For the 57th time in school history, the Ohio Bobcats (1-1) football team will be suiting up to play for the Bell against the Marshall Thundering Herd (2-0) at Peden Stadium. Although the Green and White are firm holders of the series record (31-19-6) and have won the previous two matchups, the Thundering Herd look more explosive, experienced and dangerous than last season, when the ‘Cats upset the Herd at its home with a strong fourth quarter showing.
It may have been Ohio’s most action-packed, back-and-forth game of the season when the ‘Cats traveled to West Virginia in 2012 to defend the Bell, but the Bobcats can’t rely on the Marshall offense slowing down again if they want to claim the three-peat. After getting burned for over 400 yards through the air, the secondary knows the importance of their assignments .
“We’re going to have to use (our eye progression) a lot this week,” Ohio cornerback Ian Wells said at practice this week.
The Ohio defensive backs will have two less options to worry about this year, as Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson have graduated. But Marshall’s top target from 2012 will be back. Wide receiver Tommy Shuler, who hauled in 13 catches for 121 yards last season against the ‘Cats, already has recorded 14 grabs for 152 yards and two scores. Ohio’s corners were able to shut down North Texas’ big-play wide out, Brelan Chancellor, last weekend, but containing Shuler will be another daunting task.
Marshall, a team that likes to play on the perimeter, will be forcing Ohio defenders to play a lot of man-to-man on Saturday. This will most likely result in an islanded Shuler, which means there will be many eyes zoned in on Cato.
“I know Cato likes to look one way before he snaps the ball, and that’s mainly where he’s going to go,” Wells said.
Picking Cato’s brain on Saturday will only happen with a defense-wide effort. The front seven will need to rattle the Marshall machine physically to wear down his mental game. With Ohio linebacker Keith Moore still questionable for Saturday’s contest, Jovon Johnson will have to come up big as the motivator for the second week in a row.
The MAC East Defensive Player of the Week took back a pick for a score and recovered a fumble in his first collegiate start. He knows that completing his defensive assignments will, in turn, limit the deep ball in Marshall’s offensive game plan.
“We just know it’s going to be high-paced and they’re going to get a lot of plays in,” Johnson said of the Marshall offense. “They gave us 97 plays last year, and around 70 of them were pass, so we know it’s going to be a fast-paced game and it’s going to be a high-scoring game.”
Ohio may be even more effective on the offensive end th thanks again to the experience that the Thundering Herd hold over the ‘Cats on defense. Their depth – which includes three rotating groups of defensive linemen and ends – on the line will keep those protecting Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton and opening holes for Beau Blankenship on their heels.
“One thing they stressed is footwork, hand placement and firing off the ball,” Talbert said of his coaches’ preparation this week.
If the play makers fail to generate offense early on, the ‘Cats will rely on proven contributors like running backs Ryan Boykin and Daz’mond Patterson to keep the pace. On Monday, head coach Frank Solich noted that he would like to utilize all three of his backs as efficiently as possible. With a thunder, lightning and hail storm brewing in the backfield, Ohio shouldn’t run into a roadblock despite the extra rest Marshall’s defensive line will be receiving.
“We get in the game and we bring different things to the table,” Boykin said. “I don’t know if the defense really knows what to expect.”
About the Opponent: Marshall Thundering Herd
Location: Huntington, West Virginia
Colors: Kelly Green & White
Mascot: Marco the Bison
Notable Alumni: U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd and Wheel of Fortune announcer Jim Thornton
Players in the NFL: Indianapolis Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw
Previous Bobcat Game: 27-24 loss at home – September 15, 2012
Key to the Game
Limiting pocket time for Cato – The Ohio defensive front is going to have their hands full with the Marshall junior quarterback, who’s coming off a record-setting performance against a bewildered Bobcat D last season. The elusive Cato used his legs, a relentless offensive line and a trio of experienced receivers to compile 432 yards on 65 pass attempts. Eight of nine linemen with starting experience have returned for the Cato-led Thundering Herd. Ohio will continually have to get pressure on Cato if they want to give the offense a chance.
Bobcats to Watch
Offensively: TE Anthony Talbert – Talbert has been the exception to the lack of looks Bobcat tight ends have received from Tettleton. After hauling in a 36-yard catch against Louisville, the North Carolina State transfer caught two more passes against North Texas last week. Even without much of a gauge to predict how Talbert will pan out the rest of the season, he has shown flashes of play-making brilliance when he has taken to the field. With an experienced defense returning, Tettleton will look to utilize tools that were not available last season.
Defensively: S Xavier Hughes – Hughes ranks third on the team in tackles this season with 12, and has recorded two interceptions. The Bobcat safety will have one of the more important defensive assignments on Saturday, as Cato will be a tough read for any member on the secondary. When he was healthy in 2012, Hughes was all over the field, and that hasn’t changed in 2013. X is always an x-factor when he’s getting playing time.
Opponents to Watch
Offensively: QB Rakeem Cato – As obvious as this may seem, there’s no hiding that Cato’s going to be the most dynamic player to step on the field on Saturday. From his last visit in 2011, Cato has grown into a poised and confident field general. Those 44 completions against the ‘Cats in Huntington serve as a testament. Cato has shown the ability to be a dual-threat quarterback as well, and last year he had his best rushing performance of the season against Ohio. Taking the ball into his hands nine times for almost 60 yards in this season’s opener might mean that we’ll be seeing a more balanced – therefore more terrifying – Cato this week.
Defensively: LB Raheem Waiters – Despite a quiet 2012, Waiters already looks to be a disrupting force in the middle this season, even for a strong defensive unit that is returning most of its starters. So far, the veteran has feasted on Miami (OH) and Gardner-Webb, holding the two teams to a combined 14 points. Waiters has been a big part of the defense’s early success, compiling six tackles, one sack and one scoring interception. If Waiters and the front seven shut down Ohio’s running game early, the Green and White could be in for a very long game.
Thundering Herd 38, Bobcats 28 – The Thundering Herd cooled off after a hot two-touchdown start last season, but that won’t be the case for the more experienced Marshall this season. Cato gases the Ohio D with another career performance to claim his first Bell victory.