Rourke Ross Bobcats Football
Nathan Rourke (12) hands the ball off to Julian Ross (2) during the Bobcats’ 20-10 loss to Pitt on Sept. 7, 2019, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. [Charles Hatcher | WOUB]

Ohio Football: ‘Battle for the Bell’ Rivalry Resumes for Bobcats, Marshall

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ATHENS, OH — For the last four years, the Bell has resided in Athens, Ohio as a focal point of the Bobcats’ trophy case on the second floor of Peden Stadium. 

On Saturday night, the ‘Cats travel 78 miles south to play for the right to keep it there for another year when they pay a visit to Marshall to take on the Thundering Herd.

The ‘Battle for the Bell’ rivalry has been on hold for the last four seasons after a six-year contract between the two schools ended. Ohio won the most recent matchup, a game played in Athens, 21-10 behind a 77-yard rushing performance from A.J. Ouellette and a defense that forced four Herd turnovers.

Very few Bobcats remain from that team and none remain from the last time the ‘Cats made the short trip to Huntington, but head coach Frank Solich will have his team ready for the atmosphere at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

“That’s always a tough atmosphere to play in, so we have to make sure we’re ready to face that, which we will be. It’ll be a big crowd, and it’ll be loud,” Solich said. “It’ll be louder than what it was in Pittsburgh so that obviously will be our first time in terms of crowd noise that will be the way it is down there.”

“You’ve got to go down there believing in one another, ready to step on the field and play four quarters of tough football and just move on from there with the game, and, if you play well enough, you have a shot at winning,” Solich added.

The crowd will just be another element the ‘Cats have to deal with. Marshall is coming off of a strong performance defensively last Friday night against Boise State, nearly pulling off the road upset of the Broncos, and will provide more than enough of a challenge to an Ohio team that struggled a bit last week against Pittsburgh.

In Heinz Field last week, the Panthers held Ohio to just 212 total yards of offense, their lowest total since December of 2016 when Western Michigan held them to 251 yards in the MAC Championship Game. 

“I do believe that we’re farther along offensively after two games than we were last year. We played a good defense in Pittsburgh. I thought our guys battled,” Ohio offensive coordinator Tim Albin said. “No one’s giving up on the team. They’re locked in and they’ve got a huge challenge this week.”

The challenge that the Marshall defense will provide the Bobcats is not that much different than the one that Pitt offered up. In Boise last Friday, the Herd only allowed the Broncos to put up 14 points only days after the Boise State went to Florida State and dropped 36 on the Seminoles.

“They are not as big as Pittsburgh upfront, but they are faster. Holes close fast,” Albin said. “We’re going to try to establish the line of scrimmage and see if we can grind it out.”

The Bobcats will be without running back Julian Ross in Huntington after the redshirt senior injured his shoulder last week in punt coverage, leaving the youngest members (De’Montre Tuggle, O’Shaan Allison, and Ja’Vahri Portis) of the running back corps as the main focus of the Bobcat ground game. 

The air attack for Ohio will center around the ability for Nathan Rourke to bounce back from a less-than-stellar day against the Panthers last week where the senior threw for just 177 yards while accounting for -43 yards on the ground thanks to being sacked six times.

“We’re going to go out there like we do every week, he’ll be fine. He made some plays for us. I think he threw the ball very well,” Albin said of Rourke. “I’d like to give him a little more time, but when the ball left his hand, I thought it was on target. Nate is a warrior and I look for him to play well Saturday.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bobcats will have to deal with a Thundering Herd team that averages nearly 400 yards of offense but struggled mightily in the second half against Boise State last week. In their five possessions in the second half, Marshall gained zero yards and ran just 14 plays. 

“Defensively, (Boise State) just executed a little bit better in the second half,” defensive coordinator Ron Collins said. “But Marshall is still very good. They’re very fast on the edges and very big up front.”

With both Ohio and Marshall picked to win their respective divisions in the MAC and Conference USA, the players and the coaching staff know they’re in for one of their toughest opponents of the season on Saturday.

“Marshall is at home and it’s a huge challenge,” Albin said. “We’re going to have to play our best game.”

The Bell will leave its current home in Peden Stadium on Saturday morning and travel with the Bobcats down to Huntington. Whether the ‘Cats bring it back to reside in Athens for a fifth straight year will be decided on Saturday night.

Kickoff at Joan C. Edwards Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m.