Bobcat Football Seeks to Reclaim Bell Against Marshall

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Losing to a rival delivers a gut punch. Losing to a rival by 30 points while surrendering over 700 yards of offense delivers the ultimate blow.

While Ohio players and coaches stress that their preparation for Saturday’s game against the Marshall Thundering Herd will not differ from any other game, one thought was consistent:

Last year’s Battle for the Bell wasn’t fun and the Bobcats are looking to reclaim the bell.

“They beat up on us pretty bad last year,” senior running back Daz’mond Patterson said. “That’s something that’s been in the back of our heads for a while.”

Head coach Frank Solich doesn’t look at this contest as redemption for last season’s drubbing, but acknowledges that both sides are aware what the rivalry means.

“It does mean something to everybody associated with both programs,” Solich said. “The game means an awful lot and you don’t have to look for ways to build the game up. In itself, it builds itself up.”

As Ohio entered 2014 with expectations of rebuilding, Marshall entered last season with the highest of expectations and, for the most part, those expectations were met. The Herd completed a 13-1 season that was led by the production of veteran quarterback Rakeem Cato. Cato passed for 3,903 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2014, including 425 yards and four touchdowns against the Bobcats a year ago.

Cato, who is now with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football league, hands the signal-calling duties to Michael Birdsong, a junior quarterback that had his struggles in Marshall’s season opener, but ultimately finished with 234 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.

Birdsong led the go-ahead touchdown drive with just under three minutes remaining last week to take down Big Ten foe Purdue in Huntington, 41-31. While the new quarterback sealed the deal, Marshall was aided on the scoreboard by a once-in-a-lifetime outing by safety Tiquan Lang on the defensive side of the ball. Lang, who was named National Defensive Player of the Week by, tallied 17 tackles and two interception returns for touchdowns.

“He just did things that do not get done in this game very often,” Solich said. “I don’t know how long you have to go back to see that combination of two picks that go all the way, plus 17 tackles. In my time, I don’t recall somebody having that kind of a game. I’m sure there might be somebody out there but just a stellar performance on his part.”

Ohio wide receiver Brendan Cope noted that the offense’s preparations for Saturday’s game would attempt to slow down Lang.

“We’re making sure we’re holding up our blocks, doing some good MDMs [most dangerous man] and getting to the safety because he comes down hard.”

The Bobcat offense will try to limit Lang, but are also focused on continuing to develop their own identity as an offense. Ohio quarterbacks Derrius Vick and JD Sprague alternated time in the opener against Idaho, but Vick appeared to have solidified a stronger grip on the starting job after his performance.

Cope said that while he doesn’t mind the coaching staff switching the quarterback as the game dictates, he feels that they have to stick with the hot hand.

“If someone gets in a groove, if someone gets hot, whether its me, a running back or any of the quarterbacks, let them do their thing and let them get in a rhythm. Once a guy gets hot, it’s pretty hard to stop him.”

In Ohio’s opener, one of those hot hands was running back Daz Patterson, who rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown, which was the second-best outing of his Bobcat career. With the Bobcats leading by just 11 in the fourth quarter, Patterson carried the ball on six-straight plays, where he gained 50 yards and scored a touchdown to stretch the Ohio lead to 18.

While Patterson seemed to take the leading role among a crowded running back group, he acknowledged that every Ohio running back is learning from the others every day.

“As I feel like anybody should, I feel like my goal is to be the best, but as far as a leader goes, I like to think that we all carry ourselves as leaders” Patterson said. “It’s all based on influence. If they can see something in me that they can learn from, I’d love for that to happen, but I don’t mind learning things from them as well.”

As a whole, the Bobcats appear to be in a better position this year to deal with the threats that Marshall presents. However, in a rivalry game, one play can make the difference.

“It’s been a very good series. In the six games, we are 3-3. The matchup has been very solid and very strong on both ends,” Solich said. “There have been two games, one where we won handedly and last year they won handedly. Other than that they have been hard-fought, close football games if my memory is correct. This series has been great for our players. I’m sure it’s been great for the fans. They travel well. It’s easy for them to make this game up here with a good crowd and it’s easy for us make the game down there with a good crowd. All of that is a plus in terms of playing one another.”

The Bobcats host the Thundering Herd on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Peden Stadium.