Cincinnati and Marshall met last in the 2004 Plains Capital Fort Worth Bowl in Bob Pruett's final game as head coach, with the Bearcats picking up a 32-14 win, while UC was in Conference USA and the Herd in the MAC. They also met in the 2000 Motor City Bowl, with Marshall unveiling a "four-four" look on defense and getting the 25-13 win, with Michael "Kool-Aid" Owens playing so well for the Herd he made the Sports Illustrated "All-Bowl" Team at linebacker. Cincinnati leads the all-time series 6-3-1 and Saturday will be the seventh meeting between the two teams in the Queen City of the Ohio River.
Snyder is well aware of the fast start Coach Brian Kelly and his first-year with the Cincinnati program. "We are going to play a very confident, very sound Cincinnati team," said Snyder. "Coach Kelly has done a great job with those guys, playing good defense and very fast. They spread you out on offense. They are playing very well on special teams, and have blocked a couple of punts. All three phases are clicking for them and that's why they are 3-0 right now." The Bearcats have the best turnover margin in the nation after three games, having intercepted 11 balls and covering six fumbles (and losing on four on offense), a margin of 4.33 per game.
The UC team has won four in a row under Kelly, who took the program over last December when former head coach Mark Dantonio left Cincinnati for Michigan State. The Bearcats beat Western Michigan of the MAC in the International Bowl in Toronto, 27-24, after beating the Broncos earlier in the year on the way to winning the MAC with Central Michigan with a 9-4 mark. CMU advanced to its first bowl in 12 seasons after gaining its first winning season in seven years in 2005 under Kelly. Kelly also won two Division II Championships at Grand Valley State between 1991 and 2003 and has an overall coaching mark of 141-51-2 in 18 seasons as a head coach.
Marshall is looking to get its first win of the season, coming off a 48-35 loss to FCS team New Hampshire, Marshall's first loss to a team from the division formerly called I-AA, since losing the 1995 championship to Montana at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium. "We have a huge task in front of us," said Snyder. Marshall has been hampered by a glut of injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Both starting defensive ends, Albert McClellan (out for the year with a knee injury) and John Jacobs (back for Memphis with hand injury) are down and defensive tackle Montel Glasco was added to that list in the game with the Wildcats last weekend.
"Montel will not play this week, and John Inman (the Herd's starting left offensive tackle, who injured his foot in the New Hampshire game) will not play this week," said Snyder. "We will pickup Zearrick Matthews." Matthews is a starting cornerback and was hurt the week of the opening game with Miami. Marshall will now be able to move J.J. Johnson to nickel on a permanent basis, as nickel back Aaron Johnson, another hand injury, may be back in two or three weeks. J.J. played the nickel as a freshman two seasons ago. "The other injuries are dings and bruises," said Snyder, who added they will take it easy with tackle Byron Tinker, corner Ashton Hall and middle linebacker Josh Johnson, who all were helped off the field during the game with UNH but returned to the field to finish.
"Shane Moore is going have to grow up real fast," said Snyder of his true freshman tackle. Moore will be the starter, alongside converted offensive linemen Joe Bragg and John Bruhin, to Byron Tinker. Ends include Ryland Wilson, Michael Janac, Ian Hoskins, true freshman Johnny Jones and possibly even Howard King, who, like Hoskins, moved over from linebacker. "We'll see how practice goes," said Snyder about Moore starting and Wilson staying at end.
On the offensive side, Bernard Morris is the other question mark besides Inman being out. The senior quarterback is suffering from turf toe on his right foot, and the only real cure is rest but that is not forth coming for Morris. "He's played quite a bit, and I thought he played well," said Snyder of his senior quarterback. "He didn't practice at all last week, and probably won't practice this week." Morris entered the game near the end of the second quarter to replace an ineffective Brian Anderson (7-of-14, 58 yards in his first start) and the Herd down 24-0. Morris threw for a career-high 417 yards, three touchdown (tying a career-high) and led the Herd on five straight scoring drives to start the second half.
"We've got to be perfect when Brian goes in there, and we weren't. It wasn't just Brian, it was a combination of things." Snyder also though Anderson began to press as New Hampshire went up by seven, then 14, then 17 points. He was hoping to give Morris two weeks to get well for the UC game. "That's why we tried to hold him out, as he needs a week of rest to get that thing better. There are varying degrees of pain and, for right now, he is at a minimal pain level. We need to give him a week, and that's just not going to happen now." Snyder waited as long as he felt he could before putting in Morris, but kept hoping Anderson would get it turned around. "You keep hoping we'll get a stop on defense, hoping and hoping, or we'll start moving the ball. You are waiting for something to happen. Your pride and your ego, you are waiting for something to happen. In hindsight, if I knew we were going to lose, I might not have brought him in. If I knew we were going to lose, I might not have played him at all. But that's the decisions I get paid to make as the head coach."
"He did OK," said Snyder of red-shirt freshman Brandon Campbell's replacement of Inman last week. Campbell took some snaps for right tackle Daniel Baldridge during the game, but now the Herd backup is Brandon Curry, a true freshman. "That helped Daniel. Now those guys have got to step it up. We might move Alto (Matt Altobello) out there to keep them fresh." Snyder admitted the red-shirt will probably be taken off of Curry. Snyder was also excited about the play of tailbacks Chubb Small and Kelvin Turner against New Hampshire. "I was very pleased with those two young men," said Snyder. "The way Kelvin ran with the ball, caught the ball, and Chubb ran hard. I hope I continue to see that."
Snyder got a call from former Herd quarterback Byron Leftwich, who reportedly may sign this week with the Atlanta Falcons. Byron told the coach to keep his head up, that the start of this year's team reminded him of the start of the 2000 team. Leftwich, then a sophomore with no starts, got off to a 2-4 start that included a loss to Michigan State and North Carolina, a blow-out loss at Toledo and a first home loss in the MAC to Western Michigan. Leftwich told the coach once they got going, they felt like by the end of the year they could beat anyone and he sees a great similarity between that club and this year's edition of the Thundering Herd.< "Sitting here two years ago, I felt kind of helpless," said Snyder, who believes the program is headed in the right direction despite the slow start. "I think we are getting closer. I know that's hard for some people to understand. We have some talent out there, and our young talent has to get better faster."/p>
For fans headed to Cincinnati for the game, and Marshall officials are expecting anywhere from 3,000-to-5,000 Herd fans to attend the game in which Cincinnati officials will be the first sellout of the 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium, the Insider SportslineInsider Statewide Shows, heard 4-6 p.m. Monday through Friday on WRVC 930 AM, will be live at Beef "O" Brady's in Union, Kentucky, just minutes from downtown Cincinnati. The MU Alumni Club of Cincinnati will be there as well. On Saturday, the club is hosting a "Herd Haven Tailgate," sponsored by Smokin' Thunder,UC at the Gettler Soccer Stadium, starting at 4 p.m., with tickets $10 in advance and $12 at the gate. Call John Chafin at 513-404-8484 for details. The "Countdown to Kickoff" show on WRVC 930 AM and WDGG, "The Dawg," 93.7 FM, will be live from the "Herd Haven" tailgate, as well as the "West Virginia Jeep Dealers Tailgate Show" on both those stations and the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network. Special guests at the tailgate will be former Marshall assistant coach Red Dawson and players he helped coach on the 1971 "Young" Thundering Herd, the team and coach which are the basis of the Warner Bros. movie, "We Are Marshall," that became available on DVD on September 18 nationwide.