In its opening drive of the third quarter, Ohio faced a fourth down on three separate occasions.
Ohio converted on the first attempt — a fourth-and-5 situation — from its own 40-yard line after Jonah Wieland faked a punt and rocketed a pass to Ryan Luehrman for a gain of 20 yards. Running back De’Montre Tuggle converted on the second attempt after catching an 11-yard pass from quarterback Kurtis Rourke. Tuggle sprinted 16 yards before being taken down at Toledo’s 23-yard line.
Ohio made two bold decisions, and they paid off. It was marching downfield and shaving minutes off the clock. If it kept gambling, it might’ve been able to score its first touchdown of the night and bring itself within striking distance of Toledo.
But when faced with the possibility of converting on fourth down on Toledo’s 14-yard line, Ohio backed down. The attempt wasn’t as risky as the first two had been. Ohio was a yard away from converting in the red zone and was down by eight points. It needed to score, and there wasn’t much to lose.
Instead, Stephen Johnson kicked a field goal to shave the deficit to five points. The Bobcats opted to play it safe while they were falling behind. The Rockets spent the remainder of the second half piling on touchdowns, and the Bobcats fell short in their 35-23 loss Tuesday night.
“It's 14-9, and our defense was hanging in there,” Ohio coach Tim Albin said after the game. “The big plays hadn't started yet for Toledo, and it's 14-9. That's just, that's what my gut said. And that's what we did.”
It wasn’t the last time Ohio (3-8, 3-4 Mid-American Conference) settled for three points instead of six. Ohio made an 11-play, 61-yard march early in the fourth quarter but stopped eight yards shy of the end zone. On fourth down, Ohio elected to kick once again. But a bad snap resulted in an off-kilter kick, and Johnson’s fourth kick of the night clanged against the left upright and bounced back onto the field. Ohio attempted a 25-yard field goal and had nothing to show for it.
Between Ohio’s third and fourth field goal attempts, Toledo (6-5, 4-3 MAC) piled on two more touchdowns. Ohio wasn’t meeting Toledo’s offensive output — especially not from running back Bryant Coback, who rushed for 203 yards and was responsible for four of Toledo’s five touchdowns.
Ohio needed points on the board, and field goals weren’t cutting it. Toledo covered ground and ran up the score while Ohio’s offense was asleep at the wheel. Its first three trips to the red zone ended in field goal attempts.
“I think just getting the right play calling thing was an issue, but I think it's just execution,” Luehrman said. “I feel like once we got to the red zone, we just were like, complacent. OK, we can settle for field goal or anything like that. But we just could not finish drives, and that's been something that's been talked about throughout the season. Too many field goals.”
Sure, the Bobcats landed two quick blows and finally scored touchdowns on their final two drives of the game. The Bobcats outgained the Rockets 445-401, and Rourke even passed for 233 yards and a touchdown. But it was all too little, too late. The Rockets struck first and struck fast. The Bobcats didn’t hit back until the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
After a strong beginning to its November schedule, Ohio’s offensive inconsistencies seemed to fade. Its offense ran efficiently and earned it two more wins in a season that’d been all but a disaster for the first two months. The offense present for the last two weeks was checked out Tuesday. Instead of keeping pace with Toledo, Ohio was shut out of the end zone for over 55 minutes.
Ohio left Peden Stadium on Tuesday with a snapped win streak and a losing conference record. It could’ve avoided both, but field goals don’t cut it.