If Gillette wanted to use a football metaphor to demonstrate a close shave, it might refer to the Battle for the Bell.
In Ohio’s two previous games against rival Marshall, the Bobcats have come up on the losing end of both a furious 17-point comeback in 2009 and a completed 36-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired last season.
While coach Frank Solich said the Bobcats do not have revenge on their minds after two close losses, he said the nature of the rivalry between Ohio and Marshall always makes for a good game.
“They’ve been very close games the two times we’ve played,” Solich said. “It’s always an excellent game when these two schools meet. This one should be no different.”
The short distance between the schools as well as the familiarity with each other only adds intensity to this year’s version of the Battle for the Bell.”
Despite the added hype, Solich said his team will approach this game like any other.
“As far as I’m concerned, every team is a rival,” he said. “They either go in the win column or the loss column. We need to prepare hard and well to play our best football.”
Solich said special teams could be the difference in Saturday’s game, even though the unit often is overlooked on the stats sheet.
Both teams boast special teams units ranked near the top in the country.
With an average of 36.3 yards per punt return, the Thundering Herd ranks second in the country in that category. Marshall also recorded a punt block against West Virginia in week one.
Meanwhile, Ohio ranks in the top 20 in the nation in both punt and kickoff return average. Every Bobcat punt has landed out of bounds or in the end zone, or the returner has called for a fair catch.
“We’ll have to stop their return guys. So far this year, we haven’t allowed a return, so something’s got to give,” Solich said. “Both teams have good athletes on kickoff returns. They are very dangerous.”
MARSHALL: TOUGHEST TEST YET
By allowing only 6 yards of rushing to New Mexico State in week one and 19 passing yards to Gardner-Webb last weekend, the Ohio defense has proven it has the ability to shut down the opposing offense both on the ground and through the air.
Solich said the unit must prove it can stop both the pass and the run in the same game.
While the Aggies and the Runnin’ Bulldogs were one-dimensional on offense, Marshall might prove to have a more balanced
“We’re going to have to be a very sound football team and not give them big plays,” Solich said. “We can’t have breakdowns. It’s not going to work if we have broken coverage or if we’re not filling the gap.”
Solich also said the Thundering Herd will present a bigger test on defense than did the Bobcats’ previous two opponents.
“Watching them on tape, they are a very good defensive football team,” he said. “They are very physical and have good size. They’ve got seniors across the board.”
KEY PLAYERS’ AVAILABILITY UNKNOWN
The Ohio coaching staff has been closely watching the progress of center Skyler Allen and linebacker Noah Keller.
Both Allen and Keller were dinged up during the past two weeks, and it is uncertain whether they will play against Marshall.
“Noah is still questionable,” Solich said. “He’s making some progress, but where he’ll be come game time remains to be seen.”
Keller, a fifth-year senior, missed nearly all of last season with a lingering foot injury.