After beating Virginia last week to keep their bowl hopes alive, Virginia Tech hosts Marshall in a win-or-go-home game to earn a bowl game for the 26th season, extending the nation’s longest bowl streak. However, the Thundering Herd need back-to-back wins to get to the 10-win plateau for the first time since 2015.
With that said, here are our keys to the game for Virginia Tech against Marshall.
Don’t Underestimate Marshall
While it’s already been said plenty of times, Virginia Tech cannot afford to underestimate a Marshall team that is a solid football team that has done more than beat Old Dominion in Norfolk which VT couldn’t do.
The Thundering Herd enter this game 8-3 on this season, but they’re also playing some of their best football recently winning three-straight and five of their past six. In addition, Marshall went on the road last week to beat a solid FIU team that was a win away from playing in tomorrow’s Conference USA Championship, opening the door for Middle Tennessee to earn their spot against UAB.
Since the press conference after VT’s win over UVA, the message from the Hokies’ players and coaches has been consistent about the fact that Marshall will give Virginia Tech a challenge in this game. However, it’s one thing to say that you won’t overlook a Marshall, but it’s another thing to actually not overlook Marshall simply because of the name.
For the Hokies, it may be obvious but they can’t afford to overlook a Thundering Herd that is more than capable of taking down the Hokies.
Find a Consistent Passing Game
Virginia Tech’s passing game has regressed over the past few weeks, but the Hokies’ rushing game has picked up the slack and given VT’s offense some life. However, the Hokies will need their passing game to step up against a talented Marshall defense built around stopping the run.
This season, the Herd have held their opponents to only 2.9 yards per carry, ranking sixth in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game and the best among Group of 5 programs. While their rush defense has been extremely good, their pass defense has been pretty average ranking 60th in passing yards allowed per game and 65th in passing yards allowed per completion.
Ryan Willis had his moments over the past few weeks, but his play has regressed as he completed 50% of his passes against Miami and 42.4% of his passes against Virginia. While part of that has been to overused passing game playcalling, Willis’ inaccuracy has also become a bigger issue in recent weeks.
However, the Hokies will need Willis to look like the QB who had a pair of 300+ passing yards in his first two starts and completed over 60% of his passes in three of his starts.
Fortunately, Willis’s receiving corps has continued to improve with Tre Turner emerging as another high quality receiving option to go with Eric Kumah, Hezekiah Grimsley, and All-ACC Second Teamer Damon Hazelton. The one question that remains is whether Hazelton will be back at full strength and able to play offensive snaps this week, giving the Hokies another dangerous option on the outside.
Virginia Tech will need their passing game to find its rhythm again with VT needing Ryan Willis to be a lot more accurate than he has been in recent weeks.
Contain Tyre Brady
Marshall’s success has been largely due to their defense while their offense has done enough this season to get them to 8-3. Over the past few weeks, the Thundering Herd have been without starting RB Tyler King for weeks and seem unlikely to have him again this week, meaning that Virginia Tech’s defensive focus will likely be on Marshall star WR Tyre Brady and for good reason.
After spending two years at Miami, Brady transferred to Marshall after the 2015 season and has become a playmaker for the Thundering Herd. This season, Brady has been Marshall’s best player with 64 catches for 890 yards and 9 touchdowns including a very good 13.9 yards per reception. Brady has also had 3 touchdowns in the past two games and at least 5 receptions in 7 of his past 8 games.
The 6’3” receiver has great size and will give Caleb Farley and Bryce Watts lots of challenges in this matchups. Given the talent Brady brings to the table, don’t be surprised if Bud Foster consistently gives safety help to whichever side of the Brady is on with Divine Deablo likely to be at free safety and Khalil Ladler at whip LB given the strengths of the Marshall offense.
Marshall’s offense will likely be built around Tyre Brady, making him a priority for the Hokies’ defense to know where he is at all times. If the Hokies can slow down Brady, they can limit the Marshall offense.