Sept. 11, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – The “Battle for the Bell” rings loudest in our Ohio River region, but when Marshall and Ohio meet on a football field for the 56th time on Saturday night, it will be the recollection of a buffalo herd-like charge that resonates most with the home team.
When Ohio won the rivalry Bell last season – for the first time since the Jim Grobe-coached Bobcats in 2000 -- by a convincing 44-7 throttling of Marshall, the Bobcats charged to take possession of the Bell as the final seconds ticked off at Peden Stadium in Athens.
And “ticked off” about that display is part of the mindset of the Herd (1-1) as it prepares for the visit by the Bobcats (2-0) and Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. kickoff at Edwards Stadium on Marshall Hall of Fame weekend.
“If it was me, I’d so the same thing,” Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato said Monday during player interviews about the Bobcats’ rush for the trophy Bell.
A river runs through this rivalry that the Bobcats lead 30-19-6, and those who have grown up close to the two schools understand the importance – like Herd starting defensive end Jeremiah Taylor, of South Point, Ohio.
“This game, the rivalry, it means a lot,” Taylor said. “The series goes back a long way, and me being from around here, I know about the rivalry, and it’s fun to be part of it. It’s great … but you want to be on the winning side.
“Yeah, I do remember (the Ohio team’s charge for the bell). It’s burned in my mind. That loss really hurt us, it was bad, but we’re looking forward to playing them again, and it’s going to be a fistfight.
“We have to go out and play our ‘A’ game. We know they are going to bring theirs.”
It was 7-7 last season in Athens after fewer than six minutes as Cato connected with receiver Aaron Dobson
on a 45-yard scoring pass. The Bobcats scored the final 37 points of the game, and freshman Cato threw four interceptions.
“I think about that a lot,” said Cato, who ranks second nationally in passing yards (402.5 per game) to Kolton Browning of Louisiana-Monroe (412.0). “Going in there as a freshman and throwing four interceptions, that’s not good. That’s unacceptable.
“It was one of my worst games … little league, high school, college … I’ll just go out there now and try to play a complete game, just keep doing what I’m doing.”
Dobson will play in his fourth Ohio-Marshall game – a Little Caesars Pizza Bowl victory and three regular-season dates.
“It’s a huge game, just from the fact of what happened last year,” the senior receiver from Dunbar said. “It got out of hand big, so we’ve got a lot of frustration in our hearts from that one, and we’re definitely going to let it out Saturday.
“They ran to grab the bell. They wanted it, wanted it more than us, I think. They wanted that bell and they got it in a big way. They killed us on both sides of the ball, really. We’ve got a lot on our minds for Saturday.”
Besides the rivalry aspect, the game could be a linchpin for the Herd season. Coach Doc Holliday’s club doesn’t want to be 1-2 with trips to Rice and Purdue up next. And while Mid-American Conference preseason title pick Ohio brings a physical style to the game, the Herd has its FBS-leading, hurry-up 97.5 plays per game and waves of depth at some spots as a calling card.
“Their offense reminds me some of West Virginia,” Taylor said of a team that ran at and through the Herd in the opener. “What we learned that was WVU liked to tempo and come after you. With these guys, it’s pretty much the same thing except they like to run and stretch the field a little more than WVU.
“What Ohio likes to do is get you running, then push you by and let the running backs find a seam.
So what we’ve got to do is make sure that we get that good push and get vertical up the field, and make ‘em cut back and get ‘em that way.
Taylor said that Bobcats junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton will offer a challenge.
“We have to swarm, use our advantages,” the Herd junior defensive end said. “We’re smaller, but we’re a lot faster, so we have to use speed and swarm the ball wherever it goes. We definitely have to contain him. If you let him get outside the pocket, you’ve got trouble, with big-play capabilities. You’ve got to contain him, push the pocket and get pressure on him.
“We did learn (from Week 1 to 2) … We found out what works for us. We’re going to be a team that blitzes a lot. We’ve got to put some pressure on the offense. We’re small, we’re faster, and we’ve got to use that to our advantage, and that’s what we’ll do more through the season.”
Cato said the Bobcats’ defense isn’t given much to cosmetics.
“They’re a great team,” the Herd sophomore QB said. “They play a solid defense. They want you to turn the ball over. They’re not going to make mistakes; you’ve got to beat them … very physical, very strong on all sides of the ball, defensive line, linebackers, secondary.
“When they play defense, they’re real solid, play you straight up. Every once in a while you’ll probably see them blitz, but they don’t blitz lots. When they play their defense, they’re just going to play their defense, and you’ve got to beat them.
“They force you to make mistakes, and you’ve got to capitalize on every chance you have with them.”
Marshall and Ohio rank sixth and 14th, respectively, in FBS total offense in this young season. The team that can sustain drives and keep possession will have a marked advantage.
Ohio has one turnover this season, in wins over Penn State and New Mexico State; the Herd had two at WVU and none in beating Western Carolina.
Dobson, who has six catches for 123 yards in the last two Battles for the Bell, said the Herd’s offensive tempo and depth at running back and in the pass game provides plenty for the Bobcats to consider and defend.
“We’re getting way more snaps (101 and 94 in two games) than we had the last three years I’ve been here, 20-25 more,” Dobson said. “Tempo is much, much better, and puts pressure on the defense. We’re also spreading the ball around, and you can’t concentrate on one particular person.
“I think if we keep spreading the ball like we have, and we will, they can’t just focus on me, or Tay (senior wideout Antavious Wilson) or stopping the running game. We’ve got good tight ends.
“They’re going to have to stop all of us. (Against WCU) I had catches, Tay had catches, every receiver caught a ball. We have a lot of backs running the ball. Our offense is going to be really hard to stop if we can keep spreading it around.”