The Herd sat back around 30th place in the polls for much of the season while team after team got the nod to join the top 20 percent of teams in college football's highest division, only to be knocked back down and out. It will require patience as the west division teams continue to vie for the opportunity to host the Thundering Herd for the shot at a Mid-American Conference title and a probable Motor City Bowl berth.
Most certainly, patience is a virtue that Herd fans have needed to have this year through the suspensions and the gradual gelling of the defense, which played their best game of the year against the Redhawks.
Now, Marshall (8-1, 5-0 MAC E) has to avoid a mental letdown against the Ohio Bobcats (1-8, 0-5 MAC E) who are the current owners of the traveling Bell trophy, which the Bobcats regained last year in a 38-28 victory over the Herd. Ironically, that win by Ohio happened the week after Marshall had beaten Miami-Ohio to lock up the east division title. The beaten and battered 6-4 Herd took the loss to Ohio, losing the Bell for the first time since rejoining I-A ball, only to go on and win its fourth consecutive MAC title and third consecutive Motor City Bowl. With a big winning margin over the 1-8 Bobcats necessary to retain their status in the polls, Marshall should have all the incentive it needs to disallow history to repeat itself.
Points Scored: 332
Points Allowed: 225
Last Week :W @ Miami 27-21
Rush Off.: 1635
Pass Off.: 3163
Rush Def.: 1635
Pass Def.: 2073
Penalties: 78-681 yds.
Turnover Margin +3
Team Rating 82.86
Key Player(s): WR Denero Marriott (7 rec 132 yds last week vs Miami), DE Ralph Street (6 tkl, 2.5 sacks vs Miami)
Points Scored: 173
Points Allowed: 254
Last Week: L vs Bowling Green, 17-0
Rush Off.: 2190
Pass Off.: 681
Rush Def.: 1926
Pass Def.: 2031
Penalties: 52-441 yds.
Turnover Margin -3
Team Rating 58.54
Key Player(s): QB Dontrell Jackson (13 rush 32 yds, 3-9 35 yd 1 INT passing v. Bowling Green), P Dave Zastudil (5 punt 223 yds vs BG)
Ohio is the Mid-American Conference's most prolific rushing offense, utilizing their entire backfield in an old-fashioned triple-option attack. Due to the nature of the offense and the loss of some backfield starters to injury, Ohio has all of that rushing yardage and no backs in the top ten in the MAC in rushing yards per game. They will be up against Marshall's prolific passing attack, which has several names in the throwing and catching top ten lists, including Byron Leftwich, Darius Watts, Josh Davis, and Denero Marriott. The three Ds are actually one, two, and three on the MAC receiving list respectively.
The big difference is in the stat categories that the teams aren't recognized for. Ohio has passed for a mere 681 yards on the season, while Marshall has had one of its best years on the ground in recent memory, rolling up 1,465 yards. Ohio is comparable to the Marshall defense that was in place weeks ago, but if Marshall plays another defensive game like they did last week, there is little to compare.
The Bobcats fell prey to the stifling running attack of Bowling Green last week, only able to get 105 yards rushing, over 100 yards less than their season average of 255. Marshall will obviously be studying the Falcons' game plan to see what they can use to shut down the Bobcats' ground game, although the Herd has had success in the past against option teams - especially Ohio. Expect Marshall to have the same mindset as last week: Allow anything but the big play.
Thundering Herd Keys to Winning:
1) Get ahead as quickly as possible: - Being someone who played for a run dominated offense I can tell you that once you are behind in a game, two things can happen: The offense will either pass predictably -and usually unsuccessfully- or they will keep running the ball and the clock becomes their worst enemy. If the Bobcats can grab an early advantage and use the run to keep Leftwich and the Herd offense off the field, they have a decisive advantage.
2) Make Ohio try to win with the pass: - Ohio QB Dontrell Jackson has completed 55% of his passes this year, but has as many interceptions as he has touchdowns. His efficiency rating isn't bad, but considering Herd QB Byron leftwich throws that many passes in about five quarters of play, its hard to tell how well Jackson would perform through the long stretch and more importantly, in clutch situations. Take away the running game and leave it to the secondary to make the big plays.
3) The punt return team must perform: - Dave Zastudil is one of the best punters in the country and he can keep an opponent pinned back all day. Averaging 44.9 yards per kick, it will take some good return work -as in not muffing the catch- by Josh Davis, or whomever may have taken his spot after dropping two last week. A blocked punt or two wouldnt hurt.
Ohio has won a single game this year, but it would make their season to knock off the Herd even if it were their only win. Marshall has a top 25 ranking to defend, and a win by at least three touchdowns would go a long way toward maintaining or possibly improving on 24th in the country. Marshall is much more talented, and the defense has played better every week.
The Prediction: Marshall 52 Ohio 21
- Stats courtesy of the Mid-American Conference