September 23, 2013

Final Grades: Marshall

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The elements, rain and wind, descended on Lane Stadium Saturday, wreaking havoc on both Marshall and Virginia Tech. But the Hokies got a few timely bounces and made some key stops to come back and take down the Herd. Having seen replays and thought it over, here's publisher Jason Stamm's exam of Virginia Tech's win:

Senior quarterback Logan Thomas and the VT offense were pretty abysmal in the first half. Thomas had a two-yard touchdown run, but also threw two interceptions. He lucked out a few plays before his first, when a pass was batted down. But Thomas settled down and played much better in the second half. That was mostly with his feet as he had a nice touchdown run in overtime and dive for the two-point conversion. A wet football and the elements had something to do with his play, but Thomas gets more credit for his leadership in this one, rather than his numbers.


A week after getting shut down, the Hokies' ground game finally picked back up. Redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds specifically hit the holes a little harder and picked up 110 of Virginia Tech's 201 total rushing yards. Thomas scored both touchdowns on the ground, but redshirt freshman Chris Mangus also gave the Hokies a good change of pace, even if he only picked up 18 yards on three carries. But in games like this, the ground game has to be significant in some way for Virginia Tech.


It's hard to say this group had a great game, but they got a few calls and bounces their way. Junior Willie Byrn showed great concentration to haul in a two-yard, game-tying touchdown pass in the fourth quarter even after the ball was tipped. And redshirt freshman Joshua Stanford should get at least some credit for drawing a pass interference penalty on Marshall after he was mugged in the end zone, the same with Byrn. There were some drops that were again drive-killers, but Stanford and Byrn came through on the game-tying drive with big fourth-down catches, Byrn's being the touchdown.


This group played much better than at East Carolina and a lot of that was reflected in the Hokies' 201 yards rushing. Lanes were created that weren't there last week. The protection on Thomas did break down in a few untimely situations, most notably on the final drive of regulation and the first of overtime, which pushed Virginia Tech back and led to a 50-yard field goal miss. Junior Brent Benedict looks to again have the hold on a starting spot, getting the nod again over Laurence Gibson.


At East Carolina, it took the defense just one drive to wake up. This time, it took an entire half. After allowing 107 rushing yards by halftime, the Hokies' defense allowed just 26 thereafter. And whereas senior defensive end James Gayle was the hero at East Carolina, this time it was senior Derrick Hopkins at defensive tackle. Hopkins blocked Marshall's field goal attempt in the first overtime that would have won the game and nearly scored the game-winning touchdown in the second overtime when he returned a fumble 40 yards. He also had a sack and a half on the day, two and a half tackles for loss. Of course, you can't forget about senior J.R. Collins, who nine tackles, a sack and a half and forced that fumble that Hopkins scooped up and rumbled with. The first half is what sets this group back.


Going with a nickel look most of the day against Marshall's fast-paced offense, WHIP Josh Trimble didn't see a ton of action. And while the combo of senior Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards didn't do anything spectacular, they were solid, in combining for 15 tackles.


Another group that settled down after the first half. Marshall made some plays through the air, but not a ton. The Thundering Herd still threw for 126 yards in the second half, but junior safety Kyshoen Jarrett came up with a huge interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Freshman nickel back Kendall Fuller also came up with his first career interception earlier in the fourth quarter. Marshall was actually able to throw for more yards after halftime, but the Hokies came up with some solid stops.


What a tough game for Ethan Keyserling to be thrown in at kicker. Playing for senior Cody Journell, who was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules, Keyserling missed three field goals, all three of which had things against him. On the first, the snap wasn't good, on the second, a 50-yard attempt, the ball never had a chance with Keyserling's leg and the wind going against him and on the third, the rain really turned to a downpour just before the kick. As for positives, sophomore A.J. Hughes had a 44.2 yard average on five kicks, but the Hokies' one good return of the day, by Kyshoen Jarrett, was called back on a block in the back. Of course, saving the best for last, Beamer Ball looks to be back, with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a blocked field goal in overtime.


The biggest head-scratcher comes from the Marshall sideline, which, despite having all three timeouts, neglected to use them in the final minutes of regulation to force Virginia Tech to punt deep within its own territory. As far as the Hokies, defensive coordinator Bud Foster made some great adjustments after halftime in shutting out Marshall afterward. Offensively, Scot Loeffler seemed to have luck on his side more than anything else. Not bad calls, but luck always helps, with some timely calls and bounces.


Let's just say if I didn't have to be at the game, I would have been at home, dry and under a blanket, watching the game. Still, it was impressive to see as many fans stay for the duration of the game as they did. Still not a sellout, at 64,060, but the crowd was impressive for their intensity and how loud it was. And in talking to recruits on hand, each of them mentioned the crowd as one of the things they were impressed with most.


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