HUNTINGTON - One of Marshall coach Doc Holliday's favorite barometers of his defense is how many tackles it missed in a game.
The ultimate goal is single digits. In the Thundering Herd's 52-24 win over Western Carolina, it was met.
"The one great improvement we made was that we only had nine missed tackles this past week," Holliday said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "Anytime you are in the single-digit missed tackles then you have a chance to win games."
The Herd had a slew of missed tackles in the season opener against West Virginia, and don't even ask how many it had in the embarrassing 44-7 loss last year at Ohio. Or the yardage surrendered in the process.
You don't need to ask. Defensive coordinator Chris Rippon will tell you.
"We remember last year. It's not far off of anybody's mind," he said. "As a point of reference, 282 yards rushing, exactly. Not that anybody was counting, there were 282 yards rushing. And 43 missed tackles."
Yep, he said 43. "No, we don't forget."
Tackling these Bobcats won't get easier when the teams collide at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Elusive quarterback Tyler Tettleton is back at the controls as a fourth-year junior, and Beau Blankenship enters with a pair of 100-yard games under his belt. Blazing their path is a rugged, experienced line with 106 career starts.
"They can run it, they can throw it and they're extremely physical up front," Holliday said. "Our defense has to play well and we have to tackle well."
With wins over Penn State and New Mexico State, Ohio is favored in Saturday's game. That wouldn't surprise the pollsters, particularly those in the media.
The Bobcats received 17 points in the latest Associated Press poll, though they have eight teams between them and No. 25 Brigham Young. One is Louisiana-Monroe, the team that shocked Arkansas in overtime last weekend.
Coaches are slower to jump on the Ohio bandwagon. The Bobcats received only two points in their poll.
Holliday expects Josh Lovell to return at left guard this week, saying again that he could have played against Western Carolina if needed. He said right tackle Garrett Scott will return to practice in some capacity this week, but did not commit on his return.
On right guard John Bruhin, who bowed out early in favor of Cam Dees, Holliday said, "Bruhin's got a little bit of an [unspecified injury] issue, but he'll be fine."
Those injuries didn't hurt the Herd too much. Gage Niemeyer continued his solid play at right tackle, and Alex Schooler played the whole way at left guard.
"Schooler's one guy I'm extremely pleased with. He's playing as well as anybody," Holliday said. "This is the first time we've really gotten anything out of that kid, and I told him that. Cam Dees, a true freshman, went in there and played 60 snaps and he graded out extremely well."
The battle of the Carpenters resumes Saturday, with OU youngster Nate Carpenter holding the bragging rights. George Carpenter's MU playing days are over, but he's still with the team as a strength and conditioning graduate assistant.
Nate Carpenter intercepted a pass and returned it for a 22-yard touchdown last week against New Mexico State, part of the Bobcats' 24-point third quarter.
Listed at 5-foot-9, 197 points, Nate Carpenter is making a bigger impact.
"He's a great factor guy for you," Solich said. "As a nickel, he's not on the field 100 percent of the time, but when he is he's making plays and he's factoring in. He's got excellent hands; he's really an all-around type of athlete.
"If you practice him, he could punt for you. He did kickoffs and field goals for his high school team, so he's one of those kinds of athletes that can be used in so many ways. He really has a nose for the ball. He's got that in terms of being able to diagnose things and really break well on the ball, and when he does - he was a running back also in high school - he has that ability to make the big play after the catch just like a receiver would make it.
"He's a very sure tackler, so I think that he's a great asset to us defensively."
Marshall will see many familiar faces on the Ohio defense, particularly in the front seven. In the secondary, there will be one notable absence.
Cornerback Travis Carrie injured his shoulder during a non-contact drill in preseason camp and is out for the year. Word out of Athens is Carrie, who serves as a team captain, will apply to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility.
Carrie had two of the four interceptions of MU's Rakeem Cato in last year's game.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.