Ohio played its 2023 spring scrimmage on Saturday, and while the score was not kept, it still provided some insight into where Ohio stands at about the halfway point between the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
Here are four takeaways from the Bobcats’ spring scrimmage:
Kurtis Rourke is back (sort of)
Five months after sustaining a knee injury against Ball State that ended his incredible 2022 season, Rourke was in full pads for the spring scrimmage. He went through warmups and even participated in some drills before the scrimmage officially began.
He did not participate in the scrimmage, as 2022 Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl MVP C.J. Harris took the majority of the snaps, but the fact that Rourke was fully dressed and warmed up is a great sign for the 2023 season.
When the severity of Rourke’s knee injury was revealed, whether or not he was going to be ready for the start of the 2023 season was a major concern, but Saturday was an extremely encouraging sign towards alleviating that concern.
Ohio’s wide receiver room is still excellent
Wide receiver was one of the biggest strengths for the Bobcats last year, which was a huge reason why they were still able to make the Mid-American Conference Championship game and win their bowl game even after Rourke went down.
James Bostic, Ohio’s third-leading receiver last year, is gone, but the top two, Sam Wiglusz and Jacoby Jones, are back, as well as Miles Cross, who ranked fourth. Additionally, Ohio’s second-leading receiver from the 2021 season, Ty Walton, should be a factor as well after only playing in four games last year.
“(Getting to throw to those guys every day) is great,” Harris said. “Knowing that even if I can’t make the best throw, they’re gonna go and make a play for me.”
The running back room is crowded
Wide receiver is not the only position where Ohio has plenty of talent, as the running back room is extremely deep heading into 2023. 2022 MAC Freshman of the Year Sieh Bangura figures to be the starter, but O’Shaan Allison is coming back for one more year, and he will also have to contend with Nolan McCormick, who improved steadily over the course of 2022.
Bangura’s biggest competition for snaps, however, could come from Rickey Hunt. The three-star freshman ran track in high school, and showed off his speed with a couple of excellent runs on Saturday. It takes a lot for a position player to stand out in a scrimmage, but Hunt did, and Ohio looks to have an embarrassment of riches at running back.
The defense is still a question
As hard as it was to have any real conclusions about the offense during Saturday’s scrimmage, it was even more difficult to have any about the defense. First, both sides were not quite going full tilt, as expected, and second, Ohio was without four of its most important players on defense – Bryce Houston, Keye Thompson, Torrie Cox Jr. and Vonnie Watkins.
The defense was Ohio’s second-best unit last season, and as long as Rourke is playing quarterback, that will likely continue to be the case. However, it was the improvement of the defense over the second half of the season that pushed Ohio over the top as one of the MAC’s best teams.
Entering their second season under defensive coordinator Spence Nowinsky, the Bobcats will be hoping to avoid the slow start they had last year and play 12 games of consistent, solid defense.
“We got more familiar with him as the year went on,” cornerback Justin Birchette said. “When he came in, we got a whole new defense, he brought a lot of different plays and packages to our defense. Getting to know him more as a person and as a coach has helped us a lot during the spring.”