It is very appropriate to be playing Ohio for the last game of 2003. It is a rivalry game and those should always come at the end of the season. It is also the 100th anniversary this year of Marshall wearing green and white (as does Ohio, just a shade darker) for the first time in school history, along with having a first-ever captain (Roy Grass, the quarterback of the 1903-04 teams) and a first-ever coach (George M. Ford, a history professor at Marshall and the first head coach in Marshall football, according to documents back to 1895).
Ohio leads the all-time series by a 29-15-6 mark, with six ties being the most ties against any single opponent in Marshall football history. Marshall, however, has won the last six of seven games played against the Bobcats back to a 1988 meeting when MU was still in Division I-AA. Ohio's only win since Marshall rejoined the Mid-American Conference was coach Jim Grobe's final game as the head man at Ohio in 2000, when the Bobcats won 38-28 over a Herd team that had already clinched the East Division crown for the fourth consecutive year. Marshall won a sloppy game last season, 24-21, with that game coming down to the Bobcats missing a long field goal attempt to send the game to overtime in Athens. In Huntington since 1997, Marshall has won by an average score of 34.3 to 7.0, including a 27-0 shutout in 1997 to clinch MU's first East title. Marshall gave up only one first down that day and surrendered 68 yards of total offense, all on the ground.
It will be senior day for Marshall's 12 seniors as well, who have won 37 games in four years (50 for the fifth-year guys), two MAC championships (three) and three bowl games (four), including the greatest bowl win in history, the 64-61 double overtime 2001 GMAC Bowl over East Carolina. They can finish 2003 with an 8-4 mark, 6-2 and second in the MAC East Division, with a win. Much has changed at Ohio since the last win by the Bobcats in 2000. Grobe is now a hot commodity at Wake Forest and Brian Knorr, who was a coordinator under Grobe, has posted a record of only 7-27 in three seasons. This year has been particularly tough on Knorr's team, with 13 major surgeries performed. Seven of the surgeries have been of the knee variety, including last week's loss of leading tackler Dennis Chukwuemeka, who played locally at Huntington High School. They have lost 11 players total, going into last week's loss to Miami (49-31).
The Bobcats used four quarterbacks last week against Miami. Ryan Hawk, a transfer from Miami, had sprained an ankle against Akron and was ineffective early on against the RedHawks. Adam Porter, who has shared time with Hawk the last four weeks, also could not get the offense on track against the Miami team that has won the East Division and is ranked as high as number 15 in the Associated Press poll. Senior Fred Ray, who has missed four weeks with injury, tried to play but also was not effective. This despite Ray leading the Ohio attack in rushing and only a little over 100 yards behind Hawk in passing yards in only six games played. Knorr turned to freshman quarterback Austin Everson, who hit nine-of-13 passes against Miami for 182 yards and one touchdown and led Ohio to 21 fourth-quarter points after Miami had gotten a 49-10 lead.
Ohio's trademark has always been running the ball, but Miami held the ‘Cats to 87 yards rushing. Ohio averages about 200 yards rushing per game and has increased its passing attack to almost 160 yards per game. "We have always wanted more balance in our attack," said Knorr. Anthony Hackett and Scott Mayle have stepped up and made some big plays (in the passing game)." Mayle had 22 catches for 485 yards and four touchdowns before the Miami game and Hackett had 98 yards and one touchdown to add to his totals of 22 catches for 354 yards and one touchdown Saturday. Porter has played some receiver for Ohio and is third in receiving with 15 catches for 215 yards.
Running the ball is plethora of backs. Fullback Brad Young is second to Ray in rushing with 63 carries for 277 yards before Miami (4.4 yards per carry) and four scores. Halfback Ray Huston had 31 yards and one score against Miami to add to 74 carries for 274 yards (3.7 ypc) and now four touchdowns. Slot back Stafford Owens has 46 carries for 235 yards (5.1 ypc) and one score. John Taylor is another halfback with 41/180 (4.4) and one score and Everson is sixth in rushing with 48 attempts for 165 yards (gained 225, lost 60, average 3.4 ypc). Huston and Owens have both missed games with injury.
The offensive line for Ohio has been the most injury free unit for the Bobcats. Left tackle Dennis Thompson (6-4, 307, Jr., unable to practice due to recovering from broken leg), center Mike Nelson (6-2, 286, Soph.) and right tackle Steve Lawrence (6-4, 278, Sr., but with both an ankle sprain and calf injury) have started every game, while right guard Brian Brown (6-3, 298, Sr.) has missed only two games. Only the left guard position has been a problem, with three different starters. Currently, Matt Coppage (6-4, 290, Fr.) has been the starter for the last five games, while Shane Yates is facing his second foot surgery this year. Tight end D.T. Boon (6-4, 227, Jr.) has started three games, but Ohio has used a wide receiver in a four-wide formation for three other games.
Defense is where the injury bug has really bitten Ohio. They have lost six linebackers, four starters and two backups. No defensive lineman has started every game and only one defensive back, strong safety Rob Stover (one interception, one fumble recovery each and 13 tackles-for-loss), has started every game. Scheduled to start against the Herd are defensive ends Eli Kiener (36 tackles, four tackle-for-loss) and Kevin Carberry (36 tackles, 5.5 t-f-l and 3.5 sacks). The nose guard is David Escobar (one tackle prior to Miami), making his third start of the season against Marshall after Ohio lost Keith Adamson in the Kent State game and Paul Perrier last week in practice prior to Miami.
The linebackers are Willie Sherman (19 tackles and 2.0 t-f-l), Matt Muncy (32 tackles), Pete Bratley (71 tackles, 5.0 t-f-l and 3.0 sacks) and Rich Constantine (20 tackles, 4.0 t-f-l and 3.0 sacks). Hugh Grant, who pulled both sides of his groin (ouch!), has recently returned at linebacker and was a starter up until his injury. At the free safety, Rashad Butler (32 tackles and one interception) has only missed starting one game until blowing his ACL out last week. His backup, Andre Bradford, dislocated his finger but returned to the Miami game, after Bradford's replacement was toasted by RedHawk QB Ben Roethlisberger for a Miami score in last week's game. The corners are also experienced, with Dion Byrum (39 tackles and two interceptions, co-leader on team) and Chip Cox (53 tackles and one interception) have both started in 10 games.
Punter Matt Miller has averaged 39.8 yards per punt, but separated his shoulder making a tackle. While place kicker Greg DiMarino is 8-for-11 on field goals (long-40) and made 27-32 extra-points, he has just punted twice for Miller. Bynum averages 11.8 on punt returns and 19.9 on kick returns, while freshman wide receiver Chris Jackson has 12 returns for 18.7 yards per return.