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Marshall (1-0) at (14) Virginia Tech (0-1)
Saturday, September 12th, 1:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Fresh off a tough loss to open the campaign, the 14th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies get back to action this weekend against the visiting Marshall Thundering Herd.
Marshall had a fight on its hands in the opener against Southern Illinois last weekend, but the home crowd was treated to a nailbiting 31-28 victory. Obviously, the level of competition increases significantly this week for the Herd, who are members of Conference USA. They won three of their first four games last season before completely falling apart and finishing 4-8 overall.
Clearly, Marshall is a big-time underdog against Virginia Tech, which hopes to even its record after falling to Alabama last weekend in Atlanta by a 34-24 final. The Hokies have another tough game scheduled against Nebraska next weekend, and it is important not to completely look past Marshall. Frank Beamer's Hokies lost their opener last season to East Carolina but rebounded to win their third ACC title in five years, so expect the club to be both focused and motivated.
Virginia Tech holds a 7-2 advantage in the all-time series with Marshall, including a 41-14 thrashing of the Herd in the most recent meeting back in 2005.
En route to 31 points, Marshall managed 388 total yards against Southern Illinois in the opener. Brian Anderson played well under center, as he connected on 27-of-36 passes for a career-high 316 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Chuck Walker, in his first game for the Herd, made 10 catches for 119 yards. Cody Slate pitched in with nine grabs for 114 yards and two scores, setting the career record for yardage by a tight end along the way.
The ground attack accounted for just 72 yards on 36 attempts, so there is obviously room for improvement in that area. Last season, Marshall struggled a bit offensively, averaging 330.1 total ypg. The fact that Anderson was so effective throwing the ball in the opener was a good sign, as the Herd threw for only 172.7 ypg in 2008.
The Marshall defense allowed one touchdown in each of the four quarters of last weekend's game. Sure, the effort could have been worse, but it certainly could have been better. While the first three touchdown drives covered 31, 60 and 66 yards, respectively, SIU was able to go on a 12-play, 91-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, as the Herd looked exhausted.
Marshall allowed 311 total yards in the tilt, 206 of which came via the air. A key to the victory was the fact that the Herd came up with three takeaways, including a pair of fumble recoveries. SIU made good on 8-of-14 third down conversion attempts and scored on all four of its trips to the red zone, but the Salukis still held possession for less than 25 minutes.
Virginia Tech has always been known for having outstanding special teams under Beamer, and a 98-yard kickoff return for a score by Dyrell Roberts gave the Hokies an early 7-6 lead against Alabama. Ryan Williams had a pair of touchdown runs later in the game for Tech, but the 24 points that the club mustered simply wasn't enough to keep pace with the Tide.
"We've got a lot of work to do," said Williams of Tech's offense. "All the way around, we've got to make bigger plays and we've got to be more consistent."
It has been a long time since the Hokies have had a strong offense, and the fact that they managed a mere 11 first downs and 155 total yards against Alabama is concerning, although the Tide has one of the better defenses in the country. Only 64 yards were posted by the ground attack, and it didn't help matters that 38 yards were lost on five sacks. With two lost fumbles, the Hokies simply didn't help themselves. Tyrod Taylor was completely ineffective running the football, and the quarterback connected on just 9-of-20 passes for 91 yards. This offense needs to get better in a hurry if Tech has any chance of repeating as ACC champs.
Tailback Darren Evans was lost for the season after tearing an ACL in practice prior to the opener. Evans set an ACC record for rushing yards as a freshman, rumbling for 1,265 yards and 11 TDs in 2008, and his absence was clearly felt against Alabama.
At first, the Virginia Tech defense looked strong in the opener, holding the Tide to field goals rather than allowing touchdowns. Unfortunately, the defense got tired as the game wore on, as 'Bama help possession for more than 37 minutes and continually pounded the ball on the ground.
"I think they made some good adjustments and we were a little tired out there," Tech defender Cody Grimm stated. "We started missing some tackles and you can't do that."
The Hokies yielded 498 total yards in the clash, including 268 yards on 49 rushing attempts. A first-time starter at quarterback ripped the Tech secondary for 230 passing yards on only 15 completions, so there is obviously a wealth of room for improvement. Seven defensive starters are back from last season for the Hokies, including three in the secondary, so that tier of defense was expected to be a strength. That certainly didn't appear to be the case in the opener.
Frank Beamer is one of the nation's best coaches, as his teams are typically always tough on defense and in the special teams department. But since the departure of Michael Vick from the program, a true standout at the quarterback position has been missing. Taylor simply isn't good enough to lead the Hokies on a national title chase, but he is more than good enough to beat Marshall.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Virginia Tech 37, Marshall 13
09/09 11:39:44 ET