Second, sticking with the same format from the last couple weeks because I think it’s worked well, here are five takeaways from both offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and defensive coordinator Bud Foster after interviews Wednesday night:
1. Although his preference is still to run the ball, if the Hokies have to throw it to win, then they’ll go that route.
This was the subject of my story in today’s paper, which honestly would have been better with some Loeffler quotes. (Oh well. Had to write something to Wednesday’s paper.) Loeffler said the plan going into Greenville was to run it. Obviously, ECU thought that too and took away the run.
Like Thomas said, the Hokies made the switch to simply go to full pass mode early in the second half.
“Sometimes you get into games and you think you’re going to walk into the game and throw it all over the yard, and the next thing you know you run it,” Loeffler said. “You’ve got to kind of adjust as the game flows, and that’s what we did.”
In hindsight, Loeffler said Tech could have spread the field out to open up things in the running game. But this wasn’t the case of a former quarterback getting all pass happy.
“I still enjoy running the ball, believe it or not,” Loeffler said. “You want to be able to run it because that makes everything much easier. But we were in a situation Saturday where we had to throw it and I’m glad we did, because it ended up winning the time of possession.”
2. Quarterback Logan Thomas was generally going to the right spot with his throws.
Loeffler said the missed throws that Thomas had Saturday were mostly him just physically misfiring. That included some early passes that he sailed high.
“He did a very good job,” Loeffler said. “There were very few mental checkouts in that game, which is great. You can fix the physical stuff. It’s whenever a guy is throwing into coverage constantly that drives you nuts. And for the most part he did a good job with that.”
The obvious exception was the swing pass Thomas nearly had picked to start the fourth quarter, but Loeffler took some of the blame there. The swing pass was wide open on a previous play but it was a busted coverage. Nevertheless, he came right back to it and it nearly led to a pick six.
3. Red zone efficiency has been a huge emphasis this week.
Loeffler lamented two “walk-in” touchdown opportunities from Saturday, saying “we could have had 35 points.” One came when receiver D.J. Coles pulled up with a hamstring tweak. Another came on a corner route to Josh Stanford when Tech had a protection bust.
“Whenever you walk in the red [zone], there’s no room for error,” Loeffler said. “The field shrinks, everything speeds up and whenever you make mistakes, you’re going to get those type of results, and that’s exactly what occurred.”
That’s especially crucial with kicker Cody Journell‘s reliability in question.
“We’ve got to put points on the board,” Loeffler said. “We’ve got to finish drives, finish the plays. Our red zone efficiency was not good enough. We were kicking field goals rather than scoring touchdowns and just had a lack of execution in the red.”
4. Demitri Knowles got a confidence boost.
The sophomore had eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown and is practicing this week just like you’d expect someone who put up those kinds of numbers.
“Anytime a young player gets the ball in his hands the way that he did, it’s going to build some confidence,” Loeffler said.
“We count on him to make a lot of explosive plays,” Thomas said Tuesday. “We just need to have him play with a lot of confidence. … Because when he’s playing with confidence, he thinks he’s good and he knows he’s good, then he’s playing 100 miles an hour, and that’s what we’ve got to have, because he has that speed that nobody else has.”
5. Loeffler is very familiar with Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater.
Both are Michigan men, Loeffler having played quarterback for the Wolverines from 1993-96 and Heater a standout running back from 1971-74 for Bo Schembechler. Loeffler called Heater a “dear friend.”
The two have known each other for a while and coached on the same staff at Florida in 2009-10 and Temple in 2011.
They squared off against one another in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, Loeffler as a quarterbacks coach for Lloyd Carr, who was coaching his final game, and Heater an assistant defensive coordinator for Urban Meyer. The Wolverines won a shootout that day, 41-35.
“We were healthy. That’s the thing,” Loeffler said. “That team was a loaded football team and went through tragic, tragic injuries to say the least that entire year. I think Chad Henne and Michael Hart only played a total of three games together their senior year.”
Loeffler described Heater’s defensive philosophy like this: “He is an aggressive defensive coordinator. He is a pressure-oriented guy. He’s playing some quarter, quarter half, but he’s not afraid to play in press man. It doesn’t matter who he’s playing against, he’s going to play press man. And he’s going to force you to make plays. He’s just like any defensive coordinator. He wants you to stop the run and force you to throw it.”
1. Marshall presents a slightly different challenge than East Carolina.
Whereas most of ECU’s pass plays were quick hitters, Foster said Marshall challenges you more vertically as well as horizontally.
But the big difference is on the ground. The Pirates did not run much. The Thundering Herd is running for 214 yards per game. Sophomore Steward Butler has run for 282 yards in three games, averaging 9.1 yards per carry.
“We’ve got to stop the run to make them one-dimensional,” Foster said, in what has become a similar refrain every week. “I think that’s critical to our success.”
2. Quarterback Rakeem Cato has grown as a passer since the last time the Hokies saw him.
As a freshman two years ago in Huntington, W.Va., Cato went 17-for-33 for 245 yards, a touchdown and a pick against the Hokies in a 30-10 loss. Tech rattled him, getting five sacks.
But he’s gotten better. Cato threw for 350.8 yards per game last year, tops in the nation, with 37 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He’s thrown for 847 yards in three games so far this season, with seven touchdowns to two interceptions.
“Poise and the confidence, those things come with experience,” Foster said. “The game has slowed down for him. He knows where he’s going now. He’s getting rid of the ball quicker.”
3. It sounds like Foster sees this as another proving ground game for the defense.
Foster mentioned Marshall having “a confidence or a swag or if you want to use that term,” given the offensive success it has had this season. The Herd is averaging 527.3 yards (t-20th nationally) and 46.0 points per game (12th). Foster thinks Marshall is a little bit better team that ECU and runs its offense at a faster pace.
“[Cato's] already said in the paper where he feels good about himself and their team and they’re expecting to come in here and play well and win,” Foster said. “So hopefully our kids are going to respond to that challenge. He said, ‘Let the best man win.’ I hope they respect our program. You’ve got to go earn your respect, so we’ve got to go do that.”
4. Tech continues to work cornerback Antone Exum back into game shape even though he won’t play the next two games.
The senior doesn’t have his checkup with Dr. James Andrews until after the Georgia Tech game, but the Hokies are bringing him along right now.
Exum worked in with the second team during scout work Wednesday, able to do so easily since Tech is working almost exclusively in the nickel. That means Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson are with the ones and the Hokies needed somebody to fill a spot on the second team.
“We’re just trying to get him along, get him in playing shape,” Foster said. “It’s good to see him out there, but he just needs to get his timing back and play with a bend in his knees and see how his knee holds up in those situations.”
5. Foster thinks highly of J.C. Price, a former Hokies defensive lineman and current Marshall defensive tackles coach.
Price played at Tech from 1992-95, turning into a play-maker on the line by the time he was finished. He earned first-team All-Big East and third-team All-America honors during his career.
Foster said he wasn’t always that good, ribbing his old pupil a little bit.
“I remember he came in, he had a beard, looked like he was maybe 35 years old. … I don’t know if he could bench 160, believe it or not,” Foster said. “You can tell him that and he’d be busting my chops, but that’s about the truth. He’ll tell you maybe it was 225, but I’m calling bulls— on it. Excuse my French.”
Post-playing career, Price served as a GA at Virginia Tech before going on to James Madison for eight years and then Marshall. Foster said if Charley Wiles ever left, he’d look strongly at Price as a replacement.
“He realizes as a coach sometimes the only way you’re going to achieve [things] is you’re going to work at it,” Foster said. “I hope that’s something he got from this place when all is said and done.”