— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Two neighboring teams seeking to rebound from losses meet Saturday night in Huntington as Marshall and Ohio face off at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Kick-off is set for 6:30 p.m., and the game is being shown on Stadium Facebook.
The Herd and Bobcats are both 1-1. Marshall lost a hard-fought game at then-No. 24 Boise State last Friday, 14-7. Ohio also struggled to generate offense as it fell last Saturday at Pitt, 20-10.
Saturday’s game is the 60th 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, and the Bobcats came 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.
Here are some things to look for in the third game for both teams.
1 — Ring my Bell
No players with key parts in this week’s game played in the last contest between Marshall and Ohio, but that doesn’t mean they don’t consider each other rivals.
MU and Ohio play in almost all sports on a regular basis and the two schools are only 80 miles apart. Fans from both sides understand the importance of the contest well.
Winning ‘The Bell’ and grabbing bragging rights in the Ohio River Valley are coveted prizes.
There are even players on the field with hometown pride to consider. Ohio senior offensive left tackle Austin Pleasants attended Dawson-Bryant High School in Coal Grove, Ohio, just 20 miles from Huntington. Marshall’s Buckeye State contingent is heavy and includes tailback Brenden Knox and punter Robert Lefevre, both from the Columbus area.
2 — Can Marshall’s offense bounce back?
Defense doesn’t appear to be a big issue for the Thundering Herd, but a key indicator of how Marshall will play is if it can get early offense production after a horrid second half last week.
The Herd were held without a yard or a first down in the final 30 minutes against the Broncos.
Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey has been been working overtime this week on getting his guys out of the malaise they experienced in the Northwest.
Making that job even more difficult was this week’s decision to dismiss junior tailback Tyler King from the team due to rules violations. In the next man up mentality, it will be up to promising youngsters such as Sheldon Evans and Lawrence Papillon to provide strong support to Knox, the team’s top tailback.
Another offensive concern is finding some way for the team’s receivers to stretch the field. The Herd could not hit any downfield throws at Boise State and was limited to quick hitters to the sidelines and out of the backfield. It will be critical for receivers such as Willie Johnson, Tavin Richardson and even tight ends Armani Levias and Xavier Gaines, to win battles for balls thrown their way by quarterback Isaiah Green.
3 — Stopping Rourke
Ohio’s skill players are young and inexperienced in most cases, but the Bobcats’ attack is led by a wily veteran in quarterback Nathan Rourke.
Rourke is a threat with both his arms and legs, picking up 62 yards and a touchdown on the ground over the Bobcats’ first two games, even when figuring in sacks.
Through the air, Rourke is 31-for-50 with 365 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The Bobcats have averaged 38.5 points per game with Rourke as a starter and he’s first in program history with a career passing efficiency rating of 143.9. He’s thrown 42 career touchdown passes and has 37 more TDs on the ground.
He’s led the Bobcats to two bowl wins, including a 27-0 shutout of San Diego State in last December’s DXL Frisco Bowl. Rourke is a two-time winner of the Joe Cornish Trophy, awarded annually to the top Canadian player in NCAA Football.
This is Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame weekend, as nine Herd athletes of the past enter the Hall. Three football players from the 1990s are among them: Girardie Mercer, Max Yates and Jamie Wilson. Another prominent member of the Hall of Fame is new University of Cincinnati men’s basketball head coach John Brannen, who played basketball for Marshall from 1995-1997 after transferring from Morehead State. Other honorees are softball’s Rachel Folden (a multi-year All-American) and Nicholle Corrigan, swimming and diving’s Milla Kuurto and Mark Sheridan and baseball’s Tom Kuempel … Now that the university has purchased the property for Marshall’s proposed new baseball facility, the job of raising funds to complete it begins. The $22-million campaign is entitled “Herd Rises” and will provide funding for not only baseball stadium construction, but also for plans to convert MU’s Gullickson Hall into a basketball practice facility. Funds from the campaign will also pay for a Henderson Center statue honoring Naismith Basketball Hall-of-Famer, Marshall great and Huntington native Hal Greer.