Instant Analysis - Little
Marshall 21 ... Ohio 17
C'mon, MAC. The other team didn't even have its coach.
The MAC's No. 2 team got beat by a mid-level Conference USA squad to make it
11 bowl losses in a row for the MAC. Maybe Marshall was going back to its days of dominating the MAC, but the
Herd looked like a far better, far more focused team on defense against
an Ohio offense that had no running game whatsoever. But after the
emotion of the first 20 minutes died down, Ohio was able to slowly creep
back into the game thanks to the defense. Unfortunately in a game like
this, with a storyline being the Marshall win without former head coach
Mark Snyder and with Doc Holliday waiting in the wings, the Ohio defense
will get lost in the shuffle.
Marshall gained just 15 first downs and 275 yards of total offense.
All-star Noah Keller made 17 tackles leading a D that did everything it
could to keep the team in the game, but the offense was too woeful and a
chance for more respect is now gone. While this was a disastrous gaffe
for the MAC, it was a big day for Conference USA, who had its second
good win this bowl season to add to the list.
Oddly enough for a Herd program that was supposed to be far better
defensively over the last few years, the team came up with one of its
best defensive performances without Snyder, a supposed defensive head
man. The run defense stuffed the Bobcats all game long, got off the
field time and again by getting big stops. Holliday isn't starting from
scratch, but interim head man Rick Minter gave a glimpse of what this
team can potentially do.
Maybe having your head coach for a bowl game is overrated after all.
Marshall entered the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl without the guy who got them there, Mark Snyder, who'd resigned at the end of another dismal regular season. In his place stepped interim coach Rick Minter, who was merely keeping the seat warm until John Holliday officially takes over. And it seemed to really suit the Herd, which played far more loose and relaxed than Ohio, which will have to wait at least another year for the school's first bowl victory.
Minter did a nice job against a feisty Bobcat team, keeping the team focused when it easily could have been a rudderless ship, sans a captain. The Herd has no more talent than Ohio, yet it played with passion for 60 minutes and arguably delivered its best overall performance of the season. Besides the fact that the school was correct to sever ties after five unacceptable seasons, what does this say about Snyder? Certainly in the first half, Marshall looked like a different team than when he was on the sidelines, flying to the ball and doing a nice job of blending together the carries for Darius Marshall and Martin Ward. It was rather ironic that even when the Herd finally broke through and won a bowl game, Snyder wasn't around to have an impact on it.
Two years ago, West Virginia shocked Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, with Bill Stewart calling the shots as the interim coach. Jeff Quinn will get a similar chance for Cincinnati in next week's Sugar Bowl. Sometimes, in these types of games, it pays to have a loose team that plays with nothing to lose and something to prove to the doubters across the country and the coach who's no longer calling the shots.
1) Just when it seemed that Conference USA was going to go into the tank, the league saw SMU crush Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. Now, after 6-6 (make that 7-6) Marshall's victory today in Detroit, the once-sagging league is now bagging non-conference scalps in the postseason. The league that now needs a pick-me-up in the worst way is the Mid-American Conference, whose representative has lost this game (formerly known as the Motor City Bowl) in five of the past six seasons. If Central Michigan can't topple the Troy Trojans in the upcoming GMAC Bowl, it will be a long, cold winter in the MAC's main office.
Ohio played well for brief stretches in the third quarter, but the Bobcats – who repeatedly made lame-brained mistakes in what was an ugly and cringe-inducing contest – played far below their capabilities. Their season still rates as a success, but this stumble in Motown will certainly take some of the shine off a nine-win campaign. On a larger level, this Ohio loss is notable because it will do absolutely nothing to suggest that the MAC is moving upward in the college football ranks. The league which used the past decade to showcase football figures such as Urban Meyer (Bowling Green), Ben Roethlisberger (Miami-Ohio) and Brian Kelly (Central Michigan) is not stamping itself as a threat to the six BCS leagues plus the Mountain West Conference… or even Conference USA.
2) It's a great credit to everyone in the Marshall program that a "tweener" coaching situation – normally a recipe for a lackluster bowl showing – didn't dampen the Thundering Herd's enthusiasm. In a game some felt Ohio would dominate, the kids from Huntington, W. Va., displayed more energy and used far better angles in pursuit of opposing ballcarriers. Yes, Marshall – like Ohio – committed many head-scratching mistakes in this game, but the Herd stood their ground in very impressive fashion after Ohio scored 17 straight points to slice a 21-point deficit to just four. Doc Holliday has to love what he's inheriting as Marshall's incoming head coach, but interim boss Rick Minter also deserves a hearty salute for having his team ready to perform under difficult circumstances.
Even though Ohio made a relatively valiant attempt to salvage its awful start in the Little Caesar's Bowl by waking up after intermission, you're not going to win too many games with 12 yards on the ground or a total of 123 yards. Granted, together with the awful Insight (Iowa State-Minnesota) or the rotten International (Northern Illinois-South Florida), this one had the curb appeal of a shotgun shack, but the least the Bobcat offense could have done was act as if it had practiced throughout the season. Marshall fans have to be happy with the Herd's response to its coaching change, and kudos go to Rick Minter for not giving a half-baked attempt after being passed over for the job in favor of Doc Holliday. Marshall took an early lead and then hung on, relying on its defense when the Herd O was pretty darn ineffective in its own right after halftime. This one will certainly disappear into the post-season ethos pretty quickly, but at least Marshall has a good memory of a turbulent '09 season's conclusion, while Ohio coach Frank Solich has plenty to address with his offense during spring practice.