Photo Caption: File photo
The deep bass and Southern drawl of Johnny Cash poured over the loudspeakers at Ohio University's Peden Stadium on a perfect evening for football. The ominous first bars of "God's Gonna Cut You Down" echoed over the crowd. In their best Cash impression, Ohio players barreled out of the tunnel in intimidating, all-black uniforms.
From the first notes, Ohio was ready to cut Marshall down.
The Bobcats dominated the rival Thundering Herd 44-7 in the 55th edition of the Battle of the Bell. Ohio moved to 3-0 for the first time since 1976, thanks in large part to six Marshall turnovers and the assertive, confident performance of quarterback Tyler Tettleton.
The redshirt sophomore completed 20 of 29 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 53 yards and a touchdown. The stats were solid. But even more impressive was his command of the offense.
The moment was huge. Ohio's last win against Marshall came in 2000. This was Tettleton's first real test at home, in front of 24,244 fans, the third largest crowd ever at Peden. The students were louder than any student section in recent memory. It would be easy to stumble at least a little bit, but Tettleton took not a single misstep.
Taking signals from the orange-clad assistants holding seemingly indecipherable signs, Tettleton moved the offense efficiently and swiftly. Ohio's strictly no-huddle offense relies on quick, smart decisions. The style thrives with an intelligent, athletic quarterback. Tettleton played the title role to perfection.
He did not impress so much with his 40-yard darts laced between two defenders or his sprints for touchdowns. It was the well-executed plays that stood out. Like staying poised despite pressure on a third down in the red zone before lobbing a touchdown pass to LaVon Brazill. Or on another third down, reading the linebackers and making the decision to run for a touchdown.
"Our players really believe in him," said head coach Frank Solich, who was all smiles after what he said was one of the most well-played games he has seen at Ohio.
It was a performance that showed Ohio at its best. The defense took advantage of the inexperience of Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato, forcing the true freshman to throw four interceptions. The interceptions were not a result of a tipped ball or miscommunication; it was simply the Ohio secondary breaking on every telegraphed pass. Ohio also recovered two fumbles, improving their season turnover margin from minus-1 to plus-5.
The offensive line dominated at the point of attack, making room for the skill players to show off an abundance of speed.
LaVon Brazill caught two touchdown passes, including a 22-yard score after blowing past the Marshall defense down the sideline, and running into the end zone untouched.
Phil Bates also showed off the speed that he's become known for, turning a simple bubble screen into a 50-yard touchdown after receiving two solid blocks from receivers on the sideline.
But it was Donte Harden's running that truly helped set the tone for the night. The box score shows Harden had 44 yards rushing and 45 yards receiving, a respectable night but nothing spectacular. But each run delivered a message. The 5-10, 183-pound back broke tackles on seemingly every carry and finished each run with a purpose, delivering a blow despite his small stature.
Harden was taken out with an injury at halftime, however, and Solich said he hopes he can play next week when the Bobcats travel east to Rutgers for their last non-conference game.
Maybe it was just the uniforms, a black jersey and pants combination with green trim and letters, that made this Ohio team look different. But it seems like more than that. Ohio is playing some of its best football in decades with only two weeks until conference play opens.
The Bobcats will do their best to keep this run on for a long time.