Ohio came out in the third quarter ready to run. Over and over, it worked.
On the Bobcats’ 11th-straight run play to open the second half, Dorian Brown hit an open gap to the left of Jake Pruehs, shed one tackler and burst up the middle for a 62-yard touchdown run.
“The line does an amazing job and makes my job easier,” Brown said after Ohio’s 38-10 win over Toledo. “I’m just out there having fun.”
Ohio rushed for a season-high 393 yards in Wednesday night’s battle of Mid-American Conference division leaders. The Bobcats moved the ball on the ground in chunks, averaging seven yards per rush in 56 carries.
It’s one thing to run the ball up the middle by surprise, sprinkled in among passing plays and run/pass options. It’s quite another to run between the tackles, continuously, when everyone on the field and in the stands knows what’s coming.
“That’s what we’re conditioned for,” Pruehs said. “That’s what we love to do. We like to put the game in our hands, in the offensive line’s hands.”
Can’t blame them: It’s working.
After Ohio (8-2, 5-1 MAC) beat Miami last week, coach Frank Solich said his group is “not just a running football team,” citing that a mix of running and passing plays complement each other to keep opposing defenses off balance.
But on Wednesday, no such deception was necessary. The Bobcats never stopped running because the Rockets (8-2, 5-1 MAC) couldn’t catch them.
The resort to running stemmed from necessity.
Quarterback Nathan Rourke, one week removed from his career-best 294 passing yards, looked lost in the first half. He completed only 3-of-10 passes for 83 yards and an interception.
Even the running game, at first, failed to reach full speed. The Bobcats had 145 rushing yards in the first half, but fumbled twice inside the Toledo 25-yard line to erase prime scoring chances.
“I think there was definitely a little bit of frustration (at halftime),” Rourke said. “Because we knew that we were driving the ball and the only thing that was stopping us was us.”
Solich continued feeding the beast — a three-headed monster in the backfield of Rourke, Brown and A.J. Ouellette — and watched the trio combine for 327 yards (6.2 per rush) and four touchdowns by the game’s end.
Brown, a redshirt senior playing his final game at Peden Stadium, led the way with 17 carries for 142 yards and two scores. He torched the Rockets last year too, for a career-best 212 yards.
Brown and Ouellette, weighing 208 and 205 pounds respectively, had motors that allowed them to keep pushing up field as the game wore on. With the way they run, it almost looks like they invite contact from defenders.
“A lot of (first-string Toledo) guys weren’t playing the second half in a lot of their games,” said Pruehs, noting that Toledo had held significant leads in most of its games this season. “So that ground and pound football, they’re not very used to it.”
The Rockets had a full game to get used to it and they just might see it again. If Ohio beats Akron (5-5, 4-2) on Tuesday, the Bobcats could see Toledo in the MAC Championship.
“After the game, (the Toledo players were) all saying, ‘Oh, we’ll see you in a few weeks,’” Pruehs said. “Who cares? It doesn’t matter. We just ran 400 yards against them, almost.”