2011 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Marshall

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  • Date: Saturday, September 24th, 2011
  • Time: 3:30
  • TV: CBS SportsNet

It’s a little hard to believe, but Virginia Tech hasn’t played in Huntington,
WV since 1940. On Saturday they’ll head to the state of West Virginia to take on
a struggling Marshall team that is breaking in a true freshman quarterback.
Historically, true freshman quarterbacks don’t do particularly well against Bud
Foster’s defense, and Foster has a good unit this year.

Marshall is 1-2 on the season. After falling to West Virginia 37-13 in the
season opener, the Thundering Herd rallied to upset Southern Miss 26-20 in their
second game of the season. However, things went south last week when they were
flattened 47-7 by the Ohio Bobcats.

Marshall’s head coach is Doc Holliday, a West Virginia native who has served
on the coaching staffs at Florida, West Virginia and NC State. Holliday guided
Marshall to a 5-7 record last season in his first year as head coach, with a 4-4
record in conference play.

The Thundering Herd aren’t as good as Virginia Tech’s last two opponents, and
they have a very inexperienced quarterback. The stars are going to have to align
perfectly if they want a chance to beat the Hokies.

The Marshall Offense

Last season, the Marshall offense was one of the worst in the country. Even
the 2010 East Carolina defense, probably the worst defense in the country, held
Marshall to just 328 yards and 10 points. This year, the Thundering Herd appear
to have better players at most positions, but they have the one thing that will
hold an offense back more than anything else: a true freshman at quarterback.

Rakeem Cato (6-1, 180, Fr.) has the reins at Marshall this year, and his
performance has been up and down. He has a chance to have a good future, but so
far the offense hasn’t been much better than it was a year ago.

Marshall Offense



Rushing YPG 115.67 ypg 94
Passing YPG 183 ypg 91
Total YPG 298.67 ypg 105
Scoring Off. 15.33 ppg 107
Pass Eff. 109.03 98
Sacks Allowed 1.33 per game 44
TFL Allowed 5.67 per game 61
3rd Down % 29.27% 106

Average National Rank


That’s pretty bad. Marshall can’t run it, and they can’t pass it. That means
they can’t convert third downs, which means they can’t score points. The
Thundering Herd offense managed just six points against West Virginia (the
touchdown came on a punt return) in a 37-13 loss. They beat Southern Miss 26-20,
but all three of their touchdown drives were 50 yards or less. Against Ohio last
weekend, they were flattened 47-7. Basically, this offense can’t score without a
lot of help. Their longest touchdown drive of the year was 61 yards against Ohio
in a game that wasn’t close.

For the season, Rakeem Cato is 51-of-84 (60.7%) for 506 yards, with four
touchdowns and six interceptions. He threw four interceptions in the disastrous
loss at Ohio this past weekend. Cato is a similar player to former Tech
quarterback Ricardo Young. He is a good athlete, skinny, and raw. In high
school, he had a somewhat long throwing motion, and you can see highlights here.
Cato is used to playing top competition from his days at Miami Central High

Marshall will use Cato out of the shotgun for most of the game, and the
Hokies will face more read option again this week. The shotgun allows Cato to
make easier reads and quicker decisions, because he doesn’t have to drop back.
His eyes can be on the defense the entire time.

Tron Martinez (5-9, 202, So.) is Marshall’s starting tailback. Martinez is
the former starting tailback at Hampton High School on the Virginia Peninsula,
the alma mater of former Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He has been good in all
three games, running for 217 yards on just 36 carries, a six yards per carry

Travon Van (5-10, 200, Fr.) is a true freshman who has 37 carries, but is
averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Van is an interesting story. He is
originally from California, but went to prep school in Connecticut and
originally verballed to the Florida Gators. He was supposed to enroll this past
January, but he didn’t have the necessary test scores, and ended up at Marshall
instead. The former Florida defensive back recruit is now a Marshall tailback.

Aaron Dobson (6-3, 204, Jr.) is Marshall’s top receiver, with 15 catches for
142 yards and three touchdowns on the season. Dobson is one of the rare players
to play high school football in the state of West Virginia. Other receivers are
from the state of Florida: Antavious Wilson (6-1, 191, r-Jr.), Jermaine Kelson
(5-8, 178, So.), Demetrius Evans (6-2, 191, So.), Tommy Shuler (5-9, 182, Fr.),
Andre Booker (5-10, 176, Jr.) and Craig Wilkins (5-11, 183, Fr.) all hail from
the Sunshine State.

Counting quarterback Rakeem Cato, just about everyone involved in Marshall’s
passing game is from Florida.

The offensive line is from all over the place, and it’s a fairly experienced

Marshall Offensive Line





LT Ryan Tillman 6-5 288 r-Sr.
LG Garrett Scott 6-4 296 So.
C Chris Jasperse 6-4 296 r-Fr.
RG John Bruhin 6-4 305 r-Sr.
RT C.J. Wood 6-5 295 Sr.

There is plenty of experience at tackle, but Garrett Scott and Chris Jasperse
are very young players at left guard and center. The best lineman is probably
Ryan Tillman, who is a Centreville, VA native who played at Hargrave Military

There is plenty of Virginia flavor on this team. Starting tight end Eric
Frohnaphel (6-6, 223, Fr.) is from Stafford, VA, and he earned a starting job
for the Thundering Herd his first year on campus. He is one of two true freshmen
to start on offense for Marshall, along with quarterback Rakeem Cato.

Basically, we know the following about the Marshall offense:

  • They are very young, and start a true freshman at quarterback.
  • Statistically, they were one of the worst offenses in the country last
    season, and that hasn’t changed in 2011.
  • They don’t have many players who are BCS-level talent.

Oh, and did I mention that Marshall had a true freshman quarterback? That’s
generally a recipe for a big game from Bud Foster’s defense.

The Marshall Defense

The Marshall defense is better than the Marshall offense. However, they are
still not an impressive group statistically.

Marshall Defense



Rushing YPG 129.33 ypg 58
Passing YPG 282 ypg 107
Total YPG 411.33 ypg 91
Scoring Def. 32.67 ppg 98
Pass Eff. Def. 140.54 94
Sacks 2 per game 51
TFL 8.67 per game 11
3rd Down Def. 48% 105

Average National Rank


The defense doesn’t get much help from the offense, but allowing 559 yards of
total offense to Ohio isn’t particularly good no matter the circumstances. In
fact, the Marshall defense has gotten progressively worse throughout the first
three games. They held WVU to just 291 yards in the opening game, and then
limited Southern Miss 384 yards in the week two win. Finally, the wheels came
off last week against the Bobcats.

Marshall’s best defensive player is defensive end Vinny Curry (6-4, 263,
r-Sr.). Curry had 18 tackles for loss and 12 sacks a year ago, and has
prototypical size for an NFL defensive end. He has 6.5 tackles for loss and
three sacks already this season, and overall he is one of the best defensive
players the Hokies will face in 2011.

The rest of the Marshall defense has just three sacks, and the rest of the
defensive line doesn’t feature many playmakers. Jeremiah Taylor (6-4, 250, So.)
is the other starting defensive end, and he has 1.5 tackles for loss on the
season. Delvin Johnson (6-3, 312, r-Sr.) and Brandon Bullock (6-3, 350, r-Sr.)
are easily Marshall’s biggest defensive linemen, and they both man the nose
tackle position where they will face Virginia Tech center Andrew Miller. They
have combined for 1.5 sacks on the season.

The starter at the regular defensive tackle position is Marques Aiken (6-4,
270, r-So.). He is somewhat undersized. His backup is Brandon Sparrow (6-4, 280,
So.) from Bedford, VA. Another Virginia native backs up Vinny Curry at defensive
end – Harrisonburg’s James Rouse (6-5, 250, r-So.).

Marshall is a much better team against the run than the pass, as the table
above indicates. They have good size along the defensive line for the most part,
and their linebackers are big and experienced. Strongside backer George
Carpenter (5-11, 224, Sr.) is the best player. He has three tackles for loss and
1.5 sacks so far. Starting on the inside is Tyson Gale (6-3, 228, Sr.), while
Kellen Harris (6-3, 234, r-Sr.) mans the weakside spot.

The secondary has been the weakness of the defense so far, allowing 282 yards
per game in the air. At one cornerback spot is the experienced Rashad Jackson
(5-9, 180, r-Sr.), who broke up 10 passes a year ago. He has one interception so
far this season, and he has already broken up five passes. He is easily
Marshall’s best cornerback.

The Thundering Herd has a lot of youth at the other cornerback spot.
Monterius Lovett (5-11, 175, r-So.) starts at the other cornerback spot after
starting nine games as a freshman last season. He is still an inexperienced
player, and he is backed up by true freshman Keith Baxter (5-11, 190, Fr.).

At free safety, Marshall starts Omar Brown (5-11, 195, Sr.), who leads the
team in tackles with 27. It’s rarely a good thing if your free safety leads the
team in tackles after three games. The strong safety is Devin Arrington (6-2,
209, r-Jr.), a Portsmouth, VA native who played at Deep Creek High School.

The numbers speak for themselves. 107th in the country in pass defense, and
94th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. This is a team that is not good
at stopping the pass, and if they load up in the box to stop David Wilson, I
don’t think their defensive backs can beat the Tech receivers. I think the
Hokies will have chances for big plays down the field in this game. The
Thundering Herd will have to depend on Vinny Curry to get pressure on Logan
Thomas. If he does that, he could create turnovers, which would give the
Marshall offense a much better opportunity to score.

The Marshall Special Teams

Andre Booker (5-10, 176, Jr.) returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown
against WVU, and he is also averaging 24.5 yards per return on kickoffs this
season. He is a very good return man, but overall, Marshall’s special teams
haven’t exactly been special this season.

Teams Comparison



Net Punting 82 104
Punt Return Def. 95 1
KO Returns 75 14
KO Return Def. 119 61
Punt Returns 2 25

Justin Haig (5-8, 182, r-Fr.) is a Florida native and the starting placekicker
for Marshall. He is 3-of-4 on the season, but missed his only attempt from
beyond 40 yards. It’s too early in his career to get an accurate read on how
good Haig is.

Marshall’s coverage teams have not been good. They have allowed a 100 yard
kickoff return for a touchdown, and they also give up 12.6 yards per punt
return. This could be a game where the Hokies have an opportunity to get a major
victory in hidden yards.

Kase Whitehead (5-11, 173, Sr.) has punted 17 times for an average of 43.9
yards per punt, with a long of 52. Eight of those 17 punts have been returned,
so Jayron Hosley should have some opportunities on Saturday.

With the exception of placekicker Justin Haig, Marshall’s group of
specialists is very experienced. Whitehead also serves as the holder, while long
snapper Tyson Gale (6-3, 228) is a senior starter at linebacker.

Final Thoughts

I don’t see any way at all that Marshall is going to beat Virginia Tech with
a true freshman quarterback. Marshall’s longest touchdown drive of the season
has been 61 yards, while their other three offensive touchdowns have been on
drives of 50 yards of less. In other words, they haven’t been able to drive the
length of the field against a real defense. They haven’t been able to score
without help.

Rakeem Cato has a good future at Marshall, but he threw four interceptions
against the Ohio Bobcats last week. On Saturday, he will face arguably the best
secondary in the country, and four future NFL Draft picks. Not to mention a
defensive line that has shown the ability to get after the quarterback, plus Bud
Foster and his ability to mix up coverages and pre-snap looks. I foresee a long
day at the office for Mr. Cato. If Marshall scores against Tech, I think it’s
going to have to come via a big play or a VT turnover. If the collective heads
of the Tech defense are in the game, the Thundering Herd can’t drive the length
of the field against them.

I do think the Marshall defense is capable of putting up a fight. They are a
decent run stopping team, and they feature a really good defensive end in Vinny
Curry. In the end though, their defensive efforts won’t matter unless they are
able to force a lot of turnovers.

Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Marshall 0

Will Stewart’s Take: For the Hokies, this is a chance to clean up the
things they didn’t do well in their last road trip, to East Carolina. While
Marshall’s crowd won’t be as loud as ECU’s (Marshall’s stadium seats just 38k to
ECU’s 50k), it will still be hostile territory, and a chance for Logan Thomas
and the Hokie offense to polish their road show.

They’ll get a big helping hand from the Hokie defense, which will look to
shut Marshall down completely and put a goose egg on the board. If the Hokie
offense or special teams turn it over, that will make things difficult, but
otherwise, a shutout is a distinct possibility.

More than likely, Marshall will do what any smart team should do with the
Hokies at this point: key on David Wilson, try to shut him down, and make Logan
Thomas beat you. It sort of worked for Arkansas State, who picked up a couple
interceptions and held the Hokies to 26 points, and that was in Lane Stadium, so
if I were Marshall, I would find that encouraging. Thomas and the Hokies have to
avoid getting rattled and turning it over, and the rest should take care of

I don’t think focus and motivation will be an issue here. The defense has the
goal of shutting Marshall down completely, and the offense and special teams
have too much work to do to rest on their haunches at all and look forward to

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Marshall 3