Marshall football: Cato, Herd in for a fight against Bobcats
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall football team mulled around Peden Stadium last September, watching the game clock tick down the final seconds of a stunning 44-7 loss to Ohio in the latest installment of "The Battle for the Bell."
As those seconds disappeared, the Bobcats pounced on that bell, taking possession of the trophy for the first time since 2001 and stamping a period on one of the most dismal games in Coach Doc Holliday's Marshall tenure.
"It was almost every negative emotion you could think of," offensive guard John Bruhin said.
It was almost every negative play you could think of, too - interceptions, fumbles and penalties. The Thundering Herd (1-1) knows those must be eliminated to compete with the Bobcats (2-0) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. After a decade of owning "The Bell," the Herd wants Ohio's time-share to be a short one.
The Herd never led last season's game, tying it once at 7-7 in the first quarter. The game devolved for Marshall into an avalanche of mistakes and Ohio capitalized on nearly every one.
The Herd fumbled twice and quarterback Rakeem Cato threw four interceptions.
The Bobcats converted those turnovers into 24 points.
"That's one of the worst games I've ever played, from little league to high school to college," said Cato, who completed just nine of 21 passes that day.
Marshall's defense allowed 559 yards of total offense and the Herd also tacked on 82 yards on 10 penalties. Mistakes like those could be fatal against a Bobcats team some national pundits believe could be a BCS buster.
Ohio returns quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 53 yards and another score against the Herd last season.
Much like Tettleton is a threat in myriad ways, Holliday said the entire Bobcats offense can attack in multiple ways.
"They're a very physical team, but they still spread you out," Holliday said. "The thing they do where they create a lot of issues for you is they'll line up in two tight (ends), one back and two wide (receivers), but they'll still end up with four wides, where they flex those tight ends out and do different deals with them. So they give you a lot of formations out of the same personnel grouping, so they create some issues as far as match-up problems for you."
Ohio's offense operates much like Marshall's - rapid-fire and always moving. The Herd runs an average of 97.5 plays per game, while the Bobcats average 84. Defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said Marshall's defense is getting used to playing up-tempo offenses after facing its own every day in practice. After allowing 655 yards to West Virginia in its season opener, Marshall's defense cut that nearly in half last week, allowing 335 to Western Carolina.
"The first game, it was hectic with new guys in new positions," Taylor said. "I think that, in that jump from week one to week two, we've gotten a lot better. From week two to week three, I think we'll make an even better leap. The tempo shouldn't bother us that bad, but we need to make sure we keep contain on those guys, because they like to run laterally."
Ohio's defense is ranked 22nd nationally after holding Penn State and New Mexico State to an average of 279 yards per game. But the Bobcats have seen nothing like Marshall's offense, ranked sixth in the nation (580 ypg) and number one in passing (421.5 ypg).
The Herd knows it's in for a fight Saturday, and plans on putting up much more of a fight than it did last season. It wasn't just that they lost "The Bell," defensive end Alex Bazzie said. It was how they lost it. The Herd took pride in owning that trophy and wants to restore some pride lost in that blowout.
"It's not even about bragging rights," he said. "It's a pride thing. Although you've got all those games on your schedule and you want to win all those games on that schedule, you always remember that single game."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.