Anytime Marshall football travels to Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio for a matchup with the Bobcats, three things are almost guaranteed; lack of production in the Herd's offense, plenty of Marshall turnovers and another Ohio win.
Saturday night was no different as Marshall turned it over four times and Ohio handed the Herd a 21-10 loss in front of the fourth largest crowd of 25,210 fans in stadium history in the 14th meeting in the Battle for the Bell.
"It's obvious we didn't play well enough to win," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. "Give them (Ohio) credit. They played well and we didn't. They made more plays than we did and we just didn't get it done."
Holliday remains winless in three trips to Athens during his 6-year tenure at Marshall.
Ohio struck first on a 33-yard touchdown run by Daz Patterson early in the first quarter, grabbing a 7-0 lead. The scoring run was Patterson's longest run this season while finishing with 69 yards on 10 carries.
Failing to gain a first down in the first quarter, Marshall found an answer to its offensive ineptness after Devon Johnson streaked 73 yards for the score to even the game at 7.
Marshall's Michael Birdsong fired the first of four Herd's turnovers to Ohio's Ian Wells setting up Ohio near midfield late in the first half.
J.D. Sprague capitalized on the Herd turnover, hitting Sebastian Smith with a 38-yard bomb and a 14-7 lead before the break. Smith burned Marshall corner Corey Tindal and made a juggling catch for the score. Smith finished with six catches for 86 yards and a score.
Sprague took full control of the Bobcats' offensive late in the first after starting quarterback Derrius Vick left with an injured elbow. Sprague went 11-21 for 127 yards and a touchdown.
Marshall failed to convert a single third down in the first half and moved the chains only four times. Ohio's secondary limited Marshall to only 56 yards through the air while holding the Herd's outside receivers without a catch.
Much like in the first half, the Herd's offensive woes continued only to find a reprieve; a fumble recovery by long-snapper Matt Cincotta on an Ohio punt deep in Ohio territory.
The Herd's offense remained stuck in neutral, gaining 1-yard in three plays, settling for a Nick Smith 33-yard field to trim the deficit to 14-10.
Marshall's defense forced a quick three-and-out on Ohio, setting the Herd up at its own 40 down by four. Johnson would touch the ball in all four plays in the series only to fumble the ball after rumbling down to the Ohio 39 as the third quarter expired.
Tyler Williams and Mitch Bonnstetter each punted nine times in the contest as neither team could find any offensive rhythm.
With both teams refusing to put the game away, it would be the Bobcats who put the final nail in the Herd's coffin. Ohio rolled off a 15-play, 85-yard scoring drive, eating up 5:53 off the clock as A.J. Ouellette took the direct snap and barreled his way in from 4 yards for a 21-10 lead with 2:05 remaining.
Trailing by 11 with no timeouts, Birdsong's pass attempt on 4th down was picked by Nathan Carpenter to seal the deal for the Bobcats.
Marshall was flagged 16 times for 198 yards while gaining only eight first downs. It was one of the most heavily penalized games in Marshall history. Marshall was flagged 20 times last season for 180 yards at Akron.
"Way too many penalties," Holliday said. "I never saw so many penalties...we didn't lose the game because of it but that's not football out the today."
Johnson finished with a game-high 170 yards on 21 carries for Marshall. Birdsong finished 13-29 for 84 yards and two picks. It was the lowest passing total for the Herd since Rakeem Cato threw for 87 in the 2011 loss at UCF.
Birdsong completed only one pass to an outside receiver, a 7-yard pass going to Deon-Tay McManus late in the fourth quarter.
Ohio moved to 9-2 in home openers under head coach Frank Solich while Marshall fell to 1-15 in road openers since 2000.
Marshall returns home Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. matchup with Norfolk State.