AKRON — Ohio is finally starting to take steps in the right direction.
The steps come after being pummeled by nonconference opponents for four games and after sorting through inconsistencies on both offense and defense all season, but Ohio is making progress.
Ohio managed to overpower Akron 34-17 in its first Mid-American Conference game of the season. Twenty-four points in the second half powered almost entirely by the run game and a defense that shut down Akron’s dual-threat quarterback propelled Ohio to something it hadn’t seen since last year — a win.
Before halftime, Ohio looked to be heading down the same path it took during its nonconference schedule. Quarterbacks Kurtis Rourke and Armani Rogers rotated on and off the field, sharing snaps and attempting to keep Ohio’s offense on the move. Issues on third down cropped up once again, and Ohio only converted twice on third down in the first half. The defense gave up a 55-yard touchdown drive to an Akron team that ranked ninth in the MAC for total offense.
But then, the switch flipped.
In its first four games, Ohio has given up an average of 20 points in the second half. On Saturday, it allowed just seven against Akron while piling on three rushing touchdowns of its own at the hands of Rogers and running back De’Montre Tuggle. For the first time this season, Ohio looked like it had an identity.
“It’s the best two quarters I've seen in a long time,“ Ohio coach Tim Albin said. “Both sides of the ball and special teams I thought, dynamic. I said, ‘Gentlemen you played two solid first two quarters. We’ve got two to go to be 1-0 in the MAC East (Division). I could not be happier with the performance of the football team on the road.”
Ohio’s defense ran through Akron’s offensive line and harassed quarterback DJ Irons incessantly. Irons was sacked four times Saturday, two of which came from defensive end Will Evans. The redshirt fifth year recorded five tackles Saturday, second only to linebacker Bryce Houston.
Evans said Ohio’s defense knew it had flaws. Saturday’s game was just the first step in correcting them.
“We just know that we had to just play harder,“ Evans said. “We had to keep putting it on them, putting it on Akron. Just keep playing it harder and those were the results.”
Ohio’s 30-minute defensive stand would’ve meant nothing if its offense failed to produce like it had early this season. Before Saturday, Ohio averaged 13.75 points per game. It had nearly been shut out against Northwestern a week prior.
Even against Akron, the offense struggled out of the gate. Rourke, Ohio’s starter since the season began, ran into trouble. The redshirt sophomore was picked apart by Akron’s pass defense in the first half and completed 7-of-12 passes for only 56 yards. Rourke was sacked twice on consecutive drives in the first quarter, and his passes didn’t get Ohio downfield.
Passing was getting Ohio nowhere. So instead, it decided to run. Rourke sat out after halftime, and Rogers was given command of the field. Rogers’ playstyle leans into rushing, and that’s exactly what Ohio did. Of Ohio’s 458 total yards Saturday, 398 were rushing yards.
The run worked. The Bobcats took the Zips and beat them senseless in the second half, outscoring them 24-7 and recording three touchdowns over their last four drives. The Bobcats, for the first time this season, were in control of the game.
“I couldn't be prouder,“ Albin said. “I was worried about the guys trying to do more than what they should and not letting things come to them. But our guys, they didn't do it ... Our guys went out there and performed very, very well, and it worked out for us.”
Ohio’s win on Saturday wasn’t a monumental victory. Akron under coach Tom Arth has won just two games since the beginning of the 2019 season. It’s ranked in the bottom half of the MAC for both offense and defense and is a punching bag for larger conference opponents.
Was it a big win? No, but it is progress.
Ohio showed that its offense is capable of running up the score, and the defense proved that it can shut down opposing quarterbacks. Ohio is far from where it wants to be, but a second half smackdown of Akron is a definitive move in the right direction.
Now, Ohio just needs to stretch its second half performance over four quarters.