What a difference a year makes. Last year, Marshall did everything it wanted on the Ohio defense, picking it apart to the tune of 44 points and 704 yards of total offense — video game numbers.
This year, things would be a little different.
The Bobcats dialed up the defensive intensity from last year and brought the Battle of the Bell back to Athens, defeating the Thundering Herd 21-10 at Peden Stadium.
“They tried to match our intensity,” said senior cornerback Ian Wells. “We were just one step ahead of them.”
And were they one step ahead, especially in the big moments. Twice the Bobcats pushed deep into their own territory on defense, and twice did they come through in a big way.
With Ohio up 14-7 in the middle of the third quarter, Marshall got all the way to the Bobcats 10-yard line and was threatening to tie the game up. On third down, sophomore linebacker Tavis Daugherty made sure that it was only just a threat, coming off of a blitz untouched on the left side, finding his way to Marshall quarterback Michael Birdson, getting the sack and forcing a fumble that would be recovered by Ohio.
Test no. 2 would occur just a few plays later.
After a three-and-out by Marshall, Ohio freshmen returner Papi White would muff the ensuing punt which would be recovered by the Thundering Herd at the Ohio 17. Backed up again inside their own redzone, the Bobcats defense responded. The Bobcats didn’t allow the Thundering Herd to move any closer to the endzone, and almost picked up Ohio’s second consecutive redzone turnover, as senior cornerback Brett Layton had an interception pop out of his hand as he hit the ground, forcing Marshall to settle for a field goal.
After these two chances to score, Marshall would come nowhere close to another scoring opportunity the rest of the way, as Ohio would get another turnover with Marshall driving. The Bobcats would put the dagger into the Thundering Herd with a 15-play, 5:53 drive with 2:05 left in the game, but it was the defense that would put the exclamation point on this game. With Marshall looking for any set of hope, senior Nick Carpenter picked off an errant pass from Birdson.
Ohio’s defense was strong for nearly all 60 minutes tonight, allowing just 241 yards to Marshall — a monumental upgrade from what the Bobcats did last year against the Thundering Herd. But once you consider that 73 of those yards came from one play, it makes the Bobcats defensive performance all that more impressive.
The secondary was a big part of the defensive success against Marshall. Ohio had two interceptions and only gave up minuscule 84 passing yards — 364 yards less than it gave up a year ago. Part of the success was limiting the explosive plays that Marshall thrived on last year.
“We knew we wanted to win the game defensively,” said senior Nathan Carpenter. “We put that burden on our shoulders and got it done.”