Well, it won't be a perfect 2019 season for the Green and White. The Bobcats walked away from Heinz Field disappointed, suffering a 20-10 defeat to the Pittsburgh Panthers. The defense hung tough with the ACC outfit led by Pat Narduzzi, but Ohio's offense was sluggish and could only muster 10 points against a solid Panthers front seven.
The cloud hanging over the game was the illness of Nathan Rourke, who had his worst full game of his career according to ESPN's QBR metric. But how did the fine folks at Pro Football Focus grade the Ohio Bobcats. These grades are used in scouting evaluations for 30 of 32 NFL teams, and give us insight beyond the numbers. A 60-69 grade indicates average performance, while the 70's indicate above average performance, 80's is a great performance, and 90's is an elite performance.
Top 5 Individual Grades
Ohio appeared to check every box vs the Rhode Island Rams in a 41-20 win. It moved Frank Solich to 14-0 vs FCS opponents, and Solich is now 10-5 in season openers. The Bobcats were in control from start to finish, and it's hard to find things to be upset about. Of course Ohio made some silly mistakes on special teams, but that's something that Solich and the Ohio staff have corrected time and time again.
It's interesting, and important, to take a deeper look at the Bobcats performance as they move into their toughest 3-game stretch of the season. Starting with a visit to Heinz Field to battle ACC representative Pittsburgh and coach Pat Narduzzi.
The folks who take that deeper look? Pro Football Focus. Here's how they saw Ohio's performance on Saturday.
Top 5 graded Bobcats
Lukas Moore --
After what seemed an eternity, football will finally be back at Peden stadium this Saturday. Peden was a fortress for Ohio a year ago, the Bobcats finished 6-0 on their home turf. That 6-0 mark was one of many impressive numbers the talented 'Cats have produced in back-to-back seasons. However, missing out on Detroit has created a sense of urgency for the Bobcats. The pressure is on for Ohio, they're proverbial favorites to win the MAC, and falling short this year would sting.
Entering Peden to open the season is an FCS opponent, Rhode Island. The Rams went 6-5 last season, and they feel genuinely excited about the future of their program. Jim Fleming and the Rams will come to play, and have their eyes on an upset. But, when Frank Solich plays the FCS, victory has been a guarantee. Solich is 13-0 vs the FCS, with the closest contest coming a year ago in a 38-32 win against Howard.
The Bobcats still have to execute to win, but a tally in the win column isn't the only goal for a team with eyes on a MAC title.
How will the interior defensive line play?
Ohio Football kicks off the 2019 season on August 31st with the weight of Mid-American Conference title expectations on their shoulders. To achieve that goal, they’ll have to run through a formidable slate of quarterbacks blocking the path to glory.
Rhode Island – TBD
Last year’s starter Jajuan Lawson received his diploma, so the Rams have a wide-open battle raging at the position right now. Expect to see a bevy of names under center at Peden Stadium as head coach Jim Fleming continues to evaluate his options before CAA action gets underway. Vito Priore should get the first snaps, the Atlanta native started four games for Rhode Island last year and impressed in the team scrimmage, tossing three touchdowns.
Pitt – Kenny Pickett
Michael Roth --
Ohio Football’s 2019 OOC schedule has similarities to 2018
Ohio football is back and before they try and win that elusive MAC championship, the Bobcats have four games to play. Last season, Ohio almost lost to FCS opponent Howard. The Bobcats then lost back to back games to Virginia and Cincinnati, with the latter one being heartbreaking with a late turnover at the goal line. Ohio then bounced back with a 58-42 victory against Umass.
The biggest difference last season was the defensive resurgence in the second half of the season. Some might’ve presumed it was due to facing easier offenses to stop in the MAC, but then Ohio blanked SDSU 27-0 in the Frisco Bowl.
So what does 2019 have in store for Ohio?
Russ Heltman --
Preseason Mid-American Conference title expectations.
It’s becoming an annual recognition for the Ohio Bobcats football program, which under the guidance of Frank Solich, has gone from national laughingstock to perennial bowl contender and 2019 is no different. Despite major losses on offense and minor ones on defense, Nathan Rourke and the Bobcats have been picked to play in Detroit for the third straight season. It’s become a black mark of sorts as Ohio has failed to make it to Ford Field since their 2016 showdown against the undefeated Western Michigan Broncos. A classic MAC battle that sent the Bobcats home empty-handed following a narrow 29-23 loss to P.J. Fleck’s squad.
After back-to-back late-season letdowns that left Ohio on the outside looking in, the conference is seemingly theirs for the taking. In the West Division, the reigning champion Northern Illinois Huskies lost MAC Defensive Player of the Year Sutton Smith to the NFL Draft and head coach Rod Carey to Temple. Meanwhile Buffalo, last year’s surprise East Division champion lost the MAC Offensive Player of the Year in QB Tyree Jackson, his favorite target in WR Anthony Johnson, and the Bulls top defender in LB Khalil Hodge.
The last thing Coach Solich has to conquer is that elusive MAC Championship but there are a few roadblocks on the path to a title.
@ Buffalo: Oct. 5th
Lukas Moore --
Early in the 2018 season the Bobcats secondary was under heavy scrutiny. Both Virginia and UMass had record-breaking performances through the air, and the Bobcats looked like wet paper towels when trying to tackle receivers in space. It was an athletic secondary that looked overwhelmed in the early parts of the season. As the season wore on, the talent started to come through. The secondary began creating turnovers, and looked fantastic in coverage.
The secondary led the turnaround for a defense that finished 2nd in points allowed in MAC play, and no unit returns as much talent as the Ohio secondary. The Bobcats return three starters and six other players who contributed in 2018. If the secondary can pick up right where it left off, the Bobcats defense has some real potential. It'll be the job of new defensive coordinator Ron Collins to find the best rotation for Ohio's secondary from a lot of options.
The Bobcats secondary was graded as a unit at 90.7 overall in 2018, good for 4th in the MAC, with a grade of 82.4 for run defense which ranked 6th in the conference. The secondary's best grade was in coverage with a 90.9, this ranked 4th in the MAC. As a unit the Bobcats graded as an above average secondary in the MAC, despite the horrendous start.
Javon Hagan - RS Sr - 6'1 210 - PFF Grade: 80.5
Michael Roth --
Vegas sets Ohio season win total at 7.5, should you go over or under?
Despite being picked as the favorite to win the MAC, the Ohio Bobcats aren’t listed as the highest win total in the conference according to vegas. Instead the Bobcats are tied for second with Western Michigan at 7.5 projected wins with Toledo holding the top spot at 8 wins.
This brings Bobcat fans to the most important question, should you bet over or under on this listed win total?
The Bobcats went under their win total of 8.5 last season by half a game (win totals only count regular season games, MAC championship and bowl victories are not factored into this bet)
Ohio started slow with losses to Virginia and Cincinnati out of conference and then dropped a heart-breaker to Northern Illinois. They built some momentum but fell to rival Miami (OH) to seal the under.
Lukas Moore --
On Wednesday morning the Bobcats held a press conference featuring head coach Frank Solich, offensive coordinator Tim Albin, and new defensive coordinator Ron Collins. The room was filled with the rest of the Ohio coaching staff.
If there were one word to describe the attitude of the Ohio staff, it'd be confident. The term consistently repeated throughout the presser was "developing depth". Well, if a primary goal for a coaching staff is developing depth, they're pretty confident about their front line guys. Ohio also exudes confidence in their weight program, and it is becoming a lynchpin of Ohio's consistent success.
Of course most media days are positive events, but there was still information to be gleamed from what the Ohio coaching staff had to say. Here are the three takeaways from Ohio media day.
Lukas Moore --
The Bobcats defense took a lot of criticism in the early portions of the 2018 season. Week after week passing games were tearing apart the Ohio defense. The secondary couldn't tackle, and the inexperienced line and linebacking core struggled to put pressure on the quarterback. They allowed multiple record-setting performances to opposing wideouts and offenses. The atrocious start defensively in non-conference play spoiled the reputation of the Ohio defense for 2018.
That reputation, however, gets better and better when looking at their performance in the MAC. Ohio only allowed 20.9 points a game to MAC teams, good for second in the conference. The Bobcats also finished 3rd in yards allowed within conference play. A huge reason for this improvement was the play of the defensive line.
The young unit grew in front of our eyes, finishing with a Pro Football Focus (PFF) overall grade of 87.6 overall as a unit, that was 2nd in the MAC and 18th in the FBS. PFF also says the Bobcats had the best defensive line against the run in the MAC, with a PFF grade of 89.7. However, they only ranked 6th in the conference in rushing the passer with a PFF grade of 74.0
But who returns for Ohio? And how did they perform last year? Let's look at the PFF grades for the significant returners on the Ohio front.