Marshall Thundering Herd vs. Virginia Tech Hokies: Complete Game Preview

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2013

Marshall Thundering Herd vs. Virginia Tech Hokies: Complete Game Preview

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    After escaping with a hard fought win at East Carolina on Saturday, the Virginia Tech Hokies head home to Blacksburg this weekend to host Marshall. Just like ECU, the Thundering Herd are also from Conference USA.

    Last week's win improved the Hokies to 2-1 on the season. An outstanding defensive effort bailed out kicker Cody Journell, who missed three field goals under 40 yards and a point-after attempt. 

    The 'Herd  suffered their first loss of the season last week as they fell to Ohio, 34-31. 

    Much like East Carolina, Marshall employs a wide-open, fast-paced spread attack. However, the Thundering Herd have more talent at the skill positions, led by junior quarterback Rakeem Cato.

    Surprisingly, Marshall is No. 5 in the country in total defense. The Hokies are No. 2 overall. 

    The teams have met a total of 11 times, with the Hokies winning nine. They last met in 2011 when the Hokies won 30-10. Marshall last beat the Hokies in 1940.

    • When: Saturday, September 21
    • Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.
    • Time: 12:00 p.m.
    • TV: ESPNU
    • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area. 
    • Spread: There is currently no spread for this game. We will update once it is released.

Marshall Keys to Victory

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    Slow Virginia Tech's Pass Rush

     The Hokies have 12 sacks in the first three games.

    They sacked ECU QB Shane Carden seven times last week and also forced three interceptions. Marshall runs a similar offense predicated on short drops and getting the ball out fast. That is the recipe in slowing down any pass rush.

    It didn't work for East Carolina, will it work for Marshall? The Thundering Herd would be wise to keep the Hokies off balance by running the ball frequently.

    Stop the Hokies' Running Game

    The Hokies appeared to have the running game corrected after the first two weeks. They took a big step back last week, but ECU made a decision to force Logan Thomas to beat them. He did just enough to do so. 

    VT will look to establish the running game early. If they can do that, it makes the defense even more effective. Thomas appears to be gaining more confidence in his receivers each week, but the passing game is still a work in progress. Marshall would be wise to try and make Thomas beat them again.

    Avoid Turnovers

    It sounds simple, but to beat a team with superior talent, like Virginia Tech, you must avoid turnovers. In last week's loss to Ohio, the 'Herd had four turnovers which cost them dearly in such a close game.   

Virginia Tech Keys to Victory

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    Run, Run, Run

    The Hokies took a major step backwards against East Carolina. They rushed for just 68 yards on 34 attempts. That is unacceptable. 

    They were without sophomore J.C. Coleman, the projected starter at tailback, and his availability for this week remains in question. Coleman brings a different style to the table than Trey Edmunds.

    Until one clearly takes the job, they are likely to continue splitting carries. Look for a healthy dose of Chris Mangus, too. 

    If the Hokies establish the run, they will win this game.

    Pressure Rakeem Cato

    Cato, a three-year starter at QB, led the nation in passing in 2012. He is a rhythm passer that can beat you deep if given the chance.

    The Hokies should closely follow their blueprint from last weekend in dealing with Cato. Get physical with the wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and keep everything in front of you. Just the split second that a corner jams a receiver can throw off the timing of an offense like this.

    The Hokies go eight deep on the defensive line and expect that to continue this week. Keeping fresh pass-rushers on the field will be important as it pertains to getting pressure on Cato. 

    Avoid Special Teams' Mistakes

    We say this every week, but the Hokies continue to make key mistakes in this area. Against ECU, Journell was the issue. Was it a fluke for the reliable senior kicker? Or should Frank Beamer be concerned?

    The Hokies have been better in kick coverage the past two weeks. That is promising, but they need to be consistent in this area with ACC play beginning in under two weeks.  

Players to Watch: Marshall

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    Quarterback Rakeem Cato 

    Cato is in his third year as Marshall's starting quarterback. In 2012, Cato completed 69 percent of his passes for 4,201 yards. He threw for 37 touchdowns versus only 11 interceptions.

    He is off to a great start in 2013, too. The 'Herd are averaging 313 yards passing per game, 21st in the country.

    Marshall goes as Cato goes. If he has a big game and avoids turnovers, they have a chance to pull off the upset.

    Wide Receiver Tommy Shuler

    Former Marshall star Aaron Dobson received most of the attention, but Shuler was just as good.

    Shuler led Marshall with 110 catches and 1,138 yards in 2012. He was third on the team with six touchdown receptions. In three games this season, Shuler has 23 catches for 247 yards and two touchdowns. 

    Middle Linebacker Jermaine Holmes

    Holmes is a big reason for Marshall's fast start on defense this season. The senior linebacker has 18 tackles, including a team-high five for loss. He also has one sack.

    He is an excellent downhill linebacker that will look to create havoc in Virginia Tech's backfield. 

Players to Watch: Virginia Tech

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    Running Back J.C. Coleman 

    It has been a horrible start to the 2013 season for Coleman. He sprained both ankles in August forcing him to miss the Alabama game.

    He returned against Western Carolina, but a setback last week in practice kept him out against ECU.

    The talented, speedy Coleman is the Hokies' top big-play threat on offense. He is an excellent runner outside the tackles and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He is also good in the passing game and can be another reliable weapon for Logan Thomas. 

    Wide Receiver Demitri Knowles 

    Knowles is coming off his best performance of the season. He caught eight passes for 99 yards and a touchdown against ECU. He is clearly the Hokies' most talented receiver, and Thomas may have been guilty of trying to force it to Knowles too much. 

    Against the Pirates, Knowles ran better routes and displayed more consistent hands. The Hokies need Knowles to continue to improve. He is a potential game-changer if he puts it all together.

    Cornerback Brandon Facyson

    The 6'2" freshman was outstanding against ECU. He intercepted two passes and was close to picking off two more.

    Through three games, Facyson has shown a propensity to be around the football. Another strong aspect of his game is tackling.

    He will be tested against Cato and Marshall's talented group of receivers. 

What They Are Saying

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    Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer on playing Marshall and having three games in a 12-day stretch:

    It’s a tough deal,” Three games in 12 days … and two of them are away. You talk about tough scheduling. But you know, we’re just going to be tested mentally and physically and just got to be good how we practice and how long we practice, but yet practice and get done what we need to get done. But we got it all planned out.

    Marshall defensive tackle James Rouse, from Harrisonburg, Va., grew up a Hokie fan and had this to say:

    I grew up a VT fan for most of my life, It makes it special because I get to go closer to home and I can have my friends and family there and many more people can come see my game.

    Marshall head coach Doc Holliday on Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas:

    He looks like a big tight end out there, but he can run. They say he’s 6-foot-6, but he looks bigger than that when he gets out on the field with the uniform on. He’s impressive and he makes all the throws.


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    Marshall is a good football team. In fact, they may be a bit better than East Carolina. They have a good veteran quarterback with several talented playmakers and an underrated defense. However, coming into Lane Stadium is a tough chore for anyone.

    Expect the 'Herd to come out and score early. The Hokies' defense will adjust to what they see and Bud Foster will change his approach as needed. On offense, VT may struggle early as they decipher what Marshall is planning on taking away.

    Expect the Hokies to take control of this game in the third quarter and pull away despite Marshall's best effort.

    Virginia Tech 27, Marshall 13