BOGACZYK: Herd Seeking Ball Control of One Kind Versus Ohio
The Word on the Herd-September 8, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall football coaches will be talking a lot of BS this week.
That’s not a reference to the inevitable coachspeak prior to a game against a longtime rival.
It’s “ball security.”
After a five-fumble night – losing three – in a 48-7 rout of FCS member Rhode Island, the Thundering Herd faces Ohio for the 58th time in the “Battle for the Bell” series Saturday at noon at Edwards Stadium.
The Bobcats (1-1) have won the last three in the rivalry – their first three-game victorious run since 1973-75 -- thanks in large part to Herd turnovers. Accomplished Herd seniors like Rakeem Cato, Chris Jasperse, Eric Frohnapfel, Tommy Shuler, Jermaine Holmes and Ra’Shawde Myers have won two bowl games, but are 0-3 against Ohio.
“Right now, as we speak, it’s not a rivalry,” Cato said Monday. “They beat us three times. I don’t think that’s a rivalry, and we know what we’ve got to do.”
Perhaps the ball security issue in the win over Rhode Island was timely because it brought some focus on the matter heading into the Ohio contest. After all, even with the three turnovers, Coach Doc Holliday’s team set a Marshall record.
Still the Herd’s 549-yard total offense advantage (724-175) over the Rams was a school record, eclipsing a 527-yard differential in a 61-0 victory over VMI in 1991. Marshall knows the Bobcats – playing their third straight road game this season -- will be much less forgiving, too.
In the three straight losses to Ohio, the Herd is minus-10 in turnovers (13-3). Cato has thrown six interceptions (of his career 31) and Marshall has lost seven fumbles. In the Ohio-Marshall games from 2011-13, the Herd has had 6, 3 and 4 turnovers, respectively, despite averaging 435 yards per game.
So, how much will Herd coaches stress ball security this week in practice?
“A lot,” said Marshall running back Devon Johnson, who has rushed for 288 yards in a 2-0 start. “On Sunday (in practice), we never have balls on the field when we’re stretching. They made us have footballs on the field, stretching Sunday and we had to carry it doing flex, hold onto it.
“They came through to try to punch it out. This week, it’s most important trying to take care of the football, protect the football, hold onto the football. And if we can’t protect the football, we can’t win, no matter how great we play.”
Coach Doc Holliday’s history as a head coach tells the tale on what turnovers can mean. His five Herd teams are a combined 29-24. When Marshall has an edge in takeaways, the Herd is 18-4. When there’s a turnover deficit, Marshall is 4-16. When the turnover battle is even, Marshall is 7-4.
“Turnovers are definitely an issue in a lot more games that we’ve lost throughout the years,” Marshall offensive tackle Clint Van Horn said. “I think it’s huge, a huge difference the previous three years (against Ohio), because it has been a problem, and it’s no secret. And last week, it’s no secret that we turned the ball over three or four times and that’s something we need to stop doing.
“We’re not going to beat Ohio, obviously, if we have three or four turnovers. We’ve got to reduce that. The coaching staff is going to be on us all week about holding the football, making smart decisions, being smart with the football and we need to come out and not have that be an issue in the game again.
“It’s one thing to say it; it’s another thing to do it.”
Frohnapfel said no one understands the frustration over the Bobcats’ recent success more than the Herd seniors who have a goose egg against the longtime rival and former Mid-American Conference foe.
“This is the one game that for some reason, every year, we come out and … turnovers … they just come out and play better,” the Herd tight end said. “We find a way to lose, unfortunately and I think going into this week we’re very confident and we have a good plan set that we can actually watch some tape on them, unlike the last two weeks (against teams with new coaches).
“It’s going to be a fight. They’re a well-coached team, and they’re physical and we know going in what to expect. There aren’t going to be any surprises going into this game.”
He said the Herd designs haven’t been the root of the shortcomings.
“Just watching film, we’ve really moved the ball well,” Frohnapfel said. “If you watched that film without looking at the scoreboard, it looks like we’re scoring a lot of points. But it’s just that at the end of drives, we’d stall, or we’d get into third-and-long situation and not convert; we’d have turnovers.
“It’s little things like that. I think our overall execution in the past years, it hasn’t been bad. We’ve been able to move the ball on them. It’s just a continuous, are we finishing drives, and are we taking care of the ball. And those are the things that have hurt us in these past years.”
In the 2011 game at Peden Stadium, freshman Cato threw four first-half picks in a 44-7 Bobcat rout. In 2012 at “The Joan,” an Antavious Wilson lost fumble was huge, combined with a Cato fumble and pick. Last season, the Herd lost again in Athens, Ohio, thanks in large part to a pair of fumbles by running back Steward Butler.
“They’re making plays, finding some way, somehow to make that play to change the ballgame,” Cato said. “They did it. I don’t know how, but they know how, and they did it.
“This is a new game, a new year, and we need to change it. We’re going to be really ready for this matchup and Coach Holliday will have us really ready for this matchup.”
Cato’s top target, longtime Miami and Marshall friend and teammate Shuler, has 22 receptions for 216 yards in the last two games against the Bobcats. He said it “has been a rocky three years.
“Cato and I were talking in the weight room (Sunday) and he said, ‘We owe it to the Marshall fans, we owe it to Marshall alumni we owe it everybody around here that we, Marshall football, owe them a win against Ohio,’” Shuler said. “Get the bell back. This week in practice, we’ve got to go extra hard and pull everything out of our hat just so we can get this game.”
Cato was pretty succinct about what the game means as part of a season of great expectations for the Herd.
“We’ve just got to approach the game as the biggest game of the season,” the senior quarterback said.
That is no BS.