2009 Football Game Preview: #14 Virginia Tech vs. Marshall

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  • Date: Saturday, September 12th, 2009
  • Time: 1:30
  • TV: ESPN360.com

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Virginia Tech will look to get their season back on track this Saturday when
Marshall comes to town. Coming off a physical game against Alabama, and looking
ahead to home matchups with Nebraska and Miami, this game with the Thundering
Herd is a classic trap game. It will be up to the Hokies to show up focused and
take care of business.

Head coach Mark Snyder is 17-31 in his career at Marshall, and he could be on
the hot seat this season. The Thundering Herd went 4-8 last year thanks to a
very bad defense, but they did lose three games by three or fewer points. They
nearly knocked off East Carolina, and they managed to beat solid teams in
Southern Miss and Houston.

This is not the Marshall that was once an ESPN favorite. Gone are the days of
Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. This team doesn’t have the firepower they
once had, though they do have some talent on both sides of the ball.

Marshall knocked off Southern Illinois 31-28 this past week. It was a narrow
win, but Southern Illinois is ranked in the 1-AA Top Ten. Other Top Ten 1-AA
teams such as Richmond, William & Mary, Northern Iowa, Appalachian State and
Villanova either beat 1-A teams, or almost did. Marshall was also without their
1,000 yard rusher and their top defensive back.

This is a game Tech can’t afford to overlook. However, if the Hokies play
like they are capable of, the Thundering Herd won’t present much of an obstacle.

The Marshall Offense

Marshall will bring a capable offense into Lane Stadium on Saturday. They are
led by quarterback Brian Anderson (6-3, 212, r-Jr.), who beat out last year’s
starter Mark Cann (6-4, 235, r-So.). Anderson was 27-of-36 for 316 yards, with
three touchdowns and an interception in last week’s win over Southern Illinois.
Anderson isn’t particularly mobile, so if the Hokies can get pressure on him
they will likely shut down the Marshall passing attack.

Anderson has inexperienced receivers. The top player is JUCO transfer Chuck
Walker (5-10, 177, r-Jr.), who had 10 catches for 119 yards against Southern
Illinois. The other receivers are Courtney Edmonson (6-0, 191, Sr.), JUCO Troy
Evans (5-9, 201, Jr.), JUCO Wayne Bonner (6-4, 198, Jr.) and Jamal Wilson (5-10,
178, Fr.). Wilson is a true freshman from Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake,
VA. With three new JUCOs and a true freshman in their receiving corps, the
Marshall passing game is likely to struggle against Virginia Tech’s defense.

Anderson will have a good tight end to throw to. Cody Slate (6-4, 229, Sr.)
is one of the most productive tight ends in America. For his career, he has 158
receptions for 2,126 yards and 21 touchdowns. Now that Oklahoma’s Jermaine
Gresham is out for the season, Slate could be the most productive tight end in
college football.

Marshall also has Lee Smith (6-6, 267, r-Jr.), a transfer from Tennessee.
Smith is a big tight end and a blocking specialist, but he can also be effective
in the passing game. Look for the tight ends to be a big part of Marshall’s
offense this year, as the new receivers get used to being on the field.

The running game can also help the Thundering Herd this year. Darius Marshall
(5-10, 190, Jr.) ran for 1,095 yards for Marshall as a true sophomore in 2008,
after running for 631 yards as a true freshman in 2007. He was suspended for
Marshall’s opening game against Southern Illinois, but he’ll be back in the
lineup against Virginia Tech.

Darius Marshall is also the Herd’s top kick returner, and he can be quite
effective against top competition. He had 262 all purpose yards against West
Virginia last year, and as a freshman in 2007 he had 80 yards on just 11 carries
against the Mountaineers. Marshall can definitely compete with BCS teams, and
he’s the most talented player on his team’s roster.

No offense can execute without a good offensive line. Here is a look at
Marshall’s group up front.


The Marshall Offensive Line

Pos.

Name

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

Career
Starts

LT

Brandon Campbell

6-5

315

r-Jr.

3

LG

Ryan Tillman

6-5

275

r-So.

13

C

Chad Schofield

6-4

304

r-Jr.

6

RG

Jimmy Rogers

6-4

313

Sr.

1

RT

Daniel Baldridge

6-9

311

r-Sr.

12

Left guard Ryan Tillman started every game at left tackle last season, but he
moves back inside for his sophomore campaign. He was a 2008 Conference USA
All-Freshman Team selection. Last year’s starting right tackle, C.J. Wood (6-5,
295, r-So.) was also an All-Freshman pick in conference USA. He is not starting
right now, but he should see heavy playing time against the Hokies.

Starting center Chad Schofield was a guard last season, while Jimmy Rogers is
a JUCO transfer who only played in six games in 2008. Players have changed
positions, and two full-time starters were lost after last season. This group is
still getting their bearings, and the running game only averaged two yards per
carry against Southern Illinois with Darius Marshall out of the lineup.

Despite the slow start, this group has potential. They paved the way for a
1,000 yard rusher last year and only allowed 13 sacks. They will probably
struggle against a tough Virginia Tech defense, but they will get better as the
year goes on. The Southern Illinois defense beat this group up front and racked
up eight tackles for loss and two sacks.

You can not beat Virginia Tech’s defense with a one-dimensional offense. Look
for Marshall to attack the Hokies through the air and on the ground. They are a
capable offensive football team, but if Tech shuts down Darius Marshall and puts
the game in the hands of a first-year starting quarterback behind a rebuilt
offensive line, then Bud Foster’s defense will thrive.

The Marshall Defense

The last time Marshall came to Lane Stadium, the Hokies flattened the
Thundering Herd’s undersized front seven. Marshall only averaged 239.3-lbs per
player in their front seven in 2005, but their front is significantly bigger
this time around. In 2009, Marshall’s front seven averages 254.4-lbs per man,
and should provide a bigger challenge to Tech’s offensive line than the 2005
group.

In fact, Marshall’s front seven slightly outweights Tech’s front seven, which
averages 252.3-lbs.

The top player up front for Marshall is defensive end Albert McClellan (6-2,
254, r-Sr.). He is a First Team All-CUSA player who has 18 career sacks.
McClellan was not 100% in 2008 after missing the 2007 season with a knee injury.
His 2006 season was his best, when he registered 19 tackles for loss and 11
sacks.

McClellan got his career off to a good start in 2005 as a true freshman, when
he had seven tackles for loss and three sacks. He recorded the second sack of
his career at Virginia Tech that year. He is easily Marshall’s biggest threat on
the defensive line.

Marshall is pretty deep at defensive tackle as well. This is an experienced
group of players.


The Marshall Defensive Tackles

Name

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

Career
Starts

Johnny Jones

6-5

288

Jr.

12

Michael Janac

6-4

285

r-Jr.

9

Delvin Johnson

6-3

303

Jr.

5

James Burkes

6-1

307

r-Sr.

15

Montel Glasco

6-3

295

r-Sr.

3

That’s a lot of starting experience on the inside for Marshall, and they will
also play mammoth Brandon Bullock (6-3, 352, Jr.). The Thundering Herd has the
ability to rotate their defensive line to prevent their starters from getting
worn out.

Marshall’s best linebacker is Mario Harvey (6-0, 247, Jr.). He is a First
Team All-Conference USA selection. Harvey led the team with 107 tackles last
season, and he also had seven tackles for loss. He plays the weakside position
for the Thundering Herd, and the strongside starter also returns. Brandon Burns
(6-4, 212, Sr.) had 69 tackles and five pass breakups last season. Burns is
another JUCO transfer, and a converted defensive back.

The other starting linebacker for Marshall is Kellen Harris (6-3, 236,
r-So.). He had a big game last week in his first collegiate start, recording
five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Open House This Saturday,
10 a.m. to noon!

Overall, the Marshall linebackers are a solid group of players who should
benefit from playing behind one of Conference USA’s better defensive lines.

Marshall’s weakness is their pass defense. The Thundering Herd started two
freshmen at cornerback last year, and they’ve got three sophomores in their two
deep this year.

DeQuan Bembry (5-10, 178, r-So.) was an Honorable Mention Freshman
All-American last year. He finished 20th in Conference USA in tackles, averaging
6.7 per game. He can definitely be beaten through the air, but he is effective
up around the line of scrimmage. Bembry made 7.5 tackles for loss, and he also
broke up 11 passes. He had one interception, and it came against West Virginia.
Bembry was suspended for last week’s game against Southern Illinois, and his
return should help the defense.

Ahmed Shakoor (5-11, 208, So.) played special teams as a true freshman last
year, and he made his first career start last week. He is backed up by T.J.
Drakeford (5-11, 188, r-So.), who started 11 games in 2008.

Marshall does have experience in the secondary. Strong safety Ashton Hall
(5-10, 196, Sr.) led the team in tackles against Southern Illinois with nine.
(Ahmed Shakoor was tied for second with six tackles … when two starting
defensive backs lead the team in tackles, that’s generally not good.)

Hall has been a part-time starter for the past two seasons, and he’s joined
at free safety by John Saunders (6-0, 186, r-Sr.). Saunders has started games in
the past at strong safety, but he’s a limited player whom Virginia Tech can
exploit.

Open
House This Saturday at Kent
Square Condominiums, 10 a.m. to noon

Marshall finished 102nd nationally in total defense last year, allowing 418.1
yards per game. The defensive line looks better this year, but the secondary is
still very suspect.

Special Teams

Craig Ratanamorn (6-3, 178, Sr.) serves as the primary placekicker for the
Thundering Herd. He was 7-of-11 last season, with a long of 50 yards. He kicked
a 32 yard field goal against Southern Illinois last week. However, he was
inconsistent with his kickoffs, booting two kicks out of bounds.

Kase Whitehead (5-10, 181, So.) averaged 38.7 yards per punt last season as a
freshman. Despite the low average, Marshall finished 32nd nationally in net
punting with a 36.5 yards per punt average.

Darius Marshall is the most dangerous return man. He averaged 29.7 yards per
kickoff return as a freshman, and 26.3 yards per return last year. Troy Evans is
serving as punt returner right now, and he is still an unknown.

Marshall head coach Mark Snyder does put an emphasis on special teams. The
Thundering Herd blocked seven punts in his first two years as a head coach, so
the Hokies’ punt protection team must be wary.

Conclusion

If this is the least exciting game of September, then Tech fans have a lot to
be thankful for. This might not be the 2002 Thundering Herd, but it’s a lot
better than hosting Temple or some 1-AA school. Marshall will hit back, and they
will challenge Virginia Tech by blitzing a lot.

In 2005, r-freshman tailback Branden Ore ran for 146 yards on Marshall, the
first 100-yard game of his career. 115 of his yards came in the second half. I
wouldn’t be surprised to see Ryan Williams get his first 100-yard game against
the Thundering Herd this weekend. To stick with the tailback theme, I’m also
excited to see David Wilson get his first real game action. This is the perfect
game to break him in.

Defensively, I expect Tech will batter a Marshall offensive line that played
poorly against Southern Illinois last week. I think the Hokies will shut down
the running game and make Brian Anderson beat them with a group of receivers who
aren’t that experienced on the 1-A level, and he won’t be able to do it.

I’m not too concerned about the final score (though I expect Tech will win
pretty easily…Marshall has only covered the spread in five of their past 22
road games). I just want the Hokies to pass the eye test. I want them to look
competent on offense, and I want them to complete some passes downfield against
Marshall’s vulnerable secondary.

If the Hokies are hungover from last week, then Marshall could challenge
them. However, the Thundering Herd have too much inexperience on offense to
seriously threaten Tech in Lane Stadium.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Marshall 10

Will Stewart’s Take: Someone asked me if I thought the Hokies would have
a letdown after the Alabama game. No, I don’t think they will. Week two is all
about getting better, and this team still has a lot to play for and a lot of
improving to do.

The Hokies don’t necessarily always play better in week two, though. Last
season, after losing to ECU in week one, the Hokies struggled against Furman in
week two. Tech won 24-7, but they scored just three points in the first half in
a listless performance.

You would like to think that the 2009 Hokies will respond differently to an
opening week loss, and the circumstances are different this year. Last
season, the Hokies pulled a planned redshirt off of Tyrod Taylor after losing to
ECU, and things were in turmoil. Unlike last season, there is no confusion at
quarterback, and the opening loss was not surprising. The Hokies knew what they
were up against with Alabama, and they prepared hard and played hard. They lost,
and they’re disappointed, but I doubt the ‘Bama loss has shaken the confidence
of the team or coaching staff like last year’s ECU loss did.

There is a sense of urgency with the 2009 Hokies to focus on this game and
improve, because Nebraska and Miami are waiting just around the corner. So, what
to look for here, other than a win? And by “look,” I mean
“observe,” not “anticipate.”

Look for Kam Chancellor to recover and play better. Look for Tech’s
linebackers to improve. Look for the Tech DL to have a breakout game, because
their improvement didn’t really show against a quality team like Alabama. If the
Tech DL is as much better and deeper as I think they are, it should show in this
game.

And look for the offense to step it up faster in 2009 than they did in 2008.
Last season, after struggling against ECU (243 yards, just 13 offensive points),
the Tech offense didn’t get any better in ensuing games against Furman (329
yards, 24 points), Georgia Tech (247 yards, 20 points), and UNC (268 yards, 20
points). The Hokie offense remained a huge liability deep into the season,
finally costing the Hokies a loss in Boston (240 yards, no offensive
touchdowns).

Sure, all the Hokies really “need” to do is win, but they also need
for the offense to start improving earlier than they did in 2008. It’s unlikely
that the slow offensive growth curve of 2008 will carry the Hokies to another
ACC championship again in 2009. If VT wants to win the ACC again this year, they
need to put more yards and more points on the board.

Predicting a score for this game is a pointless exercise. Picking scores in
week two is always pointless, because you have no clue how much a team is going
to improve, and we know very little about Marshall, anyway. Do I think the
Hokies will win? Sure. Do I think they’ll dominate? Define “dominate.”
Defensively, maybe. Offensively … we’ll see.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Marshall 7

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