Hoosiers deliver finishing touch after season of close calls

Virginia's Bryce Perkins (3) runs against Indiana's Dominic Sheppard (9) during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Bloomington, Ind. (Jeremy Hogan/The Herald-Times via AP)

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CHARLOTTESVILLE - Virginia will play a rare Week 3 neutral site game on Saturday. Hurricane Florence forced the Cavaliers to move their game against Ohio to Nashville, Tenn. It will be played on the campus of Vanderbilt.

The venue may have changed but the match up remains the same.

All season long, we'll bring you a look from the other side, getting the insight and thoughts of newspaper beat writers from Virginia and Virginia Tech's opponents. These are the local journalists who cover these teams on a daily basis. We hope it reminds you the value of reading local newspapers and their websites.

Jason Arkley took time out to answer four downs worth of questions about Ohio going into Saturday's game at Virginia.

For more on the Bobcats and their match up with Virginia, you can follow Arkley on Twitter @JasonAMessenger and read his coverage at athensmessenger.com.

1) I can't imagine coach Frank Solich and the Bobcats were thrilled with a bye week so early. Coming off the opener, a close win over Howard, what did Ohio work on and focus on with that time off?

The early bye week was not by design, or at least not Frank Solich’s design. It sets up a scenario where Ohio is now scheduled to play 10 games over the next 9.5 weeks — MAC loves the midweek games in November — and the Bobcats play road games in six of the next 9 games.

With all that in mind, Ohio used the bye week to get as healthy as possible. The Bobcats had full practices just three days over the seven-day gap, but were also able to get a handful of players back into the rotation including safety Javon Hagan and CB Jamal Hudson in the secondary.

The Bobcats showed little, schematically, in the opener against Howard. Essentially, this is the true season opener for Ohio.

2) What's the story with the Bobcats' quarterbacks? Will Nathan O'Rourke and Quinton Maxwell both play Saturday or did Maxwell win the job? Are they similar styles of players or different?

So, in 2017, Quinton Maxwell was the starter coming out of camp and Nathan Rourke was the backup. But, Rourke got opportunities in the first couple of games, outplayed Maxwell, was the starter the rest of the way beginning with the first conference game.

Rourke had a great year. Rushed for more than 900 yards, Accounted for a school record 39 touchdowns (21 rushing, 17 passing, 1 receiving). His 21 rushing touchdowns are another program record.

I would label both as dual-threat QBs, or are at least forced to be in Ohio’s offense. The Bobcats run a one-back offense exclusively, to the QB is often the second ballcarrier. Ohio also incorporates some option, mostly zone-read but there are also traditional option looks and of course RPOs, so the QBs will run.

In the 2018 opener, Rourke struggled on the first three series. Maxwell came in as planned, and Rourke never re-entered. This was due in large part because Ohio was chasing Howard the entire first half and needed every point it could get. The offense worked better under Maxwell in week 1.

Rourke remains the starter, however, and will the first QB up against Virginia. But, yes, both QBs are expected to get reps again in week 2.

It’s going to take more than three series to get me to waver in my belief that Rourke is the starting quarterback at Ohio in 2018. He made too many plays, and the offense was too efficient with him in 2017, for me to think otherwise right now.

3) Virginia is thin on the defensive line and struggled to defend the run against Indiana. Ohio appears to have some size up front. Is that a matchup the Bobcats can exploit?

It’s one Ohio will do its best to exploit. The Bobcats are a run-first kind of team, and had called runs more than 60 percent of the time in 2017.

The biggest disappointment for Ohio in the opener was an inability to run the ball when and where it wanted against Howard. With four returning starters on the OL, two experienced quarterbacks, and two fifth-year running backs, the expectations that Ohio will again be a good run team — if not the best in the MAC — in 2018.

Where Ohio has struggled is when faced with large amounts of man coverage and that eighth defender in the box. The Bobcats often good enough to power through that in 2017, but didn’t in the opener.

4) New U.Va. quarterback Bryce Perkins is the definition of a dual-threat QB. How has Ohio fared recently against mobile quarterbacks? Will it be able to contain him?

The Ohio defense, a 4-3 front, has been hit or miss over the last few years against quarterbacks who can make plays running, or throwing, the football.

However, it’s clear Ohio would prefer facing a dual-threat QB as opposed to a pro-style version who is efficient at getting the ball out on time and willing to mine short-to-intermediate routes.

Ohio’s worst defensive games over the last couple of seasons have come against offenses that can work advantageous matchups at tight end or in the slot, repeatedly. Offenses that are willing, and able, to hit the 8-12 yard option over and over have been the most difficult for the Bobcats to get a handle on.

Now, Ohio did struggle to contain Howard’s Caylin Newton in the opener. Newton, a smaller if perhaps quicker version of Perkins, rushed for more than 90 yards and threw for more than 400 against the Bobcats. This wasn’t a steady diet of moderately successful plays but rather a big bucket full of big and explosive plays.

Communication in the secondary, as well the mental ability to deal with Virginia’s motion-to-set-the-option formula, will be the big points of emphasis for the Ohio defense this week.

Ohio had a top 25 rushing defense in both 2016 and ’17. But with six new starters in the front seven, it’s still unclear at this point whether the Bobcats will approach that kind of production up front in 2018.

This article originally ran on richmond.com.

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