Ohio secured its third straight bowl win with a 30-21 victory over Nevada in the 2020 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Friday.
While the Bobcats let a 21-point fourth-quarter lead slip down to single digits, they were able to escape with the win.
Nathan Rourke took over in his final collegiate game to power Ohio's high-powered offense. His performance helped the team (7-6) finish at least .500 for the 11th straight season under head coach Frank Solich.
With four losses by three points or fewer, this could have been an even better year for the MAC squad.
Nevada quarterback Carson Strong and wide receiver Elijah Cooks were impressive through the air, especially during the late comeback, but the Wolf Pack (7-6) couldn't overcome their short-handed defense. The team suffered its 12th straight loss at Boise State's Albertsons Stadium, going 2-19 overall on the blue turf.
- Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio: 9-of-17, 144 passing yards; 87 rushing yards, 1 TD
- De'Montre Tuggle, RB, Ohio: 10 carries, 97 rushing yards, 1 TD
- Isiah Cox, WR, Ohio: 3 catches, 73 receiving yards
- Carson Strong, QB, Nevada: 31-of-49, 402 passing yards, 1 TD
- Toa Taua, RB, Nevada: 6 carries, 48 rushing yards
- Elijah Cooks, WR, Nevada: 14 catches, 197 passing yards, 1 TD
Bobcats Rely on Rushing Attack to Carry Offense
Ohio knew it had an advantage in the running game and stuck with it during an impressive offensive showing.
The team only scored three points in the first quarter, but it was clear the offensive strategy was working.
The commitment to the run eventually yielded 17 points in the second quarter as Ohio held a 174-to-minus-one advantage in rushing yards at halftime.
Rourke was especially impressive, finishing with 87 rushing yards on 10 carries. The Canadian didn't need his arm often, but he took advantage when given the opportunity with big gains.
It opened things up for O'Shaan Allison, Julian Ross and De'Montre Tuggle, who all found plenty of running room to help the team finish with 285 rushing yards.
Even with a few drives stalling in the red zone, Ohio scored on each of its first six drives. Things weren't quite as smooth down the stretch, with a pair of fumbles keeping Nevada in the game, but the 30 points were difficult to match.
The bend-but-don't-break defense was then more than enough to keep the Bobcats ahead on the scoreboard all night.
Nevada Can't Overcome Defensive Losses
Defense was a problem for Nevada all season, with the Wolf Pack 100th nationally (out of 130 FBS teams) with 32.1 points allowed per game. The squad then made major changes in the defensive staff before the bowl game, letting go of three coaches, including coordinator Jeff Casteel.
Though this brought new voices in the locker room, it created more challenges for players to adjust.
The biggest issue, though, was that three defensive starters (Austin Arnold, Daniel Brown and Hausia Sekona) were suspended for the entire game, with a fourth (Gabriel Sewell) only playing the second half. Christian Swint was then ejected for targeting in the third quarter.
This led to 7.5 yards per play allowed in the first half with the team especially struggling to defend option plays.
The Bobcats continued to utilize both the speed option and quarterback read, and the Wolf Pack rarely had an answer. Things continued to get worse when Rourke ran untouched for a 35-yard score in the second quarter.
However, there was a change in the second half.
After allowing points on the first six defensive possessions, Nevada forced fumbles on two straight drives, with both recovered by Sam Hammond. Dom Peterson came up big with a sack on Rourke in the fourth quarter.
The offense responded with Cooks remaining a go-to option and finally getting into the end zone with under 11 minutes remaining. A three-play, 21-yard drive then cut the deficit even further.
Unfortunately, the comeback ended on a trick play that went wrong near the goal line.
Another attempt at the end zone in the closing minutes ended with a fourth-down incompletion, sealing Nevada's fate in a disappointing loss.