Ohio’s fabled turnover belt was out early and often Tuesday night.
The first Bobcat to wear the prop was safety Jarren Hampton. Early in the second quarter Hampton recovered a fumble that would lead to Ohio’s second touchdown drive during its 24-10 win over Akron.
The Bobcats weren’t able to capitalize on its two other takeaways. Nickelback Jett Elad and weakside linebacker Keye Thompson each returned their interceptions into the redzone, but Ohio saw no points come from the following offensive drives.
Still, the Bobcats had three more takeaways than the week before, and coach Frank Solich couldn’t be happier about it.
“It’s one of the biggest pluses in football,” Solich said. “You get extra possessions. Field position gets involved in that.”
The Bobcats have ached for more takeaways since last season. In 2019, the Bobcats were tied for 10th in the Mid-American Conference with five interceptions. No Bobcat had more than one. But Tuesday night showed that the Bobcats are learning to have a nose for the ball.
“This week going into practice we were prepared to get takeaways,“ Thompson said. “We did circuits and ball drills and strip drills and tips and overthrows just to get the ball back for our offense.”
Despite two interception returns deep into Akron territory, the Bobcats weren’t able to turn Elad and Thompson’s interceptions into points. The Bobcats’ offense fizzled in the red zone before settling for two missed field goal attempts.
Even without the points, Ohio’s takeaways on Tuesday helped keep Akron’s offense off the field. Redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Gibson threw for 218 yards and a touchdown against the Bobcats, while Teon Dollard pounded the Bobcats on the ground for 165 yards on 22 carries.
Akron was attempting to tie the game when Elad first picked off Gibson. The redshirt freshman read the play the entire way and was thrilled to record his first career interception.
“It was so hype, it was amazing,” Elad said. “I haven’t had an interception in like a real game since high school and all these emotions came to me and it was so hype and exciting. Just surreal and crazy, you know?”
Elad was only able to enjoy his turn with the turnover belt for one drive before it was handed over to Thompson.
All night, the Bobcats rushed Gibson and somehow he’d find a way to slither past the defense. But as the game wore on, the Bobcats ensured Gibson was never comfortable. On the drive following Elad’s interception, Gibson was rushed toward the Bobcats’ sideline on third-and-5.
With the hopes of making a play, Gibson heaved an errant pass across his body into the awaiting arms of Thompson. By the time Thompson was tackled on the Akron 19-yard line, the turnover belt was waiting for him.
“I go in each week focusing on takeaways and turnovers and tonight I came across one and I’m very excited about that,” Thompson said. “Coaches are doing a fantastic job with inserting new plays and new blitzes for me to let loose a little bit.”
Ohio’s three takeaways and three sacks was an 180 degree improvement from the Bobcats week one loss to Central Michigan. There’s still a long way to go, though. Akron was 7-16 on third downs and had 22 more offensive snaps than the Bobcats (72-50).
Solich has made it clear that Ohio needs to be better at getting offenses off the field. Long methodical drives wear down on a team and if the Bobcats can’t be better on third down, teams might take advantage of it.
“We’re not getting three-and-outs,” Solich said. “And that’s something we got to look at and do a much better job of.”
Ohio’s defense will need to continue improving if it wants to win next Tuesday against Miami. Akron’s offense isn’t as explosive as the RedHawks, so Ohio’s preparation over the next few days will be vital.
The Bobcats will have to bring the same desire to force turnovers with them to Oxford.
And who knows, maybe the turnover belt will make another appearance.