If there was anything revealed Tuesday after Ohio’s 24-10 win over Akron, it’s that the Bobcats have problems that need addressing. The Bobcats pulled away with the win, but they showed weaknesses that a team much better than Akron could use against them.
If Ohio wants a chance at a Mid-American Conference championship, it has several uncertainties it has to address fast.
Ohio’s greatest advantage this season will also be its biggest uncertainty. Two star quarterbacks in Armani Rogers and Kurtis Rourke guarantee the Bobcats aren’t short of offensive potential this season.
The problem is that Ohio needs to make a solid commitment to which quarterback they want to focus on. As of now, Rourke seems the most settled upon candidate. The redshirt freshman has started both games so far this season, with Rogers coming in to get time for each game.
The duo, while both strong under center, have two starkly-contrasting approaches. Rourke has gone 20-for-33 on passing this season and accounted for 323 of Ohio’s 357 passing yards. Rogers, on the other hand, is second only to Tuggle in terms of rushing with 49 yards in two games. Rourke is struggling with -26 yards so far.
That leaves a few glaring questions: When is a good time to bring in Rogers? Does it depend on whether Ohio wants to run the ball or not? If the Bobcats depend on the graduate transfer to run the ball most of the time, will it telegraph to their opponents how to stop them?
Rourke hasn’t had a truly bad performance yet this season, so it’s hard for the coaching staff to gauge when the appropriate time to pull him in place of Rogers is.
“We did get (Rourke and Rogers) reps in the first half and both showed well I thought,” coach Frank Solich said. “Kurtis shows really great flashes as a quarterback and as an excellent thrower and moves in the pocket pretty well but doesn't have the speed that Armani has, so we try to give them both reps.”
Whether they fully commit to Rourke or continue along with the two-quarterback system, the Bobcats need to figure out how to balance between the two for now.
Tuesday showed Ohio that its defense needs to improve at killing a drive. Despite winning by two touchdowns, the Bobcats were outpaced in total yards, possession time and total plays. Solich said his biggest gripe with his defense was the lack of three-and-outs from Akron and that warrants necessary attention.
Ohio’s saving grace came from two interceptions from Keye Thompson and Jett Elad. Both were critical in getting the Bobcats out of tough situations when Akron was driving hard downfield.
Thompson believes that the number of young players on the field has been a significant factor in Ohio’s performance. With the absence of Kai Caesar, Alvin Floyd and players who have opted out of the season, many young players like Jeremiah Burton have stepped in to fill the gaps.
“We put in new, fresh guys and fresh legs out there,” Thompson said. “Those guys are finally starting and just trying to find their way in and their roles. I'm pretty sure by next week in the rest of the season they're going to get some penetration and get those sacks.”
Whether the new legs on defense can adapt to their roles or not, the defense is in desperate need of stopping power.
The special teams have been in the hot seat since week one. The departure of kicker Louie Zervos has been felt, as redshirt freshman Tristian Vandenberg has struggled to find consistency in his first two games. The Buffalo native was even replaced by true freshman Jonah Fortkamp after Ohio scored in the fourth quarter to ensure the PAT was good.
Vandenberg has only made one field goal of his four attempts and missed an extra point attempt so far this season. What’s more complexing is that his completed field goal was also his longest attempt, a 44-yarder on Tuesday.
While punter Jack Wilson has seemed to have evened out since his performance against Central Michigan, Vandenberg is still struggling. Solich has said they’re currently working on adjusting his technique.
“He's beat himself up a lot so we don't need to do that,” Solich said. “He is such a long kicker that he's back away from the ball further than most kickers. I think he's almost running to the ball and we've had a little bit of trouble with him putting his plant foot with a toe between the crossbars and that will cause him to be off-balance on his kicks.”
It remains to be seen if Vandenberg can fix his kick in time for Ohio’s road trip to Miami. If he keeps whiffing, Ohio may hand his spot to Fortkamp.