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A preview of Nevada’s Opponent for Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Ohio Bobcats

Ohio v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Matchup: Nevada (7-5, 4-4) vs. Ohio (6-6, 5-3)

When: Friday, Jan. 3rd, 2020, at 12:30 p.m. PST

Where: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, ID

TV: ESPN / Watch ESPN

Matchup History: First ever meeting

Nevada Football will go up against the Ohio Bobcats in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl for the final contest of the season. Nevada is playing in its 17th-ever bowl game, including its second consecutive bowl game under third-year head coach Jay Norvell. The Wolf Pack sport a 6-10 (.375) bowl record in its school history.

Ohio is appearing in its 13th bowl appearance in program history, and its 11th in 15 seasons under head coach Frank Solich. The Bobcats are 4-8 (.333) in bowl games, looking for its third straight bowl victory. Here is an opponent preview of the Ohio Bobcats:

Ohio Offense:

Behind Ohio offensive coordinator Tim Albin, who will be finishing his 15th season in that position, the Bobcats offense still remains a well-oiled machine that will be a challenge to stop.

Albin’s offense this season ranked No. 31 in the nation in total offense (443.3 ypg), No. 28 in first downs per game (22.7), No. 21 red zone scoring percentage (90.57%) and T-19 in scoring offense (34.7 ppg).

It all starts with dominant dual-threat quarterback Nathan Rourke, the most important Ohio player offensively and arguably the most important player on the team. Rourke showed his efficiency as a passer in his senior campaign, completing a career-high 61.4 percent of his passes. The two-time captain finished top-5 in the MAC in passing yards (2,676), touchdown passes (20) and pass efficiency rating (151.7). Rourke also threw a career-best five interceptions on 311 pass attempts.

NCAA Football: Ohio at Pittsburgh
Ohio Bobcats quarterback Nathan Rourke (12) looks to pass against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the first quarter at Heinz Field.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A big part of Albin’s offense has much to do with the run game, which works well in Rourke’s favor (his running ability might be his best skill, too).

The 3x All-MAC honoree finished second on the team -- and No. 7 in the FBS among quarterbacks -- in rushing with 780 yards on 144 attempts (5.4 ypc) with 12 rushing scores.

Rourke’s 2,547 career rushing yards are ninth in school history and his 48 rushing scores is two away from breaking the program record set by Kareem Wilson (1995-98).

Ohio as a team runs the football on approximately 60 percent of its plays. The program finished No. 22 across the FBS in rushing offense (216.5 ypg), totaling 2,598 total rush yards and 33 rushing touchdowns.

Redshirt freshman O’Shaan Allison and junior De’Montre Tuggle are two dangerous threats that lead the running back corps. Allison led the duo with a team-high 823 rushing yards on 129 attempts (6.4 ypc) with six rushing touchdowns.

Tuggle led Bobcat running backs in rushing touchdowns (10) in his first season of eligibility, scoring multiple touchdowns in four games this season. The Kilgore College transfer added 547 rushing yards on 91 attempts (6.0 ypc).

The experienced offensive line, which garnered three All-MAC selections, helped pave the way for the potent attack. Left tackle Austen Pleasants received first-team honors, while right tackle Marques Grimes and center Steven Hayes earned third-team honors. Pleasants, Grimes and Hayes are all redshirt seniors that started all 12 games this season.

Ohio’s passing attack totaled 226.8 pass yards per contest -- ranking among the top-5 in the conference and T-70 in the nation -- the most since 2015. No Bobcat receiver has caught more than 40 passes. Redshirt sophomore Isiah Cox leads the group with 36 catches for 590 yards and two scores.

Redshirt junior tight end Ryan Luehrman and redshirt freshman Shane Hooks are two 6-foot-4 targets to watch out for in the red zone. They both led the Bobcats with five touchdowns apiece. Luehrman hauled in 27 receptions, second most on the team, for 351 yards. Hooks added 26 catches for 515 yards. Hooks is currently nursing an ankle injury, which it will be interesting to see how much of a threat he provides if he is able to suit up.

After beginning 2-4, the Bobcat offense ended the season on an exceptionally strong note. They totaled 507.5 yards per contest and tallied 42.0 points per contest in the final six games, a stretch where they finished 4-2. Ohio capped off its season with two blowout victories to clinch the program’s 10th bowl game in its last 11 seasons. Ohio outscored its final two opponents, Bowling Green and Akron, 118-27, accumulating over 1,200 yards of combined offense in those two games.

Ohio’s offense ranked No. 31 in the ESPN’s FPI. It is incredibly talented and will be hard to halt, especially if they are able to continue this dominant play. Nevada will be missing four defensive starters (one only for the first half) in Friday’s game, along with adding three new interim assistants on the defensive side, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they attack this potent offense.

Ohio Defense:

The Bobcat defense is not as good as the offense.

This group’s performance has dipped since comparatively to its previous seasons. They rank No. 111 in ESPN’s FPI out of 130 teams. Ohio’s allowed opponents to score 27 points per game, ranking No. 60 in the nation and the most they have surrendered since 2013. Their defense surrendered 401.5 yards per game, including 5.93 yards per play with ranks 43rd-worst in the nation.

They have not developed a strong pass rush like they have in previous years. Ohio’s accumulated 21 sacks and 1.5 sacks per game -- numbers that have decreased in each of the last four seasons. The defensive group totaled 60 tackles-for-loss, T-16 worst in the nation.

Much like the offense, the pass rush has been better since conference play started, racking up 15 sacks and 45 tackles-for-loss in its last seven games.

Junior Austin Conrad leads the pass rushing crew. Conrad has totaled a career-high four sacks, including 34 combined tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss and two pass deflections. Cole Baker is second on the team in sacks with three, combining for 31 combined tackles and 4.5 tackles-for-loss in ten games.

Redshirt senior Javon Hagan is the most important player on this defense. Hagan, a 4x All-MAC honoree, finished No. 10 among MAC players with a career-high 99 tackles. He eclipsed double-digit tackle numbers four times, setting a career-high versus Western Michigan with 16.

NCAA Football: Frisco Bowl-Ohio vs San Diego State
San Diego State Aztecs running back Juwan Washington (29) is tackled by Ohio Bobcats safety Javon Hagan (7) in the third quarter in the 2018 Frisco Bowl at Toyota Stadium.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The 6-foot free safety did not record an interception, but tallied seven pass breakups. His lone fumble forced and fumble recovery on the year came in the 66-24 victory over Bowling Green.

Ohio’s defense forced 13 turnovers (eight interceptions), T-16th-fewest across the FBS, but finished the regular season plus-four in the turnover margin as a team. Seven of the 13 turnovers forced came in the final two contests, including five (four interceptions) coming against Bowling Green.

Additional Links:

Ohio Game Notes: https://bit.ly/2QliN9g

Nevada Game Notes: https://bit.ly/2SImYi1

Live Stats: https://bit.ly/360WBb4

Ohio finished 6-6 on the season after four straight 8-win seasons.