The final installment of our 2021 summer guide is the Know Your Opponent series. We’ll take you through Northwestern’s schedule week by week, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent and identifying some key players to look for. The series serves as a way for us to evaluate and take stock of the team’s upcoming opponents.
Up next, the Wildcats face Ohio for the first time since 2008.
2020 Record: 2-1
Head Coach: Tim Albin
The following metrics are courtesy of Bill Connelly and Football Outsiders (and now ESPN!). These Metrics are directly from Connelly’s final S&P+ ratings of the 2020 season. You can read more about the rankings and theory behind them here.
2020 S&P+ Overall: 83rd
2020 S&P+ Offense: 58th
2020 S&P+ Defense: 92nd
Before we dive too deep into the Bobcats’ 2020 season, it’s important to note that they only played three out of the six games that they were scheduled to play due to COVID-19 cancellations. With that being said, the Bobcats did not disappoint in these three outings. The Bobcats sole loss of the season came on opening night against a tough Central Michigan squad in which they fell 30-27. The Bobcats’ 2-1 record allowed them to finish in the middle of their MAC East division behind Buffalo and Kent State.
Although the sample size for their 2020 season was small, the Bobcats had no shortage of scoring ability, most of which came in their 52-10 blowout victory over Bowling Green. The Bobcats will attempt to replicate their high-scoring offense in the 2021 season as they return 62% of their production from 2020.
While they are returning a good amount of production, Tim Albin is taking control of the program as head coach after former head coach Frank Solich stepped down due to medical reasons. Albin will slide into the head coaching position after 15 years as Ohio’s offensive coordinator.
For the most part, the Bobcats should be optimistic about the 2021 season. In their last complete year, the team went 7-6, capping off 2019 with a 30-21 win in the Idaho Potato Bowl over Nevada. Although it is difficult to predict, this team seems to be on an upward trend, putting them in a decent position to make a run for the MAC conference title in 2021.
When you look at the 2020 offensive statistics on paper, they look pretty solid – 438 yards in the air, 650 yards on the ground and an average of 34.3 points per game. However, one major flaw on the Bobcats stat sheet was their third down conversion efficiency. Ohio converted just 37.5% of their third downs, far below average when compared to all of the FBS.
In 2020, Ohio had two turnovers, both of which were fumbles against Central Michigan. The ball security of this Ohio team is impressive, and if they can continue averaging under one turnover per game then that will put major stress on opposing offenses to maximize their production on each possession. In regards to the Bobcats own production, players such as De’Montre Tuggle and Isiah Cox acted as spark plugs that were able to jump start the Ohio offense at seemingly any moment in 2020. The Tuggle and Cox tandem also show that the Bobcats have major weapons on both the ground and in the air.
In 2020, the Bobcat defense was a large part of the team’s success, as they allowed just over 16 points per game. Fortunately enough for the Bobcats, 70% of this production is expected to return in 2021, giving them the upper hand in most matchups when it comes to experience and team chemistry.
Ohio did not have any major weaknesses in their defense in the 2020 season, but improvements on the interior defensive line and linebacker group would greatly benefit them in 2021. Over the three games they played, the Bobcat defense allowed an average of 193 yards per game. Allowing less yards per game on the ground will be something that the Ohio defense needs to focus on if they hope to improve. There is reason to believe that the Bobcats can make these changes as linebackers Jeremiah Wood and Keye Thompson showed major promise last season.
The best position group of the Ohio defense is their secondary. Their experienced defensive back core conjured up five interceptions in just three games in 2020. Safety Jamison Collier led the team in tackles and was successful in containing opposing offenses to minimal yards last season. Look for their returning stars to corral offensive threats in 2021.
Three Players to Know
Jamison Collier, S
The hard hitting safety out of Georgia was a crucial part of the Bobcats success in 2020. Collier is a high IQ player that uses his quick feet to patrol the skies sideline to sideline. He led the team with 19 total tackles in 2020, an extremely impressive feat considering their shortened season.
Isiah Cox, WR
Ohio did lose to Central Michigan, but that was not due to a poor performance by Cox. As a sophomore, Cox racked up 102 yards with just four receptions against a tough Central Michigan defense. In the 2021 season, quarterback Kurtis Rourke will likely try to target Cox as one of his primary options, as Cox has proven that he can be a real offensive weapon when given the right opportunity.
De’Montre Tuggle, RB
This offensive juggernaut played a critical role in the Bobcats success, leading the team in rushing and averaging an astonishing 7.6 yards per carry. Tuggle poses a real challenge to any defense that is trying to tackle him as his agility and open field speed are top notch. Tuggle finished the 2020 season with 403 yards and six touchdowns and was responsible for 37% of the team’s total yardage. If the Northwestern defense can limit one player’s offensive production, it has to be Tuggle’s.