Marshall comes into Ohio Stadium 0-1 following an opening game loss to Troy 17-15 last Saturday in Huntington, W.Va. But the Thundering Herd have been among the most successful programs nationally since jumping from Division I-AA to the major college ranks in 1997.
Over the last seven years, Marshall's record of 63-14 stood behind only Miami (Fla.) at 64-11 as the best in Division I-A. Ohio State, by contrast, is 10th in Division I-A over the same period with a mark of 57-18 (coincidentally, the same as Michigan).
Marshall's rise to prominence began in 1990, when Jim Donnan replaced former OSU assistant George Chaump as the head coach. Marshall reached the Division I-AA national championship game against Jim Tressel's Youngstown State team in 1991, but lost 25-17. A year later, Marshall went 12-3 and knocked off Tressel's Penguins 31-28 in the national title game. The schools met again for the championship a year later, but YSU prevailed 17-5.
Donnan left for Georgia after the 1995 team again reached the title game, falling to Montana. Marshall alum Bob Pruett, serving as the defensive coordinator at Florida, was summoned to replace Donnan. In his first season, Marshall stormed to a 15-0 record and the Division I-AA national championship.
A year later, Marshall made the jump to I-A and the Mid-American Conference. But the wins kept coming. The Herd reached the MAC championship game in each of its first six seasons in the league, winning five times. Included in that string of success was a perfect 13-0 season in 1999, capped by a Motor City Bowl win over BYU. Last year's 8-4 season broke Marshall's six-year run of bowl appearances.
Pruett's record of 88-18 (.830) stands second to Oklahoma's Bob Stoops (55-11, .833) among I-A coaches with a minimum of five years of experience.
Of course, the program has enjoyed its share of big-name talent with wide receiver Randy Moss and quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich all a part of the program's recent success.
Marshall does not figure to be in awe of its surroundings. Since 1997, Marshall has played nine games in stadiums of Bowl Championship Series conference schools and won three of them (South Carolina in 1998, Clemson in 1999 and Kansas State last year).
But coming off the opening loss to Troy, Pruett said his team – a 16-point underdog in this game – needs to simply play better if it expects to have a chance to win.
"What happened in the past, really, does not make a whole lot of difference," Pruett said. "We've got to worry about us and not worry about the other folks. If we can't get our mistakes corrected, we're going to be in for a lot of long evenings."
After playing Ohio State, Marshall will visit Georgia next Saturday, meaning the Herd will play top-10 teams in consecutive weeks. A match-up with Miami (Ohio), 13-1 a year ago while winning the MAC title, looms for the conference opener Sept. 29.
"We have Ohio State and Georgia here in a row and then we have Miami and our Mid-American Conference games," Pruett said. "That's a tough chore for us. But we've got to get ready. Nothing's easy about this game, but that's my job and we just have to try and get better."
Pruett discussed how Ohio State and Marshall, just 137 miles apart, came to finally meet on the gridiron for the first time.
"They called us," he said. "They needed a game. We're always looking to try to better our schedule. We try to play two big ballgames a year. We were fortunate enough to get a game with Ohio State this year. We've gotten games with Miami (Fla.), Tennessee, Wisconsin, Kansas State and Virginia Tech. We're trying to play those kind of teams and we feel very fortunate to be able to play a team like Ohio State. It's a close game. It helps us in recruiting. It's a win-win situation for us with recruiting and the exposure we get."
Quarterback Stan Hill, a senior, is back for his second season as the starter. He missed six games last year due to injury. He completed 69.6 percent of his passes for 1,767 yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In the opener, Hill was 14 of 28 passing for 152 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Marshall finished the game with just 177 yards total offense, netting just 25 yards on 34 rushing attempts. Hill was sacked eight times by Troy defenders.
"We think Stan is a very talented quarterback," Pruett said. "He didn't have a chance last Saturday. He got sacked eight times and counting the eight sacks they had 16 tackles for losses. We had some young guys on the offensive line and we just didn't play well on the offensive line. We're going to have to find a way to protect our passer if we're going to do anything at all."
"We just had some young kids that got confused, I guess. And Troy State is a pretty good football team now. They're going to win a lot of games. We just didn't do a very good job in the offensive line of blocking people. It showed up. We had 177 yards total offense. We usually get that in a quarter. We'll have to go back and work. We've got what we've got. We've just got to get better."
Senior Earl Charles (6-1, 215) returns at tailback for Marshall after rushing for 1,039 yards and 12 touchdowns a year ago. He was held to 56 yards on 21 carries in the opener.
The key receiver is senior Josh Davis (6-1, 190). He had 66 catches for 823 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. He picked up right where he left off with six catches for 79 yards, including a 10-yard TD grab from Hill, against Troy.
The big question mark is on the offensive line, where senior left tackle Nate Griffin (6-6, 344) and junior right guard Toby Bullock (6-4, 340) are the only returning starters.
"We've got a good running back and a couple good receivers and an outstanding quarterback," Pruett said. "But we've got to have time to utilize it. We've got to get that worked out. That's certainly not a good scenario to try and do that – against a great team like Ohio State with all of that talent."
At least the Marshall defense and special teams were strong in the opener.
Troy ended up with 261 yards, including just 65 yards rushing on 45 attempts. Senior linebacker Kevin Atkins, who had a team-high 100 tackles a year ago, led the way with 11 stops in the opener. Senior cornerback Roberto Terrell and senior defensive end Jonathan Goddard each had 10 tackles in the opener. Free safety Chris Royal added two interceptions against Troy.
"Outside of the opening drive, where we gave up a long pass play on the first play of the game, they didn't drive for a touchdown the rest of the game," Pruett said. "We fumbled the ball on our own 9-yard line. They were able to get their other touchdown that way. We felt our defense played well enough for us to have a chance to win the ballgame. We had our chances. We just didn't win it."
Marshall has eight starters back on a defensive unit that was No. 1 in the conference in total defense (329.8 yards per game) and passing defense (177.4).
Against Troy, kicker Ian O'Connor was 3 of 3 on field goals, although he averaged just 35.7 yards on punts. Brad Bates blocked a punt to set up Marshall's lone touchdown in the second half against Troy.
* Marshall's upwardly mobile program will move into Conference USA next year as part of the great shift of conferences begun by the ACC's raid on the Big East. Marshall, Rice, Southern Methodist, Tulsa and Central Florida will all join C-USA next year.
"We are excited about that, but right now we're in the MAC," Pruett said. "We're excited about trying to win a MAC championship and get our program directed in that direction."
* Marshall's loss to Troy in its home opener was its first such loss in 14 years at Joan C. Edwards Stadium and broke a string of 20 straight wins in home openers. The Herd is now 98-7 all-time since that stadium opened in 1991.
* Marshall's 27-20 win over then-No. 6 Kansas State last year marked the first time an MAC team had ever beaten a team ranked that high in the AP poll. It was also Marshall's first-ever win over a ranked opponent.
* OSU is 276-65-9 all-time in games as a top-10 ranked team since the inception of The Associated Press poll in 1936.
* The Buckeyes have won 17 straight home games, dating to a 34-22 loss to Illinois in the final home game in 2001. OSU is 21-2 at home in three-plus seasons under Tressel.
* OSU also has a streak of 34 straight home wins against nonconference opponents, dating to a 35-26 loss to USC in 1990.
* After a hiatus of many years, Ohio State scheduled a MAC team for the first time in the modern era in 1992 against Bowling Green. OSU has played one MAC team every year since 1997. In that stretch since 1997, OSU has wins over BG (twice), Toledo, Ohio U., Miami (Ohio), Akron and Kent State. Including the 1992 win over BG, OSU has won those eight games over MAC opponents by an average of 22.6 points.
Ohio State will continue MAC teams with games set with Miami (Ohio) next year and Northern Illinois in 2006.
* Click the link below for a look at the Game Data for this match-up, including more information on Marshall, the television coverage map from ABC, depth charts and a prediction on how it might play out.