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Like Ohio, Hokies have had Herd's number

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- MARSHALL DID not get pummeled by Ohio on Saturday night, as it had two years ago, but the 34-31 setback shows that the program is far from where it wants to be.

I mean, the Thundering Herd could knock 'em all down in Conference USA play, but it wouldn't alter the cold, cruel truth that these guys are owned by the Ohio Bobcats.

O-w-n-e-d.

That is leaving a nasty taste as the Herd tries to escape its ownership by the Virginia Tech Hokies (4-0 since 2002, 170-55 scoring margin). Kickoff is at noon at Lane Stadium, with MU moving its act from ESPNews to ESPNU (from 502 to 503 on the Suddenlink digital lineup).

Let's put this in another frightening perspective: Ohio has played five different Mid-American Conference opponents each of the last three seasons, and has beaten only one (the Akron Ziiiiips) each time. Somewhere along the 2010-12 timeline, the Bobcats absorbed a loss to Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio), Kent State and, wait for it, Buffalo.

So while Frank Solich has done wonders in his nine seasons at the helm in Athens, the Bobcats are hardly invincible. But get them in the ring with Marshall and they force fumbles, score non-offensive touchdowns and win every game-turning play.

Not only have the Bobcats won the last three games in the "Battle for the Bell," they probably overachieved a bit in the 2009 and 2010 losses. They have been emotionally and mentally superior to the Herd, I think.

So how much difference has coaching made? I'll leave that up to debate, but just know it's tough to play chess with a 15-year head coach who has had the same coordinators in his nine seasons at Ohio.

And that brings us to the Virginia Tech game, with 27th-year head coach Frank Beamer and 19th-year defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Let's concentrate on the latter, for Foster may have one of his best units in years.

If you watched the Hokies' opener against Alabama, you know their defense was not to blame for that 35-10 loss to the defending national champs. First, you can clip off 21 points for an interception return, a punt return and a kickoff return.

Then consider the Crimson Tide's scoring drives were 49 and 47 yards - accounting for nearly half Tide's 206 total. Tech sent Bama quarterback A.J. McCarron to the Georgia Dome carpet four times.

The Hokies' throttling last weekend of East Carolina's offense was something to see, as well. They calf-roped Shane Carden to the ground seven times, getting good push from the front four.

And when Carden had time, he had trouble finding open receivers. I look for that to be a major factor when Marshall goes to Blacksburg this weekend.

Ohio largely exposed the younger Marshall receiving corps. If cornerback Devin Bass isn't the MAC East Division defensive player of the week, I surrender - he broke up four passes, got in on 11 tackles and shared one for loss. All told, the Bobcats broke up seven Rakeem Cato passes and picked off another.

Marshall's outside receivers combined for 17 receptions and 190 yards, just over 11 yards per reception. More telling, they were held out of the end zone and often frustrated - Davonte Allen especially so, as he caught one pass for 5 yards.

After watching Tech's pass defense Saturday afternoon against ECU, I have to ask: Who on the Herd is going against the Hokies? Tommy Shuler from time to time. Devon "Moo Moo" Smith can run past anyone in the game. Tight end Gator Hoskins can shake loose.

After that? A few pass catchers have much to prove at Virginia Tech.

Other observations:

  • If you told me Marshall would sack Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton twice and hold him to minus-17 net yards rushing, I'd say the defense played well enough to win. If you look at it one way, that almost was the case.
  • But the Herd couldn't keep Tettleton under wraps all game. He went 25 of 38 for 266 yards in yet another interception-free game, but I boil his performance down to one play - that crazy shovel pass on third-and-8.

    When defenders chased him to the right sideline, I was convinced he would have to accept a sack or throw it away - until he made that underhand softball toss to Matt Waters for 10 yards and a first down. When he let the ball loose, I knew the Herd was fried.

    That helped turn a three-and-out into an 18-play, 75-yard drive that gobbled up 81/2 minutes and put Ohio up 31-17 with 12 minutes left. It also helped limit the Herd offense to 79 official snaps, while the MU defense played 35 minutes, 39 seconds.

    The defense didn't have a good day, but this particular exchange must be chalked up to Tettleton's genius.

    "I was on the opposite side of the field. I honestly thought he was past the line of scrimmage," said linebacker Derek Mitchell. "That was an impressive play by him - his eyes were downfield the whole time and he is a playmaker ... Praise to that man."

    "You let him outside of the pocket and he keeps plays alive," said defensive end Jeremiah Taylor, who was injured and watching from the sidelines. "He made a funky pass to complete a first down, and it was hard [to take]."

    The Herd has a similar challenge this week in Tech QB Logan Thomas, who may not be as crafty but is 6-foot-6, 254 pounds and will take a hit. And Thomas needs a big game after struggling against Alabama and East Carolina.

  • Taylor, by the way, said back problems kept him sidelined for the second half. With aggressive treatment, he is shooting for a return at Virginia Tech.
  • How deep and how long will Steward Butler be in coach Doc Holliday's doghouse after two fumbles?
  • Good question. Shoot, Mark Snyder might have kept Butler at home for the upcoming Virginia Tech trip, back in the day. As it is, I'm not sure Butler gets another kickoff return this year.

    To recap, Butler didn't move up to field a kickoff on the fly, mishandled an odd bounce, turned around to pick up the ball and instead booted it into the end zone. Ohio's Toran Davis helped himself to a cheap touchdown, chasing down the loose ball.

    That was the pivotal play of the game, it says here. That gave Ohio a 17-7 lead, with 10 points coming in a 7-second span. And it looked really, really bad for Butler and the Herd.

    Shuler, who catches an occasional punt, rose to Butler's defense. "That was a play you can't even explain," Shuler said.

    A few minutes earlier, Holliday didn't sound so forgiving. Butler's usage bears watching next weekend and beyond.

  • Tech will be stylin' for its Military Appreciation Day. Not sure how often the military uses Chicago maroon and burnt orange for its camo colors, but the helmets rock. (Readers on the web can get a peek.)
  • And finally, we close on a positive note. The Bobcats were held to 64 yards rushing, and Jarquez Samuel, starting in place of Brandon Sparrow, played a large role. He had a team-high nine tackles and often had his way with blockers.
  • Nicely done.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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