Ohio, unbeknownst to itself, established its identity earlier this season, and it furthermore confirmed it in Tuesday’s loss to Western Michigan.
The final score – a 37-34 overtime result – indicated that the Bobcats were in the game the whole time.
Physically, they were. But it was another game that featured two different versions of one team.
Ohio’s offense hummed in the second half. Its 385 total yards and four touchdowns were almost enough to hide the blemish of a 56-yard first half that resulted in zero points.
Quarterback Nathan Rourke’s 15-for-22, 188 passing yards and two touchdowns in the second half almost masked his 4-for-5 and 32-yard performance in the first 30 minutes.
The Bobcats’ second half performance just counts as a moral victory. It showed the flash that coaches and players have talked about after losing close games all season.
“We’ve shown flashes each game of what we’re capable of. We just haven’t been able to put four quarters of it (together),” Rourke said. “That’s been what’s holding us back.”
Ohio showed those examples on both sides of the ball. The defense in the first half held one of the MAC’s best rushing offenses in check to just 79 yards. It only allowed the Broncos’ star running back LeVante Bellamy to average 2.1 yards per carry in the first half. The pass defense was solid for its standards and limited Western Michigan quarterback Jon Wassink to only 140 yards in the first half.
And those stats are all meaningless.
The Bobcats identity crept up, and sure enough, they allowed for big plays to happen. Missed tackles were bountiful, and they allowed the Broncos to drive up and down the field.
“It seems like we just didn’t finish plays,” defensive lineman Cole Baker said. “I think that’s been a reoccurring thing.”
The one consistent thing for Ohio this season has been its inconsistency. That’s held the Bobcats back from being the team that members of the conference’s media poll voted to finally win the MAC.
That inconsistency has put Ohio in winning positions, but it failed to do so.
Most of all, that inconsistency cost it a season it won’t get back, and even though it can finish on a positive note, the expectations for coach Frank Solich’s program haven’t been met.
“We played two quarters of really good football, (and then we played) two quarters of so-so football,” Solich said. “That usually doesn’t get it done.”
He’s right. It doesn’t get it done, and it hasn’t.
In four of their six losses, the Bobcats have had an average point differential of 2.7. One of those was against the Broncos, and the other three were Marshall, Northern Illinois and Miami.
They were all games where the Bobcats at some point had control, and instead of taking advantage of that, they’ve let it leave their hands by missing a tackle or dropping a ball.
“We expected more out of this season,” Solich said. “We can’t take back any of the other games. I wish I could for those guys. I wish I could’ve done more because they deserve more than what they got accomplished this season.”
The Bobcats (4-6, 3-3 MAC) can end the season with both moral and legit victories. They travel to the bottom tiered teams in the MAC East Division with road trips to Bowling Green (3-6, 2-3 MAC) on Nov. 19 and Akron (0-10, 0-6 MAC) on Nov. 26.
If they can find ways to erase the inconsistencies that have plagued them all season long, they’ll avoid a losing record for the 11th consecutive season – a moral victory, too.
But Ohio doesn’t want moral victories. It wants the wins as badly as any other team. It wants the coveted MAC Championship trophy. It wants a sixth consecutive bowl appearance.
Most of those wants have seemingly vanished in a flash. The same flash Ohio has shown this season that could’ve given them its wants.
“Losing’s tough either way,” Rourke said.