If you missed it, Virginia Tech is in the early stages of designing a “Hokie Stone” helmet to wear sometime soon. It’s drawn some reactions, as you’d expect.
Also, running back J.C. Coleman will sit out again with an ankle injury this week. He sounded like he wanted to be completely healthy for ACC play next Thursday against Georgia Tech, so this doesn’t come as a surprise.
Marshall at Virginia Tech
- Where: Lane Stadium (65,632)
- When: 12:01 p.m., Saturday
- TV: ESPNU
- Records: Marshall (2-1), Virginia Tech (2-1)
- Series: Hokies lead 9-2
- Last meeting: Virginia Tech won 30-10 in Huntington, W.Va., in 2011
- Line: Virginia Tech by 8
When Virginia Tech passes
The Hokies expected East Carolina to use its short passing game as a running game last week. Instead, that’s exactly what Virginia Tech did. Finding room to run tough, Tech went to the air almost exclusively in the second half, getting 258 yards and a couple of touchdowns from quarterback Logan Thomas. He seems to be building a rapport with receivers. Demitri Knowles (8 catches, 99 yards, TD) had his best game to date. Receiver Willie Byrn is turning to a reliable pass catcher. D.J. Coles was as effective as he’s been this year and Josh Stanford made a couple of big catches. Charley Meyer (hamstring) should joint he mix this week too. This might be as ready (and healthy) as the Hokies’ receiving corps has been all season. The pass blocking has been solid so far. Tech has only allowed three sacks in three games.
Marshall has done pretty well against the pass, although it allowed 275 yards in the air in its one game of significance against Ohio. This was a passing defense that allowed 253.5 passing yards per game last season, so it might not have been as quick of a fix as the first two games (Miami of Ohio, Gardner-Webb) indicated. Four different players have interceptions this year for the Herd, including cornerback Monterius Lovett, who returned it 70 yards for a touchdown against Gardner-Webb. Linebacker Raheem Waiters had a pick six against Miami, so this is an opportunistic defense. Marshall’s pass rush should present a test for Tech’s o-line. The Thunder Herd has nine sacks in three games, getting 2.5 from tackle James Rouse. Defensive coordinator Chuck Heater likes to be aggressive, so expect him to to force Thomas into making quick decisions. Still, if Thomas reacts like last week, that could play to Tech’s advantage.
Edge: Virginia Tech.
When Virginia Tech runs
Tech didn’t do much of anything on the ground last week. Starting running back Trey Edmunds had 21 carries for only 42 yards, and the Hokies basically abandoned the run in the second half against ECU’s stacked fronts. It wouldn’t be surprising if Marshall forced Tech to do the same this week, aiming to eliminate the run. But the Hokies think there were still things they could have done to run the ball better. The o-line lamented missed blocks/assignments. The coaches thought they could have run out of the spread more. That might be the antidote for facing eight men in the box consistently. J.C. Coleman (ankle) is out again, so it will be Edmunds, Chris Mangus and Joel Caleb as the primary ballcarriers for the Hokies, with Edmunds likely to get the biggest chunk of the workload. Tech can’t afford to be as one-dimensional as last week on a regular basis, so it will have to figure out ways to run, even against defenses aimed at preventing that.
After allowing 203.8 yards per game last year (104th nationally), Marshall has been outstanding against the run this season, giving up just 77.0 yards per game (6th nationally). To put that in perspective, the Herd is allowing 1.8 yards per carry. The Hokies’s defense, which has been pretty good themselves against the run, is allowed 2.5 yards per carry. Again, part of Marshall’s success is due to a schedule that has been fairly soft so far. But the defensive front has also shown marked improvement. Defensive end Jeremiah Taylor and linebacker Jermaine Holmes have made 25 and 20 career starts, respectively, headlining the front seven. Holmes has 18 tackles and five tackles for a loss so far this year. Taylor has six tackles and a sack. Hokies offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler used to work with Heater at Florida and Temple. He said his former colleague’s goal is usually to sell out to stop the run, so the Hokies might see a similar game plan as ECU showed last week, with running lanes hard to find.
When Marshall passes
Rakeem Cato led the nation in passing yards per game last year (350.1) in addition to throwing for 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He seems to have picked up where he left off, with 849 yards in three games this season with seven touchdowns and two picks, a far cry from the overwhelmed freshman the Hokies faced two years ago in Huntington. He’ll spread it around, but looks to Tommy Shuler the most. The 5-foot-7, 190-pound junior has 23 catches for 247 yards and two scores. Four other players have at least eight catches this year, with three of them topping 100 yards. The Herd isn’t nearly as pass happy as ECU and has actually run the ball on more snaps (130) that it has passed this year (117). Still, it will take more downfield shots than ECU, which will be a new challenge for the Hokies. Marshall has done OK protecting Cato. The quarterback has been sacked five times in three games.
That’ll be crucial against a Virginia Tech defense that is coming off a seven-sack game against East Carolina. The Hokies were relentless in getting to ECU quarterback Shane Carden and took away the short passing attack that usually helps keep that pass rush at bay. There are two parts to that success — Tech’s pass coverage has been outstanding, and it’s defensive line has been extremely active. James Gayle gets a lot of the acclaim on the line, and deservedly so, but J.R. Collins has more sacks this year with three, andDadi Nicolas might be the end that d-line coach Charley Wiles gets most excited talking about. It’s a deep group, to say the least. The secondary is helping them out. Freshmen cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson have been as good as advertised. Fuller has been solid and Facyson has three picks in three games. Marshall will be a challenge, but Tech has only allowed 106.3 passing yards per game, second fewest nationally, and that’s despite playing two pretty good passing offenses in Alabama and East Carolina.
Edge: Virginia Tech
When Marshall runs
Like I mentioned before, the Herd isn’t one-dimensional. It has run for 214.7 yards per game this year, highlighted by tailbacks Steward Butler and Essray Taliaferro. Taliaferro starts and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. But Butler has been more explosive of the two, with a 9.1-yard per carry average and 282 yards and three touchdowns in three games. Cato (4.8 ypc) is more of a threat to run than Carden was last week, so that’s one more thing to worry about. The offensive line has some veterans, which helps. Center Chris Jasperse has 28 starts and right tackle Garrett Scott 24. The biggest advantage Marshall has is pace. The Herd ran over 90 plays a game last year and will try to crank things up this week. When the defense is tired, those running plays become more effective.
That’s why Tech will have to keep the defense off the field as much as possible. The Hokies did a great job of it last week. ECU, another fast-paced team, ran only 54 plays last week, in part because Tech held the Pirates to only 3 of 11 on third-down chances. A big reason was the fact that the Hokies held ECU to 46 rushing yards. The d-line clamped down up front and Tech got active games out of their primary tacklers. Linebacker Tariq Edwards had his best day since returning from leg and knee injuries that kept him out almost all of last year, with 5 tackles. 2.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception, looking every bit like the player who was poised to break out at the end of 2011. The Hokies will need him, linebacker Jack Tyler and safeties Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner to continue to be active in stopping the run, especially against a team that will require the Hokies to be in their nickel package almost exclusively.
Edge: Virginia Tech
Marshall kicker Justin Haig is 4-for-5 this year, coming off a season in which he was 13-for-16, so he’s solid. The Herd has been mediocre at punting, with an average net of 34 yards, which is 97th nationally (of course, it has only punted 10 times this year, so that’s a small sample). The team’s kickoff and punt returns are decidedly average. In fact, a muffed punt led to a fumble recovery in th end zone for a touchdown last week by Ohio. And Marshall’s punt coverage (17.25 yards per return) is somehow worse than Virginia Tech’s (15.44 yards). Which would seem to give the advantage to the Hokies, if not for …
Cody Journell and his kicking struggles. The normally reliable kicker had a off day to say the least at East Carolina, missing an extra point and two field goals and being bailed out on another miss by a running into the kicker penalty. He said the problems were physical, but those can become mental very quickly, and you can never really tell how a kicker will handle the pressure until he’s in a game. Punter A.J. Hughes (44.6 avg.) has done well, although he seems to have at least one bad punt that pops up every game that often proves costly (Alabama return for a TD, East Carolina’s FG). Although the coverage teams have shown improvement since the opener, the kickoff return game has been horrible. The Hokies rank 121st nationally, averaging just 16.5 yards per return. At this point, it might be better to just take the touchback and get the ball at the 25.
This category usually comes down to whatever side has a coordinator getting the most out of a particular unit. And right now, it’s hard to top the level Bud Foster has his defense playing. The Hokies have been a finely tuned defensive machine so far, giving them a leg up in this category. Bill Legg has his Thundering Herd offense playing well, but Foster has been able to push the right buttons with this defense to shut down a pair of prolific offenses so far this year. The Loefffler-Heater matchup will be interesting, just because of their backgrounds. The only time they faced off, Loeffler’s Michigan team got the better of Heater’s Florida squad in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, a high-scoring shootout. Neither of those coaches have near the personnel that was on the field that day, however, so it’s tough to use that for a comparison.
Edge: Virginia Tech
I agree with the sentiment this week that Marshall is a better team than East Carolina. And the Pirates gave the Hokies all they could handle, even though the missed kicks really kept last week’s game closer than it should have been. But Tech is also playing at home, where, for whatever reason the last two years, it has looked like a completely different team than on the road. I think Marshall will try to attack the Hokies’ offense the same way ECU did last week — shut down the run and take its chances in the air. Thomas and Co. did just enough last week for Virginia Tech to come away with that win and, given the success it hard in the air, should be coming in with some confidence in the passing game for a change. That could open thing up on the ground. Considering how well Foster’s defense has played so far, I think there’s a good chance the Hokies will be able to limit how much damage Cato is able to do. I do not think Marshall is a pushover, though, and think this will be a closer game than the line suggests. I’ll take the Hokies in a closer-than-expected win.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Marshall 20