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Ohio running back A.J. Ouellette takes a handoff during the second half of the Bobcats' game against Buffalo on Wednesday night.

Football: A.J. Ouellette’s career night powers Ohio past Buffalo

A.J. Ouellette is battling a cold.

It didn’t stop him from going sleeveless under his black jersey, despite freezing temperatures at Peden Stadium on Wednesday night. It didn’t stop him from running roughshod over a talented Buffalo defense on his way to the best rushing outing of his career.

He vomited on the sideline, took some medicine to help his stomach and sniffled through his press conference. But he also rushed for a career-high 196 rushing yards and scored three total touchdowns in Ohio’s 52-17 throttling of Buffalo on Wednesday night.

“It’s how you think it would feel,” Ouellette said. “We needed to have a statement game to show people what we were capable of. I think we did that.”

Ouellette had four runs of more than 20 yards. He had two rushing touchdowns. He averaged 7.5 yards per carry, and he used a Madden-like truck stick on Buffalo defenders to earn extra yards. 

On his 8-yard touchdown grab from quarterback Nathan Rourke, he caught the ball at about the 7-yard line, flattened a helpless Buffalo defender and stayed on his feet before stumbling into the end zone.

Those kinds of plays have become normal for the redshirt senior from Covington. He knows the ropes of the Mid-American Conference’s mid-week schedule because he has done it five times. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, and he’s 27 yards from accomplishing that again. He was second-team All-MAC last season. He’s cut his teeth in the weight room and on the field, barreling over defenders with ease.

“There’s times where we go light in the weight room, and he’s going like 400 (pounds),” safety Javon Hagan said. “But that’s just him. As you can see, it’s paying off on game day.”

Coach Frank Solich — a former running back who, during his playing days, had a similar style to Ouellette’s — knows a good running back when he sees one. He wasted no breath in voicing his praise for Ouellette.

“A.J. has had more than his fair share as you go back through the seasons and pick out plays that he's been special at,” Solich said. “I'm really glad to see him finishing up the way he is. I think right now he's the best back in the league." 

Ouellette’s bowling-ball style has fueled the Bobcats’ rushing attack all season, but he’s especially shown that in Ohio’s (7-4, 5-2 MAC) last four games. He’s rushed for 570 yards in that span, and he’s set career highs for yards in a game in back-to-back outings. 

But don’t try to give Ouellette credit for those yards. He’s quick to deflect it and send it to Rourke, the offensive line and the coaching staff. He’ll be ending his Ohio career in a few weeks, and he’s going out with big numbers. But to him, those numbers belong to the offensive line.

That’s the same offensive line that paved the way for 437 Ohio rushing yards against Buffalo (9-2, 6-1 MAC), which was giving up only 153.9 yards on the ground per game coming in. 

The Bobcats’ five offensive linemen were slated to be one of the best in the MAC this season, and they have lived up to — and maybe exceeded — their billing. That unit, which features four upperclassmen, has been together for a long time. Four of them have blocked for Ouellette since they arrived on campus.

“I get more pleasure knowing that it’s a couple of the guys up front’s last couple games,” Ouellette said. “They work their butt off. I’ve had them my whole career. That’s the reason I’ve had such good career yards. Those guys are badasses up there.”

The Bobcats have rushed for at least 400 yards twice this season. They’ve reached more than 390 yards on the ground four times. Since rushing for only 46 yards in the Oct. 13 loss to Northern Illinois, Ohio has averaged 339.4 rushing yards per game. Why pass the ball when running the ball gets the ball moved as well?

After that loss to NIU, Solich put an emphasis on the run game, saying Ohio needed to get back to its foundation. Well, 1,697 rushing yards later, the Bobcats are back to that foundation.

More importantly, they’re 4-1 in those games. Ouellette is a big reason why.

In his latest performance, Ouellette had to juggle his workload with a cold. But like the Buffalo defense, the cold wasn’t near enough to stop Ouellette from a career high. 

“All week,” Ouellette said of his cold. “I’m feeling a little better today.”


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