Wednesday, Jul 18, 2018
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Inside Bowling Green's matchup with Ohio

Bobcats rely on running the ball, stopping the run

BOWLING GREEN — The Bowling Green State University football team will look to win its second straight Mid-American Conference game when it hosts Ohio University in a 3:30 p.m. contest at Doyt Perry Stadium on Saturday. Here is a look at how the Falcons (1-5, 1-1 MAC) match up with the Bobcats (4-2, 1-1).

When Ohio has the ball …

■ The Bobcats use a powerful run game as the foundation of a potent offense.

Through the first six games Ohio ranks second in the MAC in scoring offense, averaging 38.3 points per game. Longtime Bobcats coach Frank Solich, who cut his teeth at Nebraska when that school’s punishing rushing attack was the scourge of college football, has not given up the run at Ohio.

“Coach Solich is always going to make your defense be sound and defend the option, whether it’s the speed option, or zone option, or what have you,” BG coach Mike Jinks said. “They do a good job of running the ball between the tackles.”

The Bobcats rank second in the MAC in rushing, averaging 212.7 yards per game with a league-high 19 running touchdowns. The point of the attack is junior running back A.J. Ouellette, who leads the MAC with at 88.8 yards per game.

■ Ohio uses its running game to set up the passing attack.

Bobcats quarterback Nathan Rourke has completed 82 of 135 passes this season for 973 yards and seven touchdowns. Even more impressive is that Rourke has thrown only one interception and that he ranks second on the team with 297 rushing yards and has a team-best nine touchdowns.

“You have to be disciplined in your pass rush because he can beat you with his feet,” Jinks said of Rourke.

Rourke’s favorite target is Brendan Cope, who has 25 receptions for 341 yards and two touchdowns. But Ohio has 13 players who have caught at least one pass; a player to look for is Papi White, who is considered one of the Bobcats’ top receivers but has played in just three games because of injuries.

Solich said he would like a 50-50 balance in the Ohio offense, with the run game opening up options in the passing game.

“We were at 50 percent [against Central Michigan], and we’ve been at 60 percent [run] through much of the season,” Solich said. “But we ran the ball really well.”

■ Creating turnovers has become a staple for the Falcons this season.

Bowling Green leads all FBS schools in fumble recoveries with 11 — nearly two per game — and is second in the MAC with 14 turnovers created.

“From a defensive standpoint, the defense’s ability to bend but not break has helped keep us in games,” Jinks said.

Ohio has turned the ball over 10 times this season, tied for fifth-best in the MAC. But the Bobcats lost the ball four times last last week, a critical component in their home loss to Central Michigan.

“Four turnovers get you in such a deep hole, it’s difficult to be in the game much less win it,” Solich said. “The previous week we had zero turnovers — so that caught up to us a little bit.”

Jinks said the game-deciding fumble at Miami demonstrates a major reason his team has been so successful at creating turnovers: desire.

“Winning teams usually win because of effort,” he said. “When we watched a clip of the fumble, we saw [David] Konowalski giving max effort, crawling on all fours to tip the ball to [Brandon] Harris.

“If anyone takes a play off, that play doesn’t happen.”

When Bowling Green has the ball …

■ The Ohio defense may not be exotic, but it is effective.

The Bobcats historically have not relied on outlandish or unusual defensive tactics; instead their players run their defense effectively and efficiently.

“You know where they’re going to be, but they are going to be sound in their approach,” Jinks said. “You’re going to have to work to move the ball against them.”

Ohio ranks sixth in the MAC in scoring, surrendering 28.3 points per game, while their 389.0 yards allowed per contest stands fifth in the league.

“Their front seven is really strong,” BG offensive lineman Austin Labus said. “They’re really technically sound group, and they’re strong. They do play the gaps really well.”

Senior Quentin Poling leads the Bobcats with 53 tackles in six games, while Chad Moore has 38 stops in five contests.

■ The Bobcats are good at stopping the run, while BG returned to its running-game roots at Miami.

Ohio ranks second in the MAC with just 113.0 rushing yards allowed per game. And while BG is averaging just 130.2 yards on the ground, the Falcons ran for 275 yards to beat the RedHawks last week.

Bowling Green’s Josh Cleveland ranks sixth in the league in rushing, averaging 67.7 yards per game. True freshman Andrew Clair has proven he belongs, contributing 198 yards in five games, while senior Donovan Wilson provides a power option with 118 yards on 35 carries.

“They have a lot of good running backs,” Solich said. “And they have guys returning on the offensive line, which makes them a threat to establish a running game.”

Last week’s strong running effort also was a product of one of the best efforts by BG’s offensive line this season.

“Our offensive line is communicating better, and our running backs were able to break off some big runs,” Labus said.

■ Time will be of the essence for the Bowling Green passing game.

Ohio allows 276.0 passing yards per game, next-to-last in the 12-team MAC. Only BG, which surrenders 296.3 yards per game, is worse.

But the Bobcats have been able to limit the passing damage by pressuring opposing quarterbacks, collecting 15 sacks in six games to rank fourth-best in the MAC. Seniors Cleon Aloese and Tony Porter along with junior Evan Croutch each have three sacks.

Last week Central Michigan allowed just two sacks, giving quarterback Shane Morris enough time to complete 25 of 35 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns in the Chippewas’ 26-23 victory.

“They completed 71 percent of their passes against us,” Solich said. “Their passing game was a big factor in putting points on the board against us.”

Contact John Wagner at jwagner@theblade.com419-724-6481, or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

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