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Syracuse football 2021 opponent preview: Ohio Bobcats

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Happy 100-year anniversary of our last meeting, Rufus.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 02 MAC Championship Game - Western Michigan v Ohio Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s quite a bit of time until the 2021 Syracuse Orange schedule begins. In fact, we only got a roster for this coming season on Wednesday. Yet, with 12 opponents already set and plenty of weeks to kill before kickoff, it seems worthwhile to do what we usually do here and talk about a different opponent each week.

Naturally, we start with Syracuse’s week one foe:

Ohio Bobcats

School: Ohio University

Mascot: Bobcats

#BRAND Slogan(s): #OUohyeah

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: #TheOTHEROhioUniversity OR #MyFatherIsRobertCat

Recommended Blog: Hustle Belt (MAC)

Conference: MAC

History vs. Syracuse: 0-2 all-time, with Syracuse winning by a combined score of 111-0. The last game in this series was 100 years ago, though, in 1921. So it’s not worth reading too far into those results.

Coach: Frank Solich, 17th year. After 15 seasons on the Nebraska staff, Solich took over the Huskers’ head coaching gig, helped get them to three straight top-10 finishes, and then was out two years later following a 2003 season in which they went 9-3 (something Nebraska fans would probably kill for now). Solich took over at Ohio in 2005, and has been the picture of consistency in Athens. He’s 115-82, with just two sub-.500 records. Meanwhile, the Bobcats have won the MAC East four times in his tenure, and made it to 11 bowls.

2020 Record: (2-1) (2-1)

Recapping Last Season:

Like the rest of the MAC, Ohio didn’t get much of a chance to do anything last year. The Bobcats won two of their three games, taking home some one-sided victories over Akron and Bowling Green while losing to Central Michigan by a field goal. Ohio’s offense averaged just 363 yards per game (92nd in the country) on offense, and about two-thirds of that was on the ground — making them a top-20 rushing offense on a per-game basis. As will be the case with a lot of teams this year, take some averages with a grain of salt here given that it was just three games vs. MAC teams.

Senior running back De’Montre Tuggle led the way on the ground with 403 yards and six TDs on 53 carries. Freshman quarterback Kurtis Rourke didn’t produce much, but he was pretty accurate, hitting 68% of his throws for 386 yards and three scores. Isiah Cox and Shane Hooke were both 100-yard receivers, but 11 different players managed to catch passes for the Bobcats last year in just three games.

Ohio managed five picks in the shortened season, with two by freshman Jett Elad. Senior Austin Conrad led the team with three tackles for loss, and was one of four players to tie for the lead in sacks with one apiece. Ohio allowed 389 yards per game, which was 51st in the country. They were especially good against the pass, allowing fewer than 200 yards per game through the air (something just 24 teams pulled off).

NCAA Football: Ohio at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

2021 Season Outlook:

The Bobcats don’t exactly have the easiest schedule ahead of them in 2021. Along with facing Syracuse to star the year, they also travel to play Northwestern and UL-Lafayette in non-conference play (and host Duquesne). In the MAC, Ohio has a bunch of tough home dates — CMU, Kent State, Miami (OH), Toledo — while the road schedule is a little more forgiving save a trip to Buffalo.

Ohio brings veterans across the line and adds Virginia Tech transfer TJ Jackson at tackle. Second-leading receiver Shane Hooke left for Jackson State. Beyond that, though, not a ton of activity transfer-wise for this program. Rourke is back at QB, and Tuggle will guide the run game once more. Even while looking to replace Hooke, they do seem to have an ample number of players that could step up as Rourke spreads the ball around while also not being forced to do too much relevant to the impressive rushing attack.

Defensively, there’s a lot of depth in the back of this defense, with plenty of experience on the line. This group could look really adept against the pass once more, which should provide an assist in the at-times pass-happy MAC. They’ll need that help no matter the opponent, though, without improvement against the run. Ohio allowed nearly 194 yards per game on the ground in 2020 (quite a feat considering they were up by at least a couple scores in each of the last two games, and foes likely would’ve been throwing against them).

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 4

Location: Peden Stadium, Athens, Ohio

Odds of Orange Victory: 70%

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

Ohio having such a capable back in Tuggle could provide at least a little bit of pause (he also had 6.4 yards per carry in 2019), I’d contend that this Orange linebacker group will continue to improve and the line, full of fifth- and sixth-year players would figure to be better against the run as well. Or at least, they’d have to be better than what we saw for parts of this past season. Assuming Syracuse has some sort of offense, SU has enough on defense to do what’s needed to get the win. With more scoring ability than what we’ve seen these past two years, that likelihood increases significantly.