ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio football team held its 15th and final practice of its 2019 spring season today on a gorgeous afternoon at Peden Stadium.
The Bobcats put on their third 60-play scrimmage of spring ball in the final workout.
"It's hard to stay healthy enough to have a true spring game without having a lot of pressure on a lot of other guys to get more reps than probably what they should," said 15th-year head coach Frank Solich. "Today was a typical scrimmage day for us instead of a spring game. We had a lot of good things. We got everybody snaps. That's always a little difficult in terms of trying to get guys on the same page and hitting on all cylinders and having a great deal of efficiency in what they're doing because a lot of these guys are still pretty young and still learning the system. There were flashes out there of what we can be. We're going to need a lot of work in the offseason. We're going to have to have some interior linemen come through for us on the defensive line. Some guys have got to get better on the offensive line, interiorly, to have the kind of depth you're going to need at those two positions. Other than that, I think we're pretty solid with where we're at in terms of talent on the defensive and the offensive sides."
The defense produced four takeaways during the scrimmage, leaving Solich excited about the unit heading into the summer and fall.
"We've got good team speed," said Solich. "We've got a lot of experience coming back in the secondary. I really like our linebacker corps, from the guys returning to the guys just coming up as young guys. We're going to have a lot of linebackers who can play really fast football, as well as our secondary. We've got a good number of really talanted rushes."
One of those turnovers turned into six points for the defense, as redshirt junior cornerback Xavior Motley (Centerville, Ohio) forced a fumble and redshirt senior linebacker Austin Clack (Tipp City, Ohio) was there to recover and run it back for a touchdown.
"It was great. I haven't scored a touchdown since my senior year (of high school)," said Clack. "It was a good feeling to get back into the end zone."
Of course, takeaways are nothing new for Ohio's defense, as the Bobcats led the nation in the category in 2018 with 32 gained.
"I think all of our guys are kind of ballhawks," said Clack. "That's something we can hang on to and take into the fall."
It was a light day of work for senior quarterback Nathan Rourke (Oakville, Ontario, Canada), as the two-time All-Mid-American Conference Second Team selection saw just 10 plays of action. Despite the limited reps on the final day, Rourke heads into the summer encouraged about the progress he and his teammates have made on the offensive side of the ball.
"I'm proud of this team and proud of the development we've made this spring," said Rourke. "I think we've shown a lot of promise, and I'm excited about that. I think going into this spring we knew we were going to be young at receiver and young at running back. I think those are two positions that we know we're going to have some depth, knowing that we had some guys injured at receiver that are going to play for us and have a role for us. At running back, we've been dealing with injuries for a long time. (Redshirt sophomore) Jake (Neatherton) and (redshirt sophomore) Julian (Ross), they're going to contribute. We're going to have guys in the summer that are going to be coming. The guys that have come in during the spring have really worked their tails off, (redshirt sophomore) Jonathan (Barna) and (freshman) Shane (Bonner). I'm excited about what we're going to be.
With Neatherton and Ross both working their way back from injuries, the door opened for redshirt freshman O'Shaan Allison (Malvern, Pa.) to get plenty of reps at running back, and the youngster made an impression on his veteran quarterback.
"O'Shaan's had a great spring," said Rourke. "We've asked a lot of him with him being the only running back with experience. He's been healthy, and he's carried such a big load. He's just a workhorse. He's been something special."
Rourke will be tasked with directing an offense that has lost a pair of All-MAC First Team offensive linemen in Joe Anderson and Joe Lowery, a First Team All-MAC running back in A.J. Ouellette, a First Team All-MAC wide receiver in Papi White and a Second Team All-MAC offensive lineman in Durrell Wood. Still, Rourke is confident that his younger teammates will step up and fill those shoes capably in 2019.
"I think the biggest thing is that we've had an identity with our guys that have been in the program and have contributed so much to the program," said Rourke. "Those are all people who have made names for themselves in the record books here. We're just going to be doing it with different people and have a different flavor on things. I don't think it's going to change too much of who we are. We have pieces that we can move around, and we're going to be flexible with the guys we have. Those guys have the right mentality, and we're going to continue to get better."
Despite all the flashes of greatness from various positions and players throughout the past five weeks, the Bobcats successfully achieved what is arguably the most important objective of spring ball: walking into summer break relatively healthy.
"We've had some surgeries, but those were basically right at the beginning," said Solich. "The injuries that we've got were a lot of lower extremity injuries; ankle sprains, pulled hamstrings, those type. They'll get a little bit of a break now and get all healed up and be ready to go. I think we did fairly well getting through the spring without a lot of stuff that's going to carry on over to the fall."
Ohio will open up its fall camp in early August. The Bobcats kick off the 2019 regular season on Saturday, Aug. 31, with a matchup against Rhode Island at Peden Stadium. Call 800-575-2287 for ticket information.