t stop playing basketball – he was a four-year letter winner in high school. But after his junior year, the offers for football began to come in. He played wide receiver and cornerback at Labrae, two of the most athletic positions on the field.

Linebacker Andrew Cree II, went to high school with Drake, too. Cree didn’t get dunked on, but he does remember competing on the field with Drake during practice.

“He’s a true example of raw athleticism,” Cree said. “He’s one of those guys that he didn’t have to go to no speed program to get what he has.”

Drake’s athleticism earned him a scholarship to play college football. But more importantly, it earned him a chance to get out of Warren, an area where Chris says jobs aren’t as plentiful as other areas.

Harris and Cree know what the area is like, so they wanted to help Drake get to college in any way they could.

When Harris met Dwayne Dixon, Ohio’s wide receivers coach, Dixon asked Harris if he could return kickoffs. But Harris wasn’t being kicked the ball anymore.

“We do have this one kid named Tariq Drake who can take back any punt that hits his hands,” Harris told Dixon. “And then they started recruiting Tariq.”

Cree told Drake about the Bobcats’ hard workouts, Ohio’s academics and how players on the team like to hang out and play video games together. Still, he was going to respect Drake’s decision.

When Drake called Marshall ready to commit, he didn’t receive commitment in return. But Marshall wasn’t the only school on his list. Along with Marshall and Ohio, he had offers from Akron, Youngstown, Robert Morris and a last-minute call from Wake Forest the day before 2017 national signing day.

But the atmosphere at Ohio and the close-knit nature of the team made the difference.

“Even though he had not committed yet, they treated him like he was one of them,” Chris said.

@CameronFields_

cf710614@ohio.edu

Correction: A previous version of this report misidentified Andrew Cree II’s position. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.

 

Football: Ohio defeats Eastern Michigan 27-20 after offense starts slow

Football: Ohio defeats Eastern Michigan 27-20 after offense starts slow

 

Photo by BLAKE NISSEN Kylan Nelson mocks releasing an arrow into the stands after Ohio’s overtime win against Eastern Michigan on Saturday.

 

 

YPSILANTI, Mich. – After Ohio forced an incomplete pass on its final stop Saturday, the Bobcats went into the locker room, ready to celebrate.

The sound of “Stand Up and Cheer,” Ohio’s fight song, boomed from the Bobcats’ locker room at Rynearson Stadium.

Then repeated chants of “We love football” came from the locker room. The Bobcats belt the chant after every win, whether it’s at home or on the road. Each win is hard to obtain, but while this one was especially difficult, it also served as confirmation.

The Bobcats live by the motto “No Limits,” and they learned why that motto fits them well.

Ohio defeated Eastern Michigan 27-20 in double overtime to win its first Mid-American Conference game of the season.

After the game, coach Frank Solich stood outside the locker room in a black polo and gray sweatpants, trying to gather his thoughts. Like the rest of his team, he was exhausted from the heat – it was 92 degrees at kickoff – but he emitted pride.

“This is a tough bunch of kids, man,” Solich said. “And they have proven it to me time and time again. They don’t have to prove it anymore. I just expect this out of them.”

Heading into overtime with the game tied at 13, the Bobcats had to score a touchdown. Nathan Rourke, in his second straight start, didn’t show the same elusiveness he did in the first three games. He was sacked four times.

The offense struggled throughout regulation, not tallying a touchdown until overtime.

“We gotta figure out a way to be able to play 60 minutes and not have to go into an overtime,” Rourke said. “And that falls again on me.”

Despite Rourke and the offense struggling in regulation, the team’s performance in overtime was representative of its motto.

It was hot, but the Bobcats (3-1, 1-0 MAC) needed to score. And even after struggling for most of the game, they did.

Rourke threw a touchdown to Brendan Cope in the first overtime, and he threw one to Cameron Odom in the second overtime. Then the Bobcats stopped the Eagles (2-1, 0-1 MAC) after Odom’s touchdown, and the game was over.

In a game where the Bobcats didn’t score an offensive touchdown until the first overtime, the defense helped the team immensely.

Before the end of the first half, Bradd Ellis returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown, Ohio’s only touchdown in regulation.

Ellis, a former walk-on, was targeted throughout the game. He was happy to make the play and make Eagles quarterback Brogan Roback look suspect — which is what Roback had tried to do to Ellis throughout the game.

The chants of jubilation that came out of the Bobcats locker room were routine. But even though wins are hard to obtain in the MAC, the Bobcats saw how far they could go when challenged at perhaps the highest level they’ve been challenged this season.

“We play as (we) yell our chant in there, ‘In rain and snow and sleet and the heat,’” Solich said. “That’s the mental part of what we’re all about.”

Football: Ohio to start Rourke; Maxwell will play at Eastern Michigan

Football: Ohio to start Rourke; Maxwell will play at Eastern Michigan

 

Nathan Rourke looks for an open reciever during Ohio University’s game against Purdue University on September 9, 2017 (Blake Nissen | File)

 

During the week of the Kansas game, Frank Solich didn’t name a starting quarterback at Ohio’s weekly Monday press conference.

Fans and media had to wait until Ohio began its first drive last Saturday to know who the quarterback would be. Unsurprisingly, the starting quarterback was Nathan Rourke.

Now, though, Solich knows his starting quarterback. Rourke has the job for Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan, but Quinton Maxwell – the Bobcats’ former starter – won’t stand on the sideline.

The Bobcats will play the Eagles at 2 p.m. in Rynearson Stadium. It’s an early Mid-American Conference matchup during what is usually the end of nonconference play.

And the Bobcats are intent on using a two-quarterback system that, surprisingly, has been effective.

“They’re both good quarterbacks,” Solich said. “If you have guys that are good players, the system has a chance to work.”

After Ohio defeated Kansas, Jayhawks’ coach David Beaty gave the system credit. The game marked the first time Maxwell didn’t start this season. But he played as if he had been in the game.

When Maxwell entered the game in the second quarter, he began 4-of-4 passing and threw a touchdown to Troy Mangen during his first drive. But Rourke continued to dazzle with his elusiveness outside the pocket and decision-making skills. Rourke passed for 152 yards and two touchdowns, adding a rushing touchdown as well.

“They were able to open their playbook and do the same things with each guy,” Beaty said.

It would be easy to say Maxwell entered the game like a relief pitcher, giving Rourke a reprieve for a drive or two. That wasn’t the case last Saturday, though.

Maxwell was the starter once, and he showed why when Ohio was up 39-24 against Kansas with 5:34 left in the game. He was brought in to close.

Maxwell led the Bobcats to the Jayhawks’ 29-yard line, and Louie Zervos kicked a 46-yard field goal to put the Bobcats up 42-24. Although not the starter, Maxwell ended the game with 102 passing yards and a touchdown.

“We’re prepared to play the guy that’s playing extremely well,” Solich said. “We’re hoping that it continues that we have two quarterbacks that play really well. That makes things easy on us.”

While the Bobcats are running a two-quarterback system, the Eagles have one. Defending Brogan Roback is difficult, though.

A dual-threat quarterback, Roback won’t engage in mainly air-raid like Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender. He has the capability to run, too.

“It won’t be easy, but we gotta find some kind of way to obviously not let him sit in the pocket and drill those throws,” Solich said.

Solich was quick to mention that the Eagles throw the ball out of the pocket quickly. Even if the Bobcats have a solid pass rush, they might not reach Roback because of the Eagles’ physical offensive line.

The Bobcats sacked Bender five times, a season-high in the category. They blitzed more than they usually do, but perhaps they’ll need the same aggressive pass rush against Roback. The Bobcats lost to the Eagles 27-20 last season. Roback threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns.

“Our focus this week is to make sure that first off we stop the run,” defensive end Trent Smart said. “Force him into passing situations, and then once we get in those situations, we have to contain the quarterback and be fundamental in the secondary.”