Marshall (2-1) at Virginia Tech (2-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 21, 12:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Lane Stadium (65,632) -- Blacksburg, Virginia. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: Marshall 2-0, VaTech 1-0. Away Record: Marshall 0-1, VaTech 1-0. Neutral Record: Marshall 0-0, VaTech 0-1. Conference Record: Marshall 0-0, VaTech 0-0. Series Record: Virginia Tech leads, 9-2.
GAME NOTES: The Virginia Tech Hokies hope to defeat a Conference USA opponent for the second week in a row as they host the Marshall Thundering Herd at Lane Stadium for a non-league bout.
Frank Beamer's Hokies defeated East Carolina, 15-10, last week in Greenville to notch their second straight victory since their 45-3 season opening loss to Alabama. Virginia Tech completed a 45-3 rout of FCS opponent Western Carolina for its first win of the campaign. Beamer has 218 career wins just with the Hokies, which is the eighth most any coach has amassed at one school at the FBS level. He is also the active leader among current FBS coaches with 260 career wins.
Four of those wins have come over Marshall, which trails Virginia Tech, 9-2, in the all-time series. The Thundering Herd have not won a game in the series since 1940 and suffered a 30-10 loss to the Hokies at home in 2011, which was the most recent encounter.
Marshall will be looking to get back on track after sustaining its first loss of the season last week at Ohio. The Thundering Herd could not overcome four turnovers or their failure to register any takeaways and lost, 34-31, to their former MAC rival for the third straight year in the Battle for the Bell series. Coach Doc Holliday's squad had outscored Miami-Ohio and Gardner-Webb, 107-14, in its first two games to improve to 2-0 for the first time since 1999.
The Herd had trouble stopping Ohio's mobile passer Tyler Tettleton, which could be a warning sign as they face another athletic and elusive quarterback this week.
The Hokies have not been consistent on offense this season as the talented but streaky Logan Thomas is off to a slow start. The redshirt senior signal caller broke the school record for total offense in a season as a sophomore with 3,482 yards and surpassed that mark in 2012 with 3,500 yards.
Thomas has been better since opening the season with the worst performance of his career, finishing 5-of-26 for just 59 yards with an interception that the Crimson Tide returned for six points. Since being stifled by Alabama, Thomas has completed 56.7 percent of his pass attempts for 458 yards with three touchdowns and the same number of interceptions.
Virginia Tech struggled to put points on the scoreboard last week against the Pirates. It was limited to only 311 yards of total offense on 77 plays and lost 53 yards on six penalties. Demitri Knowles was heavily involved in the passing game for the Hokies, racking up 99 yards and a touchdown on eight catches. Willie Byrn is trailing Knowles for the team-lead in receiving yards by one yard with 121 on 11 catches.
Thomas was a big time rushing threat over the past two seasons, finishing second to now New York Giants halfback David Wilson as a sophomore with 469 yards and a team-high 11 TDs and pacing the squad last season at 524 yards with nine scores. This season Thomas has been held to an average of just four yards per game on the ground. Freshman halfback Trey Edmunds appears to be the new workhorse in the rushing game. Edmunds has accounted for 56 of the team's 101 rushing attempts and has produced 242 yards and three rushing TDs.
Beamer's squad may be shaky with the ball, but it is relentless defensively. The Hokies held Alabama to only 206 yards of total offense, which is the second-lowest total it has amassed under Nick Saban. They got off to a slow start last week against ECU, giving up 109 yards and a score in the first quarter. Virginia Tech made the necessary adjustments and held the Pirates, who did not run a play inside the red zone during the game, to only 95 yards and three points over the final 45 minutes. Freshman cornerback Brandon Facyson has already intercepted three passes in as many career games. Senior linebacker Jack Tyler has registered a team-high 25 tackles to go along with four stops behind the line and two sacks.
The Hokies' defense has a tough task on hand for this one. Marshall led the FBS in passing yards per game last season thanks to its own star QB's effort. Junior Rakeem Cato extended his streak of games with a touchdown pass to 21 as he found his favorite red zone target, Gator Hoskins, for six points last week at Peden Stadium. Cato went 30-of-45 for a season-high 366 yards with a rushing touchdown and an interception.
Junior wideout Tommy Shuler had a strong showing in the loss as well with nine catches for 87 yards. He is the fifth-leading receiver in the C-USA at 82.3 ypg. Hoskins has made a team-high three TD grabs. The passing attack has not been quite as stellar this season due to a noticeable improvement in the run game. MU is gaining 214.7 yards rushing per contest compared to its average of 169.2 in 2012. Steward Butler is the top rusher for the Herd with 282 yards and three scores. Essray Taliaferro and Kevin Grooms are both used frequently also.
Marshall has been able to run the ball much more this season thanks to the immediate boost that first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Heater has provided. The Herd ranked 101st in the FBS in total defense (456.6 ypg) and 119th in scoring defense (43.1 ppg) last season. They are currently fifth in the nation with only 252.7 yards allowed per outing and also place in the top 25 in points allowed per game (16.0). Junior linebacker Jermaine Holmes is an impact player for Holliday and has impressive totals of 18 tackles, five TFL and one sack.
Both of these teams appear to be good enough to reach the postseason at the end of the year. Marshall's lack of care with the ball ended up being the difference last week and it will not be any easier to avoid turnovers against the ball-hawking Hokies. Virginia Tech is not going to roll to another easy win over the Herd unless Thomas gets into a rhythm.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Virginia Tech 34, Marshall 24
09/18 10:32:18 ET