Ohio expert gives his take and prediction on Saturday's Battle for the Bell
HN went in-depth with an expert that covers MU's upcoming opponent. In this week's "Ask the Expert," we caught up with BobcatAttack.com's Lonnie McMillan to get his thoughts and perspective on Saturday's game in Huntington.
Thoughts on the rivalry being renewed for 2025 and 2027? Is Marshall a game that gets the OU fanbase excited?
I'm glad that it has been renewed, and I'm certain almost all fans are glad to be playing Marshall in the future. I think most fans would like to see them play every single season. Certainly, Marshall is a more appealing match-up than any of the other home-and-home series Ohio has scheduled over the last few years and in the future (teams like Louisiana, UMass, Idaho, Florida Atlantic). Some of the most talked about games in the past are games against the Herd, and they usually are the best attended games.
What is the biggest thing you learned about this Ohio team through two games?
I think most of what was learned was expected. Ohio's offense has no shortage of guys who can make plays but there's going to be an adjustment, especially with the offensive line. The Bobcats aren't going to blow people off the ball and be able to run it at people so easily this year. Opponents are going to make Rourke throw. We've learned that the defense has improved, especially in the secondary, but the defensive line has got to be able to create more pressure (only three sacks and 79 opponent passing attempts).
Where do you see Ohio's real strengths in this match-up?
I think a lot of the Ohio's and Marshall's strengths might be similar but the one place Ohio tends to have an advantage over almost all teams is special teams. Kicker Louis Zervos is perfect so far this year. He's pretty accurate over his career and has solid range. Michael Farkas handles kickoffs and punts. He was first-team All-MAC last year. Ohio also has been excellent in return coverage. Special teams often is overlooked, but the Bobcats have benefited by having better field position than their opponents often over the last couple years.
What big match-up concerns do you have for Ohio both offensively and defensively in this game?
The biggest concern really is Ohio's offense as a whole against a Marshall defense that has been really good in the first two games. The Bobcats really struggled to move the ball against Pitt, and to see how the Herd slowed down a good team like Boise State certainly is a concern. Part of Ohio's trouble against the Panthers was that quarterback Nathan Rourke was ill, and that largely eliminated him as a running threat, which is a huge part of what he and the Bobcats do. Even healthy this week, I expect Ohio to face a major challenge against Marshall's defense, especially in getting the run game going with very inexperienced running backs. Those running backs also struggled in pass protection last week, and that can't happen again.
My concern with the Ohio defense is with the line not creating enough pressure in passing situations. Again, teams have passed relatively well against the Bobcats, and I feel that has more to do with line play than the secondary. More pressure also could help Ohio create more turnovers. The Bobcats forced only one in the first two games.
What is your breakdown and score prediction for how this game might play out?
This will sound cliche, but I believe the game will come down to turnovers and big plays. The Bobcats have to be able to break some big plays, and they have to win the turnover battle. Based on this past week, I am concerned about their ability to do that, but I believe they will be close to full strength and will be up to the challenge. I expect it will be a close game, and my prediction is that Rourke will make enough plays in the end to get the Bobcats the win 27-24.