— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Old rivals and two of the favorites in their respective conferences, Ohio and Marshall are getting back together after a four-year hiatus Saturday night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Kick-off is set for 6:30 p.m. and the game is being shown on Stadium through its partnership with Facebook.
The Herd and Bobcats share identical 1-1 records. Marshall lost a hard-fought game at No. 24 Boise State last Friday, 14-7. Ohio fell on Saturday to Pittsburgh in the Steel City by a 20-10 tally.
Marshall and Ohio are meeting on the gridiron for the 60th time in a series that goes back to 1905. The Bobcats have a 33-20-6 advantage. The clubs last met in 2015 in Athens, Ohio, with the Bobcats coming away with a 21-10 victory.
The Marshall-Ohio rivalry is known as the “Battle for the Bell”, as the winner of the game receives a traveling trophy, an Ohio River boat bell.
Marshall is looking for some offensive improvement in this week’s game. The Herd was outgailed 235-0 in the second half last week while being unable to move the ball against a stingy Boise State defense. The offense’s job was made even tougher this week as junior tailback Tyler King was dismissed from the team due to a violation of rules.
Herd head coach Doc Holliday acknowledges that the Broncos shut down Marshall’s offense, but he’s expecting a rebound against Ohio.
“We’re fine,” Holliday said. “I love (Brenden) Knox. He has been a three-time captain for us and like what he brings to the table. Sheldon Evans, [Lawrence Papillon and Knowledge McDaniel], now it’s their turn to step up and go make plays. I feel good about the running back position and have no worries there at all. We’ll see what happens.”
The coaching matchup is interesting in the rivalry as Holliday faces one of the elder statesmen in the FBS ranks, 15-year Bobcat head coach Frank Solich. Having turned 75 earlier this week, Solich has shown no signs of retiring after picking up 165 wins in 21 years of coaching at Ohio and in his previous stop at his alma mater, Nebraska.
“They’re a typical Ohio team,” Holliday said. “They’re like clones. They’re all just really, really good football players that know how to play the game. They’re tough, physical and don’t give up the big play. They’re just so well-coached and play so hard. They’re a challenge for everyone because they just don’t make mistakes.”
The Bobcats are led by senior quarterback Nathan Rourke, who was responsible for three scores in Ohio’s season-opening win over Rhode Island. The Bobcats feature their fair share of new faces in the backfield and at receiver to go with a veteran offensive line. Seven defensive starters are back.
Holliday believes containing Rourke is the key against Ohio.
“If you’re going to pressure him, you better have a guy assigned to him, because if he gets out of (the pocket), he’s a problem,” Holliday said. “I thought Pittsburgh did a good job of stopping the run. They got pressure on him at times. I guess he was sick in that game so they didn’t run him probably as much as they would’ve. I’m sure he’ll be healthy against us and ready to go.”
Solich says Marshall’s toe-to-toe meeting with Boise State got his attention.
“The game against Boise that Marshall had was telling that they’re a very good football team,” Solich said. “Boise is a very difficult team to move the ball against. That was going to be one of their strong suits this year, so it wasn’t like anybody is just going to run up and down the field on those guys.
“The physicalness of the game by both teams showed, so it’ll be a tough atmosphere to go down and play in but that’s what college football is all about. You’ve got to be ready to go for those kind of games if you’re going to be a good football team.”
Solich also believes the Ohio-Marshall matchup is a fun, natural rivalry that he’s glad to have back on the Bobcats’ schedule.
“I think it’s good for the fans from both schools, so I think it all fits,” Solich said. “You’re always struggling for non-conference games and sometimes you’re forced to go 1,000 miles to play a game in non-conference and it doesn’t necessarily all add up financially the way you’d want it to.
“This kind of a game where it’s a short trip down there, play the game, even though it’s an evening game we won’t get back ridiculously late. So there’s a lot of advantages with the two schools continuing with the rivalry.”
The schools recently announced that the series will be extended, with games in 2020 and 2027 in Athens and in 2025 in Huntington.
Solich is excited about his team having to travel only 80 miles to Huntington.
“That helps everything,” Solich said. “It helps players not have to sit on a bus for five hours, or get to an airport, drive to Columbus and then get on a plane and fly. That all feeds into it being an easy game in terms of logistics, getting down there and getting back.”