With 4:42 remaining and Ohio trailing Central Michigan by three, the Bobcats looked to Armani Rogers to lead the offense to a potential go-ahead score. The only problem was Rogers wasn’t in the huddle.
Instead redshirt freshman Kurtis Rourke, who had played the drive before, was calling the plays while Rogers was putting on his helmet. In the confusion, Rourke had to rush back onto the sideline while Rogers re-inserted himself into the offense.
That mix up perfectly captured Ohio’s struggles with running a two-quarterback offense during Wednesday night’s 30-27 loss to the Chippewas at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. While coach Frank Solich tried to give both Rourke and Rogers a fair opportunity to play, Central Michigan’s defense quickly caught on to the tendencies that each quarterback had. And Ohio’s offense suffered as a result.
“Going into the ballgame we told both of them (Rourke and Rogers) that they were both going to get snaps,” Solich said. “ Kurtis started off so good. He was very sharp on his throws. Great timing on his releases that you had a tendency to keep going with Kurtis.”
Rourke finished the game 12/19 for 231 yards and two first half touchdowns. Early on in his first start, it looked like the Rourke legacy that was started by older brother Nathan, would seamlessly transition over to Kurtis.
But lost in the hoopla of Rourke’s touchdown tosses to Shane Hooks (21 yards) and Isiah Cox (58 yards) was an inability to run the ball. Rourke finished the game with -19 yards on eight carries and running backs De’Montre Tuggle and O’shaan Allison failed to get clean looks due to Rourke’s struggles running the read option.
To help the Bobcats rushing offense, Rogers was put in the game with 5:05 remaining in the first half and he quickly delivered the goods. The graduate transfer led the Bobcats on a 10-play 75 yard touchdown drive. Not even the power going out midway through could shake a Rogers led offense.
“I don’t think it (the power outage) affected our kids at all,” Solich said. “You know they’re a little numb all that happens around them anymore.”
But Ohio (0-1, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) would lose all its electricity once the power came back on.
Up seven following a 93-yard kickoff return from De’Montre Tuggle, Ohio looked to take over the game — with Rogers as its man. Unfortunately Tuggle would fumble, leading to Central Michigan tying the game up at 27.
With the game tied and Rourke having not seen the field since the first half, Ohio had a difficult decision to make: go with Rourke who can throw but is struggling running or go with Rogers who can run but is struggling throwing (1/3, 4 yards).
Whatever the Bobcats chose was just fine with the Chippewas.
Central Michigan (1-0, 1-0 MAC) brought the heat when Rourke was in and sacked him four times. When Rogers was in, the Chippewas loaded the box and dared him to beat them through the air. As the Bobcats struggled to decide what the direction of their offense was, the Chippewas thrived behind redshirt freshman Daniel Richardson.
Richardson went 23/41 for 243 yards and a touchdown. As the game went on he became more settled and kept the Bobcats on their toes by distributing the ball to weapons like Kobe Lewis (115 yards, 2 touchdowns ) and Kalil Pimpleton (five catches, 65 yards and a touchdown).
As Solich looks back to see what went wrong in the Bobcats’ season opener, he’ll see many fixable problems. For one, redshirt freshman Tristian Vandenberg missed an extra point and a potential go-ahead field goal. The defense showcased some of the tackling miscues it had early last season and couldn’t cause turnovers despite three dropped picks.
But what might be the most concerning problem of all is that Solich has two quarterbacks with vastly different skillsets and vastly different shortcomings. And he can’t afford for his offense to be as predictable as it was in the second half of Wednesday night’s loss.
“We think that both quarterbacks can operate our complete offense,” Solich said. “ We just didn’t have any momentum on any of those drives.”
Turnovers and penalties were huge momentum killers for the Bobcats in the second half. Erase a questionable holding call on Ohio’s last drive and the Bobcats may even find a way to pull off the win. Despite starting the year off with a loss, Solich believes that the Bobcats can fix their issues by the next game against Akron.
“I’m hoping that the mistakes that were made were correctable mistakes,” Solich said. “And I believe that will be true.”