Ohio Set for Battle for the Bell

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Ohio meets Marshall in the 56th Battle for the Bell Saturday in Huntington, W.Va.

The matchup comes for Ohio on the heels of a 24-14 win at Penn State and a 51-24 dismantling of New Mexico State in front of the largest crowd in Peden Stadium history.

But Marshall could field the most potent offense Ohio will see this season. The Thundering Herd ranks first in Conference USA in scoring, passing and total offense, averaging 43 points and 580 yards per game – 422 through the air – through two contests.

Both Ohio and Marshall run up-tempo offenses as each team averages close to 90 offensive snaps per game. But Ohio head coach Frank Solich believes his team is prepared for what could be a high-energy matchup.

“We’re used to running a fast paced offense as this is our second season with it,” said Solich in his Monday press conference. “We’ve faced ourselves in practice and there’s no better conditioning than doing that, so I suspect that both teams will be in excellent condition and there will be a lot of plays in the ball game”

One of the more compelling matchups Saturday will be the quarterback battle between Marshall’s Rakeem Cato and Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton. Cato comes into the Battle for the Bell completing 73 percent of his passes with 790 yards and five touchdowns in two games. Meanwhile, Tettleton is poised to break into Ohio’s top five all-time completions and total offense lists this weekend.

“The ball is going to be spread around a lot,” said Tettleton when asked about the matchup between the signal callers. “I’m looking forward to it and excited to go up against a good quarterback like [Cato].”

It is Ohio’s defense, however, that will share the field with Marshall’s sophomore quarterback. Last season, the Bobcats defense came up huge against their rivals from Huntington, forcing six turnovers, including four interceptions by Cato – then a freshman.

“I think we studied a lot that week,” said defensive captain Gerald Moore. “We were on top of the plays they were going to run…that was key in having a lot of turnovers and making a lot of big plays last year.”

That week, Ohio unveiled its all-black jerseys and bested Marshall 44-7 under the lights to bring the Bell Trophy back to Athens. And though Ohio will not have its black unis on the road Saturday, it will be looking for a similar result. Moore knows that for that to be the case, the defense must stay off the field.

“(We have to) just play our game, play solid defense, get off the field on third downs and try to create turnovers,” said Moore. “Any time we can get off the field as a defense and give our offense the ball, we’ll have a great chance.”

Marshall will have a bad taste in its mouth and a chip on its shoulder after losing last season’s Battle for the Bell. And not just because it lost to Ohio for the first time since 2000, but because it was utterly demolished by the Bobcats from the opening kickoff, falling behind 34-7 before halftime and eventually losing by 37 points.

“After you blow a team out, you don’t expect anything less [than for] them to come out full force and try to redeem themselves,” Moore said. “We’re going to expect a rowdy crowd and a rowdy Marshall team that’s going to give us their best shot.”

Despite the strengths of both passing attacks, perhaps Ohio’s biggest advantage lies on the ground. Redshirt junior Beau Blankenship has the hot hand, carrying for 285 yards through two games, including a career high 174 against New Mexico State.

“It’s real important to always get a run game going,” said Blankenship. ”The run game will help open up the pass game and the pass game will help open up the run game so it’s real important to get it going.”

Tettleton agrees that an effective run game can take pressure off of him and open thing up offensively.

“With [Beau] doing so well and the line opening up holes…it opens up the passing game and allows us to throw the ball downfield,” said Tettleton. “And with us throwing the ball downfield and having that success there, that will open up the run game.”

This was certainly on display in last season’s meeting as Ohio totaled 292 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. In that game, Ryan Boykin – then a sophomore – led the charge with 140 yards. Boykin has so far been limited this season due to injury, but he is expected to play Saturday. Blankenship, on the other hand, did not practice Thursday because of a sore knee, but he will also be active.

One thing you can expect to see Saturday is a physical game. This is “Marshall Week” for Ohio, meaning both teams will undoubtedly give their best shot in the spirit of a rivalry with hardware – not to mention bragging rights – to play for.

“There's always new challenges that pop up for you, but our team has been able to accept those challenges so far, and I presume that we'll be prepared, show up and play well,” said Solich. “[The Marshall games] have been great football games, they've all been very physical football games, so we anticipate that will be the case again.”

The Bobcats will take the field Saturday wearing green helmets, white jerseys and green pants. Opening kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m.