Marshall (2-0, 0-0 C-USA)
Joan C. Edwards Stadium, 12 p.m. ET
CBS Sports Network
By JUSTIN HOLBROCK
The 58th edition of the Battle for the Bell will take place on Saturday afternoon as the Ohio Bobcats look to bounce back against bitter rival Marshall.
For the past three years, the ‘Cats have beaten the Thundering Herd, but Ohio must now defeat a Marshall team that has won eight of its last nine games spanning all the way back to Nov. 2.
Ohio suffered a tough 20-3 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats who only had 215 yards of total offense but scored two touchdowns on their first two possessions. On the flip side, Marshall handled the Rhode Island Rams easily, picking up a 48-7 victory at home.
In order to keep the bell trophy in Athens, the Bobcats have to establish their rushing attack and solve their quarterback uncertainty.
Last week, sophomore J.D. Sprague replaced starting quarterback Derrius Vick after three series in which Vick completed zero passes. Vick, however, proved he is capable of leading this offense when, in week one against Kent State, he threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns.
Head coach Frank Solich has a tough decision to make as Sprague performed admirably against Kentucky. Any weakness at the QB position on Saturday will hurt Ohio as they face a Marshall defense that gave up only 175 yards of total offense to Rhode Island.
On the ground, Ohio needs to improve its production. The ‘Cats had no player over 50 yards rushing last week and have already fumbled six times this year.
Offense has not been a problem for the Thundering Herd as they have already accumulated 1,156 yards of total offense and 12 touchdowns compared to only two by the Bobcats.
The Herd's high-powered offense is led by senior Rakeem Cato, who threw for just under 4,000 yards and 39 touchdowns last year. Cato is also a threat for Marshall on the ground, but he is not alone. Running back Devon Johnson leads the charge with 288 total yards rushing and three touchdowns this year, including a 64-yard touchdown against the Rams.
“It’s a rivalry game, so we’re expecting Marshall to come out and play hard,” defensive end Tarell Basham said. “We’re going to try to match their speed, match their ability, match their movement and just execute on all cylinders.”
“The Battle for the Bell means everything because when I first got here, I think it was the first time we had played Marshall in a long time, so everyone was hyped to get the bell back,” senior nose guard Antwan Crutcher said. “This bell stays here. We missed it for so long, so it’s time to keep it here.”
“They’ll be very excited about us coming down there to play them,” Solich said. “It’s been an extended slate with them in terms of the number of games, and you know we’ve been fortunate in the last three ball games to win those.”
“All the games against Marshall have been tremendously hard fought football games and games that have generally been won right at the end,” Solich said. “It will most likely be that type of ball game again this year.”
Redshirt freshman linebacker Quentin Poling was named MAC East Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Kentucky which included a career-high 10 tackles, two sacks and two and one-half tackles for a loss
Poling replaced junior middle linebacker Ben Russell who suffered a shoulder injury prior to the beginning of the season. Russell is expected to miss the next three to five weeks
Quarterback J.D. Sprague made his first collegiate appearance last week and threw for 143 yards on 13-of-25 passes
Ohio leads the overall series with Marshall 32-19-6. The series began in 1905
Last year, the Bobcats held off a late Marshall comeback and won 34-31
The Bobcats’ defense recorded five sacks against the Wildcats and now have a total of seven this year, which is tied for the second most in the MAC
Senior safety Josh Kristoff is out this week due to a hamstring injury
Notes –Marshall Thundering Herd
Through its first two games, Marshall is outscoring its opponents 90-34 and the Thundering Herd are the second-highest scoring offense in C-USA
Like Ohio, Marshall has fumbled the ball six times this year
Marshall ranks first in C-USA for total offensive yards
The Thundering Herd also rank first in C-USA for rushing defense and they have yet to allow a rushing touchdown
Quarterback Rakeem Cato has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 34 consecutive games .
Marshall has produced 17 plays that have gained 20 or more yards from scrimmage, which is tied for first in all of NCAA Division-I football