LAFAYETTE, La. — Kurtis Rourke wheeled out to his right and pitched the ball to De’Montre Tuggle along the sideline. The ball bobbled in Tuggle’s hands for a moment before being dropped and scooped up by Louisiana safety Bralen Trahan.
Ohio had squandered another opportunity in the red zone.
The failed pitch by Rourke was a microcosm of Ohio’s (0-3) struggles on offense in its 49-14 loss to Louisiana (2-1). Lack of communication led to missteps that cost Ohio downs. Issues in the red zone that plagued it in its first two losses haunted it once again.
Ohio was outgained in yards 562-250 Thursday and was held to just 78 total yards in the second half. Those numbers are baffling for coach Tim Albin and an offense packed with veterans. Albin was Ohio’s offensive coordinator and running backs coach for 16 seasons before stepping into the role of Ohio’s head coach. He produced offenses for Ohio that regularly ranked among the best in the Mid-American Conference.
This season, Ohio regularly fails to convert on third down.
“We had chances to crank it up and make it a game and didn't get it done,“ Albin said. “We’ve won a lot of games bringing the ball and stopping the run, and we’ve got to consistently find the ways to stop that.”
Injuries and absences haven’t helped the Bobcats’ case at all. Jerome Buckner and Isiah Cox, two of Ohio’s key receivers, didn’t play against the Ragin’ Cajuns. The Bobcats were also without two of their starting offensive linemen, Kurt Danneker and Hagen Meservy. Brody Rodgers, who started on the line in the absence of Danneker and Meservy, went down with an apparent knee injury and did not return.
Ohio threw anything at the wall and hoped it stuck. It leaned hard into utilizing the dual-quarterback system of Armani Rogers and Rourke in hopes of shaking the Cajuns’ defense. Rogers hadn’t played more than a handful of snaps in each of Ohio’s first two games, but he saw almost equal time under center as Rourke did Thursday.
Did the dual-quarterback system work for Rogers? Sort of.
Albin knew heading into Thursday that Rogers needed more time on the field. Rogers is Ohio’s de facto rushing quarterback, and Louisiana’s run defense struggled in the weeks leading up to Thursday. Albin figured utilizing Rogers might give Ohio an edge.
“That was the plan going in,“ Albin said. “We've got to get him more involved, and that was the plan from adjustments or watching last week's film. Coming into the game, we were going to get that done, and we did.”
It worked for a time. Rogers and running back O’Shaan Allison found holes in the Cajuns’ defense and drove the Bobcats downfield. 92 of Ohio’s 164 total yards in the first half were from Rogers and Allison’s rushing attack.
But the gains stopped there.
Whatever progress Ohio’s run game had made in the first half evaporated after halftime. The rushing attack wasn’t just weaker — it was almost nonexistent. In the final 30 minutes of the game, Ohio netted nine rushing yards.
Ohio has garnered a reputation for being a team that loves the ground game. It entered the season with a grizzled running backs unit loaded with talent up and down the depth chart and a quarterback known for being quick on his feet. And it gained nine yards in the second half.
The prognosis from the Bobcats wasn’t good. Allison shouldered some of the blame and felt if his game had been tighter, Ohio might’ve been able to stand up to Louisiana.
“It was a few mistakes throughout the game that could’ve changed the outcome,“ Allison said. “Honestly, the most we can do is just keep working and perfecting our craft and just executing every chance we get. Just take advantage of every opportunity.”
But the problem extends beyond small mistakes. Ohio’s offense is out of sync with itself. It can’t convert on third down, and the red zone is death row. Ohio is out to its worst start to a season in over a decade.
If the Bobcats want to right the ship, they need to crack down on their offensive struggles immediately.