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September 20, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Marshall

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Each game, we'll get the inside look at Virginia Tech's opponent by talking with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, we spoke with HerdNation.com publisher Jacob Messer to get the inside look at Marshall.

1) Just how fast is Marshall's offense, aside from the plays per game? Is it comparable to Oregon?

Messer: I don't think you can describe it as Oregon's. I don't think anything is Oregon fast. It's fairly fast-paced, faster than normal, but certainly not Oregon. They do like to run a lot of plays and they are fast-paced. It's a pretty balanced attack. I would hope they take what the defense gives them. They've got three or four good running backs and a talented offensive line. Everybody knows about Cato, so they can certainly pass on you as well.

2) How has quarterback Rakeem Cato grown from two years ago when Virginia Tech and Marshall last played?

Messer: It's two more years of maturity that he's added. Also, he's mentally smarter from knowing the system. I think you'll see a more mature quarterback physically and mentally. He's just a talented, young kid. It's hard to believe that he's a third-year starter.

3) Cato gets a lot of attention, but how good are the skill guys around him?

Messer: Guys that really jump off the page are Tommy Shuler, who's a wide receiver who caught a ton of passes last year. Gator Hoskins is a very talented and productive tight end. Gator is sort of like the old Cris Carter, who said, "All I do is catch touchdowns." That's Gator. Most of his touches are for touchdowns. At running back, you've got Steward Butler. Kevin Grooms, he's been banged up this year, but if he's healthy against Virginia Tech, he's probably the best running back. Virginia Tech is so good defensively, that he's one guy that is a legitimate ACC talent who could give them some problems.

Remi Watson is another running back who could be coming back this week. Then, you've got Essray Taliaferro, who was a walk-on two or three years ago. He's a senior and has a couple of starts, a hard-working kid. Then, there's Penn State transfer Devon Smith, who's really fast. He's just a speedster. Those are the main names who should stand out the most on Saturday.

4)Is there any defensive concern, especially after struggling at times last season and allowing 34 points to Ohio last week?

Messer: There's always concerns when a mid-major like Marshall plays a perennial power like Virginia Tech. It's a different level. Last year, Marshall's defense was atrocious. They have improved, but how much improvement have they made? We will see this week, since this is very much a measuring stick game. I don't think you can make a fair assessment by looking at Miami (OH) and Ohio. We'll see this week, but they have certainly made a ton of improvements. I think the hiring of Chuck Heater helped a lot, at defensive coordinator. Then, there's some new faces. There's 12 or 13 guys on defense who weren't even available last season, because they were propping, they were injured or they're new faces. It's an inexperienced defense in a lot of ways, but it's also a talented defense in a lot of ways.

5) Between Marshall assistant coaches J.C. Price and Chuck Heater, do the Thundering Herd feel like they have some familiarity with the Hokies?

Messer: I know when Donaldven Manning transferred from Virginia Tech a few weeks ago, that was the talk of the HerdNation message board, that somehow this was gonna be a great advantage because they had a guy who was in the system and would know all the plays. I don't buy into that stuff. I think it'll come down to the Jimmys and Joes, rather than the X's and O's. I'm sure the familiarity will help on both sides, but it'll come down to the players, how they made adjustments and execute.

FEARLESS PREDICTION: That is so tough because it depends on which Herd shows up. It could go so many ways. The greatest thing for Herd fans would be that the defense plays up to par and the offense is as productive and lights out as it's been the past year and a half and Marshall gets the upset. If that happened, it'd be more like 35-31.

Hers's what I'm afraid will happen, Marshall has seemed to have this mental block of playing upper-level teams. I think that's the reason why they've never beaten West Virginia, even though they had teams above par. It's just that mental block and I think it could also be one of those 42-17 games where Virginia Tech comes on top. Overall, I think Virginia Tech comes out on top and it's more 28-17. The Hokies are just a great team, a great program and Frank Beamer is one of the best coaches in college football.


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