For Herd, 'next year' is here
HUNTINGTON - A year ago, Marshall had a score to settle with rival Ohio for a 44-7 spanking the previous season.
Down 27-24 with 1:37 left in the game, Rakeem Cato directed the Thundering Herd from its 25-yard line, taking just five plays to get to the Ohio 27. Gator Hoskins dropped the first-down pass, but Cato went right back to the tight end.
The pass looked good from any angle, and a completion would have gotten the Herd a first down. But Ohio's Jelani Woseley jumped into the passing lane and snagged the ball at its highest point, drawing an audible gasp from the 33,000-plus at Edwards Stadium.
The Bobcats' victory helped deny the Herd a bowl bid, as it turned out.
"I was in the middle of blocking and I turned and look downfield when the ball was released, and it got picked off," said tackle Gage Niemeyer. "It was the worst feeling in the world. Instantly it was, 'I can't wait 'til next year to beat these guys.'"
Next year is here, and the Herd is looking to avenge two losses to the Bobcats. Kickoff time is 8 p.m. Saturday at what is expected to be a packed Peden Stadium, with ESPNews airing the contest.
This is the fifth consecutive year the teams have played. Marshall held on to beat Ohio in the 2009 bowl game at Detroit 21-17, and stopped a final-play 2-point conversion to beat the Bobcats 24-23 in 2010 at Huntington.
But Ohio seized the momentum with that 2011 rout, punctuated by players rushing to the end zone to ring "The Bell" trophy as if the Bobcats had won the national championship. And then there was the game last year in Huntington.
The Herd and Bobcats have played 56 times since 1905 (Ohio leads 31-19-6), but these may be the most spirited games, at least in the trenches. The Bobcats add to that with two big running backs, 6-foot-1, 225-pound Ryan Boykin and 5-9, 206-pounder Beau Blankenship.
Here's an indication that the Bobcats like to bop the Herd in the nose: They have held a 470-231 rushing advantage over those last two games.
"They're physical, tough guys," said center Chris Jasperse. "That's what they focus on and they do a good job with that and we have to go out and not only match it, but go above their physicality."
Ohio coach Frank Solich returned the compliments Monday during the Mid-American Conference's coaches' press call. The old Nebraska player and coach knows a little emotion when he sees it.
"It's a tremendous rivalry," Solich said. "They've been very physical games and, for the most part, close games. We know they're talented, they're well-coached. Consequently, you've got your hands full every time you line up against them."
The Herd (2-0) is coming off 107 points worth of offensive eruption in two games, smacking Miami (Ohio) 52-14 and Gardner-Webb 55-0. Those came at home, though, and the Herd now plays its first road game at a venue that has turned hostile in recent years.
The Bobcats (1-1) needed a home game or three after their 49-7 season-opening pasting at Louisville. Last week, 24,511 at Peden Stadium - standing-room only - watched the Bobcats beat Conference USA newcomer North Texas 27-21, using two fourth-quarter field goals to turn back a 14-point rally.
The Mean Green isn't necessarily expected to be a C-USA contender, but the Bobcats will take that win and get fired up for the Herd. The more experienced Marshall players know what's coming, and they want to be a meaner green this time around.
"I wasn't here two years ago, when it was a bad day," said Niemeyer, a junior-college transfer. "Being here last year, everybody said they tried to out-physical us, be the bullies and be meaner than us. I don't know how much I believe in that; I just feel that if we do what we do this year, then the game shouldn't be close.
"If we execute and do what we do, none of our games should be close, on our entire schedule."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
MU at Ohio