Marshall football: Cato says losses to Ohio 'unacceptable'
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato won't play favorites in choosing between which loss was worse, the Thundering Herd's 44-7 loss to Ohio in 2011 or its 27-24 loss to the Bobcats in 2012.
"Both," Cato said. "Both losses are unacceptable."
And both are serving as fuel for the Herd's 57th meeting with Ohio and the "Battle for the Bell," the prize for victory that's traded between the two teams, and has resided in Athens the last two seasons. Marshall (2-0) hasn't lost three straight to the Bobcats (1-1) since the 1978-80 seasons.
The last two losses to Ohio were equally crushing for the Herd. There were different paths to that disappointment. Marshall was in the 2011 game for about half of the first quarter before the Bobcats rolled up 37 unanswered points and turned a 7-7 tie into a blowout.
Last season, Marshall held a seven-point fourth-quarter lead, but the Bobcats scored 10 points in the last 10:43 of the game, then intercepted Cato at the Ohio 15 with 20 seconds left to secure the win. That loss became even tougher after the season was over. The Herd finished last season 5-7. Holding that lead until the end would have helped give Marshall six wins for the season and bowl eligibility for the second straight year.
That all gets tossed onto the "What if?" pile, and senior defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said that makes the loss sting even worse.
"You lose by those three points and you wonder what else we could have done," Taylor said. "Just looking at this year, I don't think we're going to have that problem. We're going to roll in guys and play hard each snap."
The Bobcats return many of the cast of characters from the previous two games, most notably quarterback Tyler Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship. In the last two meetings, Tettleton has thrown for a total of 485 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions on 40-of-64 passing and hasn't been sacked once. Blankenship rushed for 102 yards on 30 carries last year, plus the Bobcats should have a healthy Ryan Boykin at running back as well. He rushed for 130 yards on 25 carries against Marshall in 2011.
Defensively, the Bobcats have been pros at swiping the ball out of the Herd's hands. Ohio has pounced on nine total turnovers in the last two meetings, three last year and six in 2011. Four have come from fumbles and five from interceptions. Two seasons ago, Cato's last trip to Peden Stadium, he threw four interceptions on a dismal 9-for-21 night.
What's helped Ohio, linebacker Raheem Waiters said, is that while some individuals will break through, the Bobcats as a whole are a solid unit that is light on mistakes and very cohesive. Waiters said Herd defensive coordinator Chuck Heater brought that point home Sunday.
"He said they're a team, they're a good 'team' team," Waiters said. "We have a lot of talent and we're really good in that aspect and we're coming together as a team now. They've been a team for a long time."
The Herd is moving toward that full-team concept this season. Last year, Marshall was known for its big-play passing offense, mainly because it threw a ton and struggled mightily on defense. This year, the Herd is averaging 264 rushing yards per game and only seven points allowed per game. Last week, Marshall pitched its first shutout since a 28-0 win over Ohio in 2003 by blanking Gardner-Webb, 55-0.
The defensive renaissance has come in part from a deeper defensive line, which helped rack up six sacks and six quarterback pressures last week versus the Runnin' Bulldogs. That could benefit the Herd, considering Ohio lost two starting redshirt senior guards to injury in the Bobcats' 49-7 loss to Louisville.
"There's no doubt we're the best team we've been since we've been here, as far as becoming a football team," Holliday said.
"I think this week will tell a lot, to be honest with you. It'll be a chance to get on a bus and go into someone else's arena, get into an away hotel and it's just us."
The Herd hopes that, while it might be just them on the way to Athens, they'll leave Athens with a new, shiny, bell-shaped passenger.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.