The two schools, only three hours apart on the Ohio River, were members of the Buckeye Conference (1925-38) together from 1933-38, along with Dayton, Ohio U., Miami-Ohio and Ohio Wesleyan. But since 2000, the two schools have met three times, twice in bowl games and last year in the first home-and-home series for the two schools in over 80-years. The first time was in December of 2000 in Pontiac, Michigan, in Motor City Bowl IV. Marshall beat the Bearcats by 25-13, led by Sports Illustrated All-Bowl member Michael "Kool-Aid" Owens, who recorded a safety by moving from safety to linebacker in a 4-4 look for the bowl game against Cincinnati who were then out of Conference USA. Current MU defensive coordinator Rick Minter was the head coach of UC that season, and took the Bearcats to four bowls from 1997-2002, and his 53 wins is tops all-time at UC (1994-2003).
The teams met again in the final game Bob Pruett coached at Marshall in December of 2004, at the frozen PlainsCapital Fort Worth Bowl. The Herd fell, 32-14, as Gino Guidugli, the UC quarterback, hit 24-of-36 passes for 231 yards and two second quarter touchdowns in the win, all with a busted hand. Mark D'Antonio was in the first of three seasons at the UC helm, leaving Ohio State to take the Bearcat job.
That move allowed Mark Snyder to move up to OSU's defensive coordinator for the 2004 season, which in part led to his hiring at Marshall at the end of spring practice in 2005. Brian Kelly moved from a Mid-American Conference championship at Central Michigan, following two Division II national championships at Grand Valley State in Michigan, to Cincinnati when D'Antonio left for Michigan State following the 2006 season.
While Snyder is just starting to reap the three years of recruiting and restoration of scholarships at Marshall this season with the 3-2 start, 2-0 in Conference USA (which MU joined in 2005 for Snyder's first season, also leaving the MAC behind like Coach Kelly, when UC, Louisville, USF and DePaul and Marquette, in basketball, left C-USA for the Big East), Kelly inherited an 8-5 team and took the Bearcats to a 10-3 season and a 31-21 win over Southern Miss in the PopaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham. UC finished in the AP Top 25 for the first time in school history, finishing No. 17 last season as Kelly was the Big East Coach of the Year.
The big story for Marshall in last season's 3-9 season was injuries, decimating the defensive line and much of the team from pre-season until late in the year when the Herd won three of its final five games, and is in fact 6-4 over the last ten games back to last year's stretch run. The injury bug this year, however, is being found over and over in the Queen City of the Ohio as the Bearcats are now on what will be its third (or fourth, or fifth, even) quarterback of the season when they head to MU for the Friday night, 8 p.m. kickoff on ESPN, being designated as a "Thundering Herd White Out" night.
UC went into the spring hoping to get a sixth-year for last year's starter, Ben Mauk, but he was denied by both the NCAA and legal system and is now in the Canadian Football League. Dustin Grutza, a senior from Maysville, Kentucky, who lit the Herd up at Nippert Stadium last year in a 41-14 win with a 14-of-20 passing night for 142 yards and two scores, along with 28 rushing yards, broke his leg three weeks ago and is out for another three weeks at least.
Ryland Wilson, a senior defensive end for the Herd in 2007, wrapped up Cincinnati's quarterback Dustin Grutza in the end zone. Grutza was called for intentional grounding, which gave Marshall a safety and two points at Nippert Stadium. Grutza is out for this year's game with a broken leg. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
His replacement, sophomore Tony Pike - a native of Cincinnati - had led UC to wins over Miami-Ohio, in the rivalry game, and was playing well in the 17-15 win at Akron's Rubber Bowl last week before breaking his non-throwing arm. He had surgery yesterday and will also be out three-to-four weeks. That means this week, the Herd will face a UC team with a quarterback making his first collegiate start on a short week of practice.
"I think we're going to work both of them," said Kelly to reporters on Monday of both Chazz Anderson, out of Pickering, Ohio. and the Division II Player of the Year in Ohio in 2006, and Zach Collaros, who led Stubenville (Ohio) to two state championships in D-II and a 41-1 mark as a three-sport athlete. Kelly also has Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones, but neither the UC coach or Snyder expect Jones to play, at least this week. "The kid from Stubenville, we've got about six snaps on him. Brian brought him right in and ran him. He didn't lose many games in high school, and you can tell he was a three-sports star. I think we'll see both of them." Anderson was the No. 3 quarterback for week three at Miami, while Colleros was last week. He hit 1-of-4 passes for two yards, but ran foru times for 18 yards and set up a game-winning field goal with a seven-yard run late.
Kelly also lost his starting safety, red-shirt freshman Drew Frey, who made his first start against Akron. So the Bearcats will now move Brandon Underwood, who played for Snyder at Ohio State before transferring to UC, at free safety and have Cedric Tolbert at strong safety, along with fellow seniors Mike Mikens and DeAngelo Smith at corner. Snyder is very high on the two corners, as are NFL scouts. "They are very good," said Snyder. "I visited with Mark Cann yesterday. We can't throw that flutter ball up or it will be intercepted." UC is allowing teams to throw for nearly 260 yards per game on defense, giving up 23.5 points per game to opponents and nine passing touchdowns.
Courtney Edmonson hauled in this four-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter against Cincinnati, cutting the Bearcats' lead to just 26-14 in last year's game at Nippert Stadium. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The Herd's red-shirt QB will make his sixth start of the season, but possibly had his worse outing of the year at West Virginia. Was his age finally showing? Cann doesn't duck the question. "You can say that, but West Virginia came out and they got after it on defense," said Cann. "We didn't make enough plays...I didn't make enough plays to win the game." Snyder agreed in part with his young quarterback. "I hope we got it out of our system. West Virginia, they didn't let us play good, that's the best way I can put it.
"The kid's focus has been pretty good. (Monday) is usually a day off for the kids, but I thought our practice was sharp. We are glad to be back home, this is a tough place to play. The game is on ESPN. We've been talking about the Marshall "white out" and they will be giving away over 7,000 t-shirts, and if you don't like t-shirts then wear something white," said Snyder, adding, "We'd like to give a shout out to the fans. This will be a red-shirt freshman at quarterback for them, so we'd like as much noise as possible, whether he is under center or in the gun, let's make it as loud as possible. It's a night game, and when we come out through that smoke we hope that everybody is up, wearing white, waving towels, making as much noise as they can. Have the whole stadium rocking, and when they go on offense, constant noise."
NOTES: Marshall will give 1,000 white rally towels to the first 1,000 students. 7,500 shirts from ISP Sports will go to the first 7,500 fans in attendance. The MU Bookstore will give away white, roll-out banners with "Offense" on one side and "Defense" on the other...It will also be Youth Football League Night, and big groups have already purchased group tickets, in jerseys, at the game...Over 28,000 tickets had been sold as of Monday, and a crowd in excess of 30,000 is expected on what appears to be a clear, cool night with temps starting near 70 degrees on a sunny day and dropping into the 40s that night...The 1978 Marshall Baseball team that won the Southern Conference with a 27-14 mark and came within one game of advancing to the NCAA World Series with wins over Clemson and Florida State before falling twice to Miami in Coral Gables, will be introduced during Friday's game. Baseball is holding its 14th annual Golf Outing at Riveria Country Club on Friday, with a tailgate at the stadium Friday evening, followed by a first-ever Alumni Game on Saturday at the field at the YMCA Kennedy Center on Route 2 North of Huntington at 1 p.m. The Herd will play home non-conference games at the George Smailes Field this year...MU men's basketball is also expected to be introduced, as "Thundering Herd Madness" will be on Saturday, Oct. 11 this year...On Sunday, the Marshall sub-Varsity will host the Hargrave Academy Tigers at 2 p.m. at JCE Stadium in Huntington. Admission is free.