Frank Solich paced around the midfield logo Saturday at Peden Stadium with a hat, headset and clipboard and watched Ohio’s final spring practice unwind. The coach placed his hands on his hips as he observed his team complete full-contact reps for the final time until fall camp.
Solich witnessed a battle at the quarterback and running back position, a new defensive coordinator leading a stout defense and, yes, a worm dance.
But in his final post-practice huddle until August, Solich expressed pleasure in how the Bobcats handled a spring full of transitions on both ends of the ball.
“There were flashes out there of what we can be,” he said. “I think we’re pretty solid at where we’re at with talent on offense and defense.”
Here are three takeaways from Ohio’s final spring practice:
Easy transition for Ron Collins
The biggest change to the Ohio coaching room came when Ron Collins stepped in for Jimmy Burrows, who retired after serving 14 years as defensive coordinator for the Bobcats.
Collins made the jump from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator in February, and players and coaches lauded Collins all spring for making a smooth transition and holding the defense to the same standards as last season.
Those high standards were evident Saturday. The defense forced four turnovers, limited quarterbacks to short passes and screen plays and showed glimpses of the same defense that led the Mid-American Conference in turnovers a year ago.
The most impressive moment came after cornerback Xavier Motley popped the ball from the hands of running back Shane Bonner. Austin Clack, a redshirt senior set to fill one of the linebacker holes next season, scooped the ball and ran it 50 yards for a touchdown.
After he reached the end zone, Clack laid on his stomach and executed a worm dance as the defense roared behind him.
“I got to the 10-yard line and was like, ‘I got to do it,’ ” Clack said.
Even though reps were split among second and third-string players, the defense looked cohesive and promising with Collins at the helm.
Backup quarterback battle will continue in the fall
Nathan Rourke was covered in turf shavings after he completed two 50-yard barrel rolls as punishment for the two interceptions he threw in the scrimmage.
But Rourke likely wouldn’t have needed the punishment if there wasn’t two quarterbacks competing to be his backup. Rourke wanted to be aggressive in the 10 snaps he received before Solich opted to see more from Kurtis Rourke — Nathan’s brother — and Joe Mischler.
Solich is still undecided on which of the two quarterbacks will backup Nathan, but Mischler appeared to have the slight edge Saturday. The redshirt freshman looked more comfortable in the pocket and took fewer sacks than Kurtis, an early enrollee and true freshman.
Both quarterbacks, however, completed a touchdown, and it was Kurtis who had the better pass — a 20-yard strike perfectly placed to Tyler Walton in the corner.
The winner won’t be decided until Solich has another look in August for summer camp.
“We wanted to give (Kurtis and Mischler) a chance to really show,” Solich said. “We know Nathan is our No. 1 guy, and he’s going to get a lot of reps in the fall.”
O’Shaan Allison impresses most on offense
Ohio’s backfield didn’t have its truest look this spring. Julian Ross, likely to receive starting running back duties in the fall, was absent in all spring practices with an injury.
Ross’ absence, however, gave more reps to O’Shaan Allison, who proved his capability as a backup Saturday.
The redshirt freshman received most of the reps against first and second stringers and often needed multiple defenders to be tackled. His most impressive run Saturday came after he cut through the middle and broke two tackles for a 30-yard run that stopped just short of the end zone.
Allison bulldozed his way through the line of scrimmage again on the next play for the touchdown.
At 205 pounds with a knack for shedding tackles, Allison could be a quality third-down backfield option for Ohio in 2019. He responded well to the increased snaps in the spring and received ample praise from Nathan Rourke, who tabbed Allison as the most impressive player in camp.
“He’s going to be something special,” Nathan Rourke said.