Battle For The Bell Coming Up Saturday

The last time Ohio University started a football season with at least three wins after five games came back in1997. Jim Grobe was in his third season as Ohio's head coach and Marshall was in its first as a member of the Mid-American Conference. The Bobcats and the Herd met in a season-ending game, the first "Battle For The Bell", and Marshall clinched its first of six MAC East Division crowns by shutting out Ohio 27-0.

The Bobcats gained 68 yards of total offense in that game, missing on all seven pass attempts and gaining just one first down. Grobe had told MAC officials letting Marshall in the league was akin to "letting the fox guard the hen house" and the Herd did the best they could to live up to that since then, winning five of seven MAC titles.

Since that time, Marshall has won all but one meetings with the ‘Cats, losing in Athens, Ohio, in Grobe's final game as Ohio coach in 2000. Grobe moved to Wake Forest and left the reins to Brian Knorr, who has found the going tough, to say the least.

Ohio won seven games in 35 games in Knorr's first three seasons and the "hot seat" in Athens was over 100 degrees entering the 2004 season, with regards to Knorr's future employment as the Ohio coach. A 3-2 start, however, has cooled that seat and coaching changes talk, especially on the heels of Saturday's 28-16 domination of the University of Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium in front of 60,000 disappointed UK fans. It is Ohio's second victory over the Wildcats in three games, including a win in 1971 at UK. Ohio is now 2-5 verses the Southeastern Conference all-time.

While this year's game may be too early in the season to consider it a championship-type game (Marshall is 1-0 in the MAC, beating Miami 33-25; Ohio is 1-1, losing at Miami 20-40 and beating Buffalo 34-0), the winner of the game will have a leg up with two wins in the division. Marshall is very aware of a new style of Ohio attack, as the Bobcats have scrapped the wishbone of the last decade and opened up the passing game, much like the Thundering Herd offense.

"Ohio didn't just beat UK, they dominated UK," said Bob Pruett, the Marshall coach, on the weekly MAC coaches call. "This is a great rivalry. It looks like we will continue playing (once Marshall jumps to Conference USA in 2005) and I think that's awesome. This will be a game of great significance. Ohio and (Marshall) are in the thick of the conference battle." Knorr put it this way after the UK win. "Before this game, we said ‘win, lose, draw (at UK), whatever happens, we're going right away to Marshall," said Knorr. "So as much as we'd love (Sunday) morning as coaches to break this down and go over it, we're getting right on Marshall."

Looking back on the Kentucky win, Knorr was understandably excited. "The kids made a lot of good things happen (at Kentucky)," said Knorr. "The bus ride (back to Athens) was lots better than some of the ones before. This game will hopefully give us confidence, winning in front of 60,000, as we approach the tough part of our schedule. Our kids are excited about the win, but they are also grounded in the tough task ahead (with Marshall)."

Not only did Ohio knock off a SEC team, they did it without all the players expected to make a difference in 2004. They were missing starting corner Chip Cox (a/c joint, slight separation) and starting safety Rob Stover (knee sprain). Also injured was Huntington native and starting linebacker, senior Dennis Chukwuemeka (last year's leading tackler with 100 stops in 10 games) and outside linebacker Tyler Ross, who went down last week in practice when he hurt his shoulder.

Filling in on defense were sophomore linebacker Matt Muncy, who had nine tackles, a tackle-for-loss and an interception; senior defensive tackle Kevin Carberry, who had seven solo tackles and one sack; junior linebacker Spencer Tatum, five tackles; and junior cornerback Dion Byrum, who had four tackles. True sophomore linebacker Ma'tron Church had six tackles, a tackle-for-loss, forced and recovered a fumble.

For all the defenders Ohio replaced, the offense was intact and on the mark for much of the game. Behind a line with three seniors, a junior and one sophomore, senior quarterback Ryan Hawk (a good friend of MU quarterback Stan Hill) hit for 7-of-15 passes, for 144 yards, and one touchdown. Hawk also added a nine-yard rushing touchdown. Replaced late in the game by sophomore Austen Everson, the OU attack did not miss a beat. Everson hit 3-of-3, also throwing a touchdown, and accounted for 104 yards. UK did sack the two QBs five times, accounting for 37 yards in losses and certainly this will be a concern for Ohio against the "Wrecking Crew" that is the Marshall defense. Herd ends Jonathan Goddard and Jamus Martin, who accounted for six sacks and 17 tackles (and forced two fumbles and recovered one) against Miami, lead a defense with eight starters returning and 11 seniors in the two-deep. "Goddard got our attention last Wednesday night (in the Miami win by Marshall)," said Knorr. "He has been a thorn in our side, returning a fumble for a touchdown last year. The speed of their ends is a concern."

Both Ohio touchdowns went to a native of the Mountain State, Scott Mayle, who is 6-1, 175 pound wide receiver from Phillip Barbour High School in Phillipi, WV. He is one of three West Virginia natives on the Ohio squad, including Chukwuemeka and freshman defensive end Paul Johnson, who is from Vienna. Mayle had four catches for 157 yards, two scores (a 89-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and a 44-yard score in the second) and averaged nearly 40 yards per catch.

"One of the reasons we changed our offense was Mayle's speed," said Knorr. "We wanted to find ways to get him the football. Not many people will catch him in the open field, although there might be a couple at Marshall." Mayle also ran the ball five times for 52 yards. Also catching the ball well was sophomore halfback Chris Jackson. He had five catches for 55 yards and freshman tailback Kalvin McRae added 18 carries for 34 yards (although he lost 19 more yards in the game). Ohio finished with just 90 yards net and 46 yards lost on the evening in the ground game. Ohio lost just one fumble to two for Kentucky and picked off three passes while throwing no interceptions.

"When we play Marshall, it's a big game for us," said Knorr. "We've been beat by Marshall (seven of the last eight) games and lots of these players know each other. You've got guys on both sides from Chillicothe or Gallipolis. Some fans in the area root for both teams. We hope to continue the series." Marshall and Ohio are currently negotiating a series, which will be for home-and-home games over the next five to six years.

This will be the 52nd meeting of the Bobcats and Herd, dating back to a 6-5 Marshall victory in Huntington in 1905. The 51 games versus Ohio are the most games with any one opponent in the 1,000 game history of Marshall football, back to 1895. Marshall did not win a game in Athens between 1908 and 1964, when Marshall won finally 10-0 in Pruett's senior season. Marshall is 4-19-3 in Athens all-time, but 2-1 since 1998, 3-2 since 1985 and 8-2 overall in the last ten games with Ohio, back to 1986.

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