Marshall Stunned by Ohio
ATHENS, Ohio – The 59th edition of the Battle for the Bell didn’t go exactly as Marshall planned. In front of a crowd of 25,210, most of which left after the band played at halftime, the Ohio Bobcats avenged their blowout loss from 2014 with a 21-10 victory over the Herd. Players ran to the far end-zone, got the bell, and took a few victory laps.
The game was sealed with a trick play touchdown run with 2:05 left. The Bobcats took a 21-10 lead over the Herd, who had zero timeouts left at that point. On the following drive, Michael Birdsong’s pass was intercepted by Nathan Carpenter, who would get flagged for excessive celebration after the play. According to Coach Frank Solich, Carpenter came up to him and said “Coach, I just had to do it,” after the flag was thrown. To me that summed up the fight of the Bobcats. Not to say they wanted it more, but they definitely wanted to avenge the loss from last season, and the players kept that in mind throughout the game. “We kept on fighting because last year we lost it defensively,” Carpenter said. “I had a lot of emotion. I thought about that game every single day. Our team wanted this very badly.”
The Herd had 16 penalties on the night that totaled over 150 yards. Ohio had 11 for 101. All bias aside, it seemed like the only positive Marshall play that didn’t get drawn back by a flag was the 73 yard touchdown run.
Because of penalties and repetitive play calling, the Herd struggled to get anything going on offense. Marshall had the ball inside the 50 only one time in the first half (other than the 73 yard run) if I remember correctly. There were about five times in the first half where Marshall started the drive on 1st and 20 because of a holding penalty. Michael Birdsong had one of the worst performances for a Marshall QB since 2011 against UCF, when Cato and the Herd only put up 6 points. That was the last time the Herd didn’t have a passing touchdown in a game until last night. The Bobcats won the battle in the trenches, allowing Devon Johnson only 170 yards on his 21 carries. I say they won that battle because 73 of those came on one play.
Defensively, Marshall played almost perfect. The Herd defense was on the field for 35 minutes and only gave up 21 points to an Ohio team that put up 45 last week. Taj Letman had his second interception of the season and the seventh of his career. Marshall also recovered a muffed punt in Bobcat territory, but went three and out, getting only three points. The Herd secondary, dubbed the “#NoFlyZone” by the players, only gave up 147 passing yards. On the other end, as I said before, Ohio won the battle in the trenches. They gained 234 rushing yards and played more physical than the defensive line of the Herd.
My personal thoughts of where Marshall is right now? Well…missing Cato. I knew Cato was arguably the best QB to ever come through Marshall, but I thought Bill Legg would keep the offense rolling even in his absence. I know it’s only one game, but I haven’t seen that many Herd fans disappointed in their team since I’ve been alive. I think Coach Doc Holliday needs to use this weekends game against Norfolk State to experiment his other options at quarterback. My pick would be current 3rd-string QB Gunnar Holcombe. But lets say Chase Litton gets the nod at some point. He has the build of a more mobile quarterback, something that the Herd playbook has run off of for the past 4 years. Would that be the answer? Who knows? You never want to overlook a team, but I definitely think some experimenting needs to be done this weekend. The Herd needs to start gaining some confidence on offense before it gets into conference play, and it’s up to the coaches to find the right fit.
If I could go on and on about this game I probably would. But simply put, Ohio outplayed Marshall. The Herd have to watch film and move on. It’s a tough loss, but it doesn’t take away from another potential conference championship.
Marshall plays Norfolk State at 3:30 on September 19th. They travel to Kent State on the 26th before entering conference play.
Casey covers Marshall Thundering Herd Football for MFST. You can follow him on twitter @wxmozz.