2005 Game Preview: #3 Virginia Tech vs. Marshall

Saturday, October 8th, 2005, noon

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Forecast (from WeatherUnderground.com):

Click the “Blacksburg Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 1:00 pm Thursday: Cloudy, high 60, chance of
rain 81% in the morning/31% in the afternoon, cloud cover 77%, wind from the NNW at
5 miles per hour.

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Preview: #3 Virginia Tech (5-0, 3-0 ACC) vs. Marshall (2-2, 1-1 CUSA)

by Chris Coleman

The Marshall Thundering Herd comes to town without the
much hyped aerial attack that they formerly possessed. There are not any flashy
names on Marshall�s roster anymore, and no reason to show their highlights on
SportsCenter. No one would even think of Marshall as a Top 25 team these days.

Besides the change in talent, there has also been a change
in coaches. Bob Pruett retired following the 2004 season, and former Ohio State
defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is now the head coach. Snyder has brought a
tough defensive philosophy to Marshall that is showing in their play this

Still, this game is going to be more about what the Hokies
do than how good Marshall is. If the Hokies come in ready to play and have their
�A� game, they will win easily. If they come in overconfident and unfocused,
Marshall is good enough to keep it close.

The Marshall Offense

The Marshall offense is nowhere near as dangerous as the
Byron Leftwich led group that came into Blacksburg in 2002. They have
inexperience all over the place. The Thundering Herd is expected to start six
sophomores on offense against the Hokies. They also don�t have any top notch
NFL talent like they featured in 2002 with Leftwich and wide receiver Darius

Despite their reputation as an offensive juggernaut,
Marshall has struggled to put up points this season, averaging just 21 points
per game. Consider that 36 points came against Division 1-AA William & Mary
in a game where the Thundering Herd trailed in the second half. Since that game,
Marshall has scored 19 points against Kansas State, 13 against Central
Florida and 16 against SMU. Marshall is averaging 386 yards per game, which is
ranked 58th nationally.

The good news for Marshall is that they appear to have
found a quarterback in tall, athletic sophomore Bernie Morris. Morris, a walk
on, split time with Jimmy Skinner for the first three games but was handed the
reigns against SMU. He responded by leading Marshall to a fourth quarter
comeback and overtime victory over the Mustangs. For the season, Morris is
completing 59.3% of his passes for 674 yards. He has thrown three touchdown
passes and two interceptions.

Morris is also not afraid to pull the ball down and run
when he is under pressure. He has 31 carries for 92 yards on the season. He is
the second leading rusher on the Marshall roster.

Marshall is still a throwing team, passing the ball 196
times this season, as opposed to just 105 rushing attempts. Tailback Ahmad
Bradshaw is a former high school star from the state of Virginia. He originally
signed with Virginia, but he ended up at Marshall, playing as a true freshman
last season. Bradshaw is the best offensive weapon that Marshall possesses. He
leads the team in rushing and receiving.

Bradshaw only averages 3.6 yards per rush, but that
statistic is more about the offensive line than his own abilities. He averages
44 yards per game on the ground and 57 yards per game through the air. He has 29
receptions on the season. He will be fired up when he comes to Blacksburg,
looking to make a statement against a Virginia school.

There is no Randy Moss, Darius Watts or Nate Poole to
throw the ball to for the Thundering Herd. Marshall will start three wide
receivers, the best being Hiram Moore. Moore has 27 receptions on the season.
Marcus Fitzgerald is a solid receiver, catching 18 passes this year. The deep
threat for Marshall is Wilbur Hargrove, who is also from Virginia. Hargrove has
been clocked at 4.35 in the 40 yard dash and is averaging 17.8 yards per catch
this year. The Tech secondary needs to keep Hargrove in front of them.

The Marshall offensive line will have a difficult time
blocking the Virginia Tech defensive line in the running game. The offensive
line is big, with only one starter under 300 pounds, but they lack experience.
The two guards and the center are all sophomores. The Hokie defensive tackles
should easily handle this trio, and Tech�s zone blitzes should easily confuse
them. The Thundering Herd have done a good job of protecting the quarterback
this season, giving up just seven sacks in four games.

The Marshall offense has some good, young players and they
run a proven system of throwing the football. However they will not be able to
put up a significant amount of points against the Virginia Tech defense, which
is the #1 ranked scoring defense in the nation.

The Marshall Defense

Not many people would expect an undersized defense that
returned zero starters in the front seven to be effective this season.
Especially a defense that has the reputation of playing poorly, as Marshall�s
defense has in the past. The 2005 Marshall defense has defied conventional
thinking, ranking 23rd nationally in total defense, giving up just 305 yards per
game. Marshall ranks 31st and 43rd in the country is pass defense and rushing
defense respectively. The defense only gives up 20.25 points per game.

It is rare that the defensive unit keeps Marshall in the
game, but that was the case last season and appears to be the case this year as
well. The Thundering Herd offense has trouble scoring, but the defense will
respond by at least keeping the game close. Marshall has lost two games this
season by a combined 12 points.

Marshall�s defensive line is undersized. The defensive
ends weigh 235 and 230, while one of the starting defensive tackles checks in at
265. The other defensive tackle, Juan Underwood, is Marshall�s biggest and
best defensive lineman. Underwood is a 300-pounder who has totaled 2.5 tackles
for loss and 1.5 sacks in four games. He is in his first year playing for the
Thundering Herd after spending two years at a junior college. His presence has
helped stabilize a defensive front that looked shaky coming into the season.

Shavar Green is Marshall�s best defensive end. He has
only six tackles on the season, but 2.5 of them have come in the offensive
backfield. Green is also tied for the team lead with two sacks on the season.

Like the defensive line, the Marshall linebackers are also
undersized. Matt Couch is the biggest, measuring 6-2, 230. The other two
players, Donte Newsome and Dennis Thornton, are listed at 5-11, 205 and 5-11,
210 respectively. Thornton leads the team in tackles with 37. He has also made
2.5 tackles for loss and has two sacks. Couch has 33 tackles on the season.
Newsome, from Deep Creek High School in Chesapeake, has been the least
productive of the linebackers, making only 16 tackles (only two solo tackles).
Newsome has not made any tackles for loss.

The Thundering Herd secondary returns three starters from
last season. The safeties are very active in Marshall�s defense. Strong safety
Curtis Keyes is tied for the team lead in tackles with 37. He also has 2 tackles
for loss on the season. Keyes made 108 tackles in 2004 and was a 2nd team
All-MAC selection.

Chris Royal is Marshall�s free safety. If the name
sounds familiar, that is because he is the brother of Virginia Tech wide
receiver Eddie Royal. Chris Royal doesn�t possess great size for a safety
(5-9, 185), but he has a nose for the football. He is fourth on the team in
tackles this season, and last season he tied for second in the nation with six

The Marshall secondary only has three interceptions this
season, and Royal has none. But that doesn�t mean they can�t cover. The
Thundering Herd is only giving up 185 passing yards per game.

To stop the run and compensate for the lack of size in the
front seven, Marshall will have to creep their safeties up to the line of
scrimmage. That is probably why Royal and Keyes have made so many tackles this
season. That works against teams like SMU and William & Mary, teams who don�t
have the athletes to beat the cornerbacks in single coverage. That will not work
with the Hokies and Marcus Vick.


Virginia Tech is coming off two emotional games, including
a win on the road against one of their biggest rivals. After the Marshall game,
they begin a stretch that will see them travel to Maryland and host Boston
College and Miami. They are ranked #3 in the nation, and some people are talking
national championship. There are a lot bigger things to think about right now
than the Marshall Thundering Herd.

That being said, this is probably the most focused
Virginia Tech team in recent memory. The senior leaders have done a great job of
getting the team mentally focused and ready to play every week. Sure, the Hokies
haven�t played perfect every week. But they have played hard and been ready
every week. I think it will be more of the same on Saturday.

VT can go all out for one more game before having a nice,
long rest before taking on Maryland in a Thursday night game.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Marshall 7

Will Stewart’s Take: There
doesn’t seem to be much talk about Marshall this week, and it wouldn’t surprise
me if the Hokies were a little inconsistent Saturday. You can talk about focus
and one game at a time all you want, but it’s only natural for kids � and
coaches � to take a break from the pressure when a game that’s perceived as a
breather comes up. Not to mention that this game culminates a
six-games-in-six-weeks sprint to start the season for the Hokies. Once this game
is done, the Hokies will only have five games in the next seven weeks, including
no Saturday games for the remainder of October.

This game is a big mismatch on paper, with the Hokies 35
point favorites. My gut feeling is that VT won’t cover that spread. I think the
Hokie offense won’t be as crisp as they were against WVU, and I think the
defense will render a good-but-not-great performance.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 35, Marshall 10