The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

September 21, 2013

Defense vs. offense as Herd travels to VT

By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor

— With Virginia Tech, it’s the same old thing.

Defense, defense, defense.

Marshall, meanwhile, boasts one of the top offenses in the nation, averaging 520.5 yards per game. The Thundering Herd (2-1) will need as much offensive octane as it can muster in today’s game at Virginia Tech. Kickoff from Lane Stadium/Worsham Field in Blacksburg, Va., will be noon, and the game can be seen live on ESPNU.

The Hokies, as usual, have one of the best defenses in the nation. They are second in the country in total defense, allowing 190.7 yards per game, and have seven interceptions (tied for second), 29 tackles for loss (9.7 per game, tied for second) and 12 sacks (4.0 per game, tied for third).

Tech (2-1) held East Carolina to 46 rushing yards in last Saturday’s 15-10 win. The Hokies are ninth in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 84.3 yards per game.

In addition to its special teams — dubbed “BeamerBall” — defense has been one of Tech’s hallmarks under longtime head coach Frank Beamer and with coordinator Bud Foster making the calls since 1995.

“Nobody has been able to move the ball very successfully against them, so that will be a tremendous challenge for us,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said.

“They’re extremely physical, they run to the ball and are very well coached.”

As long as the Herd can hold on to the ball, the potential to move the ball exists.

Marshall will be looking to get past last Saturday’s 34-31 loss at Ohio, in which the Bobcats turned three of the Herd’s four turnovers into 17 points.

“This is a great group of kids. They have great leadership, (have) worked extremely hard and football is very important to them,” Holliday said. “They took the loss awfully hard, but they also know that one game does not define a season. We have a lot of football left to play and (the opponents are) going to be good, whoever that is. It just happens to be Virginia Tech (this week).

“But it’s important, because it is the next game and they’ll go play. Effort has never been an issue with these kids. They play hard. They don’t always play smart, at times, but they always play extremely hard.”

Defensively, Marshall will have to stop Tech quarterback Logan Thomas from dictating the game. The 6-foot-6, 254-pound senior has proven extremely difficult to tackle in the run game, but teams have found success when forcing him to throw the ball. He has more interceptions (four) than touchdown passess (three).

Marshall has actually been more successful, at least statistically, against the run than the Hokies. The Herd is sixth among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in run defense at 67 yards per game.

The Herd sacked Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton twice last week.

“Defensively, we’re improved overall. There’s no question about that,” Holliday said. “We are getting a little better at applying pressure because of those inside guys like Jarquez Samuel (who made his first start at Ohio in place of the injured Brandon Sparrow), James Rouse, with the addition of (redshirt freshman) Gary Thompson and (junior college transfer) Arnold Blackmon, who is going to play more. He’ll play this week. It’s going to be critical this week that we get our pressure packages going and get after Virginia Tech.”

It will be a matchup of first-year play callers who are familiar with one another. Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater and Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scott Loefler were assistants together at Temple.

Redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds, the son of former NFL Pro Bowl tight end Ferrell Edmunds, leads Tech on the ground with 242 yards and three touchdowns. But he managed only 42 yards against ECU.

Thomas’ top targets in the passing game have been redshirt sophomore receiver Demitri Knowles (12 catches, 122 yards, 1 TD) and redshirt junior receiver Willie Byrn (11-121). Redshirt senior D.J. Coles has two of Thomas’ three TDs.

While Marshall is tied with Louisville at 20th in total offense, the Hokies are 107th at 328.3 yards per game.

“They have a lot of young guys,” Holliday said. “They have a couple of freshman receivers playing for them and a freshman tight end. They also have the freshman tailback (Edmunds). Anytime you play young players like that, they are going to go through some growing pains. They improve from week to week, there’s no doubt.”

— E-mail: gfauber