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2019 MAC Football Week 3 Game Preview: Ohio Bobcats vs Marshall Thundering Herd

The former MAC rivals battle for the Victory Bell for the first time since 2015.

NCAA Football: Ohio at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio (1-1) travels to Huntington, West Virginia, to take on Marshall (1-1) in the first Battle for the Bell since 2015, when Ohio won at home 21-10. Marshall won the previous year at home, 44-10. The series will head to Athens, Ohio in 2020 and continue in 2025 and 2027 with Marshall at home and then on the road.

Ohio leads the series 33-20-6.

Ohio and Marshall are coming off tough road losses against good teams, Ohio losing to the Pitt Panthers 20-10 and Marshall to the #24-ranked Boise State Broncos, 14-7.

This could be one of the best match-ups in recent history in the series with two talented, evenly-matched teams Battling for the Bell. Marshall comes in with a record of 18-10 since 2017 and Ohio comes in with a record of 19-9 for the same period. Both teams were picked in their respective media polls to play for a conference championship in 2019.


Key Losses

Ohio:

RB Julian Ross: Ross was injured last week vs Pitt and has been ruled out for the game against Marshall. Ross was the second running back in the Ohio rotation but his loss will also be felt on special teams where, being one of the fastest players on the team, Ross excelled at covering punts.

WR Tyler Tupa: Questionable after not playing since the opening weekend, Tupa was a factor in week one after catching three passes for 49 yard and a touchdown.

Marshall:

WR Obi Obialo: Various reports on his status, questionable being the most favorable report found for the Ohio game. Starting WR has not played this year with an ankle injury. Career Stats: 63 catches, 754 yards, and four touchdowns

LB Jaquan Yulee: Starting weak-side linebacker is out for the season with a neck injury.

RB Tyler King: Dismissed from the team this week for ‘violation of team rules and policies’ according to MetroNews. Career Stats: 1566 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns. This season, 15 carries, 91 yards, zero touchdowns.


When Marshall Has the Ball

Perhaps the biggest key to the game besides turnovers and field position will be Marshall’s run offense vs Ohio’s run defense. Marshall has a good offensive line and showed the ability to run the ball inside the tackles against a very good Boise State Broncos defense in the first half last week.

Marshall RB Brenden Knox is a load at 220 pounds and showed good agility and balance last week too. One of the mysteries of last week’s game for me was why they didn’t continue to run the ball with Knox given the score and Knox’s success running the ball. Marshall only trailed in the second half 14-7 and Knox finished the day with 10 carries for 71 yards.

Ohio’s rushing defense is probably better than its early numbers (55th in rushing yards allowed per game) because Ohio’s offense punted ten times last week vs the Pittsburgh Panthers last week, putting a strain on the defense due to overuse.

Ohio features an experience group of linebackers in Jared Dorsa, Eric Popp, and Dylan Conner, who have generally performed well in 2019 against the run and pass. Last week vs Pitt, the trio combined for 27 tackles, three quarterback hurries, 2.5 tackles for loss, two passes defensed, and a sack.

Ohio safeties Jarren Hampton and Javon Hagan were active last week with 20 combined tackles.

Marshall threw mostly underneath stuff last week vs Boise State but did take a few shots downfield so that could be a factor especially if they establish the run with Knox.

Marshall’s Xavier Gaines, jersey number 11, a high school quarterback, was in the mix vs Boise State in multiple rolls. Expect Gaines to be lined up all over the field on offense. Last week vs Boise State, Gaines lined up at QB, in the backfield, at tight end, and wide receiver.

Gaines even attempted a deep pass against Boise State where he lined up as a wide receiver, caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage, then threw the ball (it was incomplete).

Marshall QB Isaiah Green is primarily a passer with 294 yards and 4 touchdowns in his first two games this year. Green can run and on average will run 4-5 times a game including some read options or draws. Green could be more of a factor on the ground if the situation calls for it against Ohio.


When Ohio Has the Ball

Ohio’s offense is going to look to re-establish the run after an unusual game last week where Ohio did not hit many big or explosive runs.

Ohio’s physical size advantage could come into play in the running game, particularly in the second half, as players start to tire. Ohio’s starting offensive lineman outweigh Marshall’s defensive line by an average of about 55 pounds, with Ohio’s lineman averaging 309 while Marshall’s defensive lineman averaging 254

Ohio’s top two tight ends, brothers Ryan and Adam Luehrman, weigh 250 each.

Marshall’s linebackers may also weigh less than the average FBS starting group, with Marshall’s trio coming in at an average of 217 pounds. For comparison, Ohio’s starting three linebackers weigh on average 228 pounds.

Where Marshall has the advantage in their front seven is their speed, quickness, and overall athleticism. Boise State could not run to the outside or laterally against Marshall, despite several attempts, due to Marshall’s speed. Marshall’s front seven are aggressive and physical, and tackle well.

If Ohio is going find success in the running game, they will need to establish a down-hill, interior running game early to open up the edges.

Another major factor for Ohio’s offense this week should be a return to form for Ohio’s QB Nathan Rourke. Rourke was reportedly sick last week and by early indications should be back to health for the game vs Marshall. In a rare event in the Rourke era at Ohio, the quarterback did not account for a touchdown last week against Pitt.

A healthy Rourke not only re-opens the entire playbook but reintroduces to Ohio’s offense the critical element of improvisation. Rourke has historically played his best when things are toughest, creating plays when things break down.

It is unlikely that Rourke gets shut out for two weeks in a row, so I expect Rourke to return to form and be a big factor vs Marshall.


Prediction

This will be a tough, physical game between two evenly-matched teams. Baring a glut of turnovers, major injuries, or unexpected breakdowns, this game should stay close into the second half where I can see Ohio’s running game having the edge. Nathan Rourke will return to form and Ohio will hits some explosive plays in the run and passing game. Ohio 31, Marshall 24.