Ohio’s final step toward gaining bowl eligibility couldn’t be much easier.
All the Bobcats have to do is defeat a winless Akron team Tuesday in their final game of the regular season to secure a chance to play one more game. Kickoff at InfoCision Stadium is set for 6 p.m.
A win, however, won’t guarantee that extra game. Ohio’s best possible record is 6-6, which doesn’t clinch a bowl game.
After a disappointing season that won’t end with a Mid-American Conference Championship, the Bobcats are hungry for that chance.
Below is a gameday guide with how to follow along, depth charts, a scouting report, three things to watch, the edge and our predictions.
How to watch: The game will be broadcasted on ESPN+ with Michael Reghi and Jerod Cherry on the call.
How to listen: The game can be heard on the Ohio IMG Sports Network — Russ Eisenstein and Rob Cornelius will be behind the mic. The broadcasts are available online through OhioBobcats.com and TuneIn.com/OhioBobcats.
Scouting the Zips
In 11 games, the Zips offense has scored 14 touchdowns on 2,844 total yards. Ohio’s Nathan Rourke has scored 27 touchdowns on 3,111 total yards, alone.
In a season when Akron has, to put it lightly, struggled to move the ball, it hasn’t found any sort of consistency. It averages just under 260 yards per game. The passing game is spotty, and the run game is hardly existent.
The lone bright spot is quarterback Kato Nelson, who has given Ohio fits in the past such as 2017’s 37-34 loss for Ohio. The redshirt junior has 11 touchdowns through the air on over 1,800 passing yards.
If the Zips’ offense found a way to get it together at some point in the season, it wouldn’t be facing a winless season. While the defense had its fair share of the blame, on paper, it isn’t as bad as it seems.
Akron boasts the No. 4 defense in conference games in terms of average yards per game with 377.6. The pass defense for the Zips have only allowed seven touchdowns in their six conference games and have intercepted the ball twice.
The special teams' units have seen more time on the field than they would’ve liked to this season, and even there it isn’t impressed.
The Zips average just 5 yards per punt return and when it has to kick in any capacity, they aren’t the best as they rank near the bottom in every statistic.
Three things to watch
Ohio’s defensive line
Akron is last in the MAC with 55 sacks allowed.
The second to last team is Kent State with 37 sacks.
The Zips have the worst offensive line in the conference, and it’s not even close. Last week, Nelson was sacked 12 times by Miami.
Don’t expect the Bobcats to put up a sack total in the double digits, but the defense should have a chance to explode in the backfield against the Zips.
Nathan Rourke + Ohio’s run game
Last season, the Bobcats found no shortage of offense against the Zips and handily won 49-28.
That all happened despite Rourke going 5-of-14 for 87 passing yards and an interception.
On the ground, however, Rourke scored four touchdowns and rushed 18 times for 86 yards. Former Ohio running back A.J. Ouellette flourished with 169 rushing yards and two touchdowns, too.
Expect a similar stat line Tuesday — Akron has the best pass defense in the conference but is ninth in the MAC in stopping the run. The Bobcats won’t need Rourke to pass them to victory if he and running back O’Shaan Allison can plow their way through the Zips defense.
Will Joe Mischler see time?
Backup quarterback Kurtis Rourke — Nathan’s brother — underwent surgery last week that should ensure he’s fully healthy next season. He’s expected to participate in spring camp.
That means quarterback Joe Mischler, who appeared both in the Rhode Island and Bowling Green games, could see more playing time this week.
The Bobcats will need to score early against the Zips. If that happens, Mischler, a redshirt freshman, should have a chance to show if he’s ready to be Ohio’s starter next season.
When Ohio has the ball: Ohio put up 609 yards and 66 points against one of the conference’s worst teams. Though the Zips defense has been streaky good, the Bobcats have too much talent and too much to play for as they need to win for a chance of bowl game.
When Akron has the ball: The aforementioned 12 sacks given up to Miami on Nov. 20 says all you need to know about the state of the Akron offense. Nelson will have his moments, but the Bobcats forced five turnovers against a slightly better offense a week ago.
Special teams: The Bobcats boast the reigning MAC East Division player of the week in kicker Louie Zervos, who became Ohio’s all-time points leader against Bowling Green. The Bobcats also had a few kickoff returns against the Falcons that could’ve gone for more had shoestring tackles not occurred.
Sports Editor Anthony Poisal: The Bobcats disposed of any doubt that they would coast through their final two games last week when they demolished the Falcons for their biggest scoring output since 1976. They might top 66 points again this week against the Zips, who haven’t won a game since October 2018. Ohio wins 55-21.
Sports Editor Matt Parker: In most cases, Ohio and its fans would look at this game with a bit of caution. The last time the Bobcats played in Akron, they lost. The time before that, they escaped with a two-point win. If you’re expecting that, don’t. Ohio has too much to lose if it slips in this one. Ohio wins 58-10.