Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

September 21, 2013

Spotlight on defense in Marshall vs Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech have played three games, and faced the same challenge each contest: opposing defenses are stacking the box and daring the Hokies to beat them through the air.

The Hokies (2-1) expect to see more of the same against Marshall on Saturday.

The Thundering Herd (2-1) will bring the nation’s fifth-ranked defense to Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, along with designs on using the national stage to show that their program is on the rise again.

“Our Virginia guys are motivated, just like when we play a Florida team our Florida guys are motivated,” Herd coach Doc Holliday said. “The Virginia guys know these kids playing for Virginia Tech. Anytime you can go play on the national stage your kids are going to get excited to go play.”

That excitement also stems from achievement. Marshall also has something the Hokies don’t, as yet: a proven offense. The Thundering Herd’s offense ranks 20th in the nation, averaging 527.3 yards. Marshall is led by junior quarterback Rakeem Cato, who is in his third year as a starter and fast climbing the school’s career lists.

But the Hokies believe they have the answers for Cato and the Thundering Herd. Virginia Tech registered seven sacks last week against an East Carolina offense that, like Marshall’s, tries to run plays in rapid-fire fashion.

“We just want to put pressure on the quarterback,” linebacker Tariq Edwards said. “Even the great ones, as far as if you put as much pressure as we usually put on them, they’ll rattle.”

Marshall hopes to do the same to Thomas by shutting off the Hokies running game, but the 6-foot-6, 254-pound senior is confident that strides in the passing game will continue.

His receivers dropped twice as many balls as they caught in the opener, when they caught just five, but have caught 42 in the two games since.

“The more I see them with smiles on their faces when they’re out there on the practice field or game field and I know they’re having fun, it kind of gives me a peace that if I put it out there, then they’re going to do their best to make a play,” he said.

“I’ve always had confidence in those guys. It’s just nice to see them getting better.”

———

Here are 5 things to watch when Marshall plays Virginia Tech on Saturday:

THE DEFENSE RESTS: Marshall runs an average of 82 offensive plays per game, third in the nation. The Thundering Herd use a spread formation, and even the best defense can become vulnerable when asked to be on the field for too long. Quarterback Rakeem Cato has also completed 66 percent of his passes in his college career and thrown a TD pass in 21 consecutive games. Getting pressure on him could help take away what he likes to do most.

THE START: Marshall has been a Top 25 team in the not-too-distant past, and with gaudy offensive and defensive rankings, is eager to prove its getting back to that level. Early strikes by either team could either allow the Herd to gain confidence, or allow the Hokies to dash it with domination.

RUNNING GAME: Logan Thomas and the Hokies were willing to take what East Carolina gave them last week by stacking the box, but some semblance of a running game would surely help open things up. The Thundering Herd ranks sixth nationally, allowing just 67 yards rushing per game, albeit against lesser competition.

TURNOVERS: Thomas has been prone to interceptions, and the Hokies have made seven in three games. In a game like this, those plays can be huge momentum swings and quickly level an unbalanced playing field.

KICKING GAME: Normally reliable PK Cody Journell missed an extra point and three subsequent FG attempts in the Hokies’ 15-10 victory against East Carolina, with each miss looking worse than the last.

Beamer says Journell has looked fine this week, but he might like to see game evidence to be sure.

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