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September 19, 2013

Stock Watch: Marshall At Home

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Thanks to an impeccable defensive performance in Greenville, Virginia Tech returns to Lane Stadium with a chance to notch it's first winning streak of the season against the Marshall Statesmen. Dating back to last year, the Hokies have won five of six games, mostly due to the work of the defensive unit. (15.8 points allowed per game)

In going against a team that's averaged 46 points and 527.3 yards through three games, defensive coordinator Bud Foster's group will once again be faced with a formidable challenge. Virginia Tech has allowed ten points to Marshall in each of their last two battles and has won seven straight matchups overall.

Let's take a look at whose stock is going up and whose is going down in this week's stock watch.


STOCK UP

WR Willie Byrn, redshirt junior, Virginia Tech

The "Paper Boy" sure lived up to his nickname on Saturday while catching seven passes for 63 yards. Of those seven catches, four went for first downs, including three on third down. Byrn just might turn out to be one of those go-to guys in the ever-important conversion play.

Although he's still a backup, the junior proved that 58 yards receiving in his first game against Western Carolina was no fluke. He's only going to get more opportunities from here on out. The sure hands and impressive shiftiness in space of Byrn is likely to be a valuable commodity throughout the season amongst a group that struggled with drops early on.

The 5'10" 186-pound wideout is sure to be a key factor in the noon matchup with the Statesmen.


LB Tariq Edwards, redshirt senior, Virginia Tech

Although he didn't have the same explosiveness early on, Edwards has been consistent throughout the first three weeks of 2013 after missing almost the entire season in 2012. By registering five tackles against East Carolina, it marked the first time the linebacker has registered at least five tackles in three straight games since the first four contests of 2011.

Even better, Edwards showed he still has the big-play ability in his arsenal. On top of the five tackles, the senior recorded 1.5 sacks (career-high) and registered his first interception since Oct. 22, 2011 against Boston College. If defenses are going to be concentrating on blocking the likes of Jack Tyler, Edwards is proving he is more than capable of returning to the playmaker of two years ago.

As he continues to regain his full confidence and game-speed, Edwards will likely only get better as the season progresses. His performance on Saturday also only helps to show how many great players are on this defense, and how well they are gelling together.


WR Tommy Shuler, junior, Marshall

Though he stands at just 5'7" 190 pounds, Shuler is considered to be an NFL prospect following a 110-catch, 1,138-yard season in 2012 that included six touchdowns. He's proved that 2012 was no fluke, as the junior is currently tied for 17th in the country with 7.7 catches per game.

In the first three games, Shuler has scored in two. And by all accounts, the speedster has very reliable hands. He registered nine catches for 95 yards last week, and Shuler hasn't recorded less than five catches in a game since the 2011 season. He's as consistent as they come.

For a secondary that has had no problem locking down top receivers, Shuler's reception streak is sure to be tested. If the Thundering Herd are to make it a close game on Saturday, Shuler will have to play a big part.


STOCK DOWN

DL Luther Maddy, junior, Virginia Tech

After an impressive performance against Alabama that included four tackles (three solo) and one sack, Maddy has been mostly transparent on the stat sheet in the last two weeks. He recorded three assists against Western Carolina, but didn't register a tackle on Saturday against East Carolina.

The junior did have three quarterback hurries, showing that he put some pressure on quarterback Shane Carden a few times. But with expectations sky high after a four-sack, 35-tackle performance in 2012, Maddy needs to prove to be a consistent playmaker on a defensive line that is uber-deep.

There's no way the roadblock in the middle will see his playing time dip, so think of this as a little motivation heading into Saturday. The Hokies will need Maddy at his best to help disrupt another incredibly efficient offense.


OL Laurence Gibson, redshirt junior, Virginia Tech

In a surprise move announced only hours before kickoff, Virginia Tech decided to start Brent Benedict over Gibson at right tackle. The Hokies made it clear Gibson was going to be backing up Benedict, so the move was performance-based, not based on an injury.

The junior was highly touted following a crisp block that helped spark Trey Edmunds' 76-yard touchdown against Alabama, but apparently Gibson hasn't done enough to keep his starting gig. As was said in the first stock watch that included Benedict in the "stock down" column, it was likely that we wouldn't see the same five guys line up together for the entire season.

Just like Benedict accomplished, Gibson will have to continue to work relentlessly every day in order to prove he deserves a spot up front. The size and talent appears to be there, but Gibson needs to put it all together on a consistent basis.


RB Steward Butler, sophomore, Marshall

After a 500-yard freshman season, Butler was showing all signs of a breakthrough season through the first two weeks. He recorded his second-career 100-yard outing (107) in a week one win on just 17 carries, and followed that up with a nine carry, 151-yard, three-touchdown performance in a victory over Gardner Webb. The three touchdowns equaled the total amount of his scores in 2012.

However, Butler hit a serious wall in week three's loss to Ohio. He had 24 yards on just five carries, and seemed to lose playing time following a kick-return fumble that was recovered for a touchdown. Starter Kevin Grooms ended up getting the bulk of the carries with 15, but registered just 35 yards.

It's unlikely that Butler doesn't get his touches considering all the success he had in the previous two weeks. As has been the recipe thus far, the Hokies will need to stop Butler and the ground attack in order to put the pressure on Rakeem Cato and the passing game.



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