— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall’s football team plays what its coach is calling a reward game Saturday against Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.
Kickoff is set for noon and the game will be available for viewing on ACC Network Extra.
The Hokies (5-6, 4-4) beat rival Virginia 34-31 in overtime last Friday, while Marshall (8-3, 6-2) took care of business on Saturday, beating Florida International 28-25 and denying FIU a spot in this week’s Conference USA Championship Game against UAB.
Marshall and Virginia Tech had previously worked out a deal stipulating that if the Hokies beat the Cavaliers, Marshall would visit Blacksburg for Saturday’s contest to give Tech a chance to continue its 25-year consecutive bowl streak. In exchange for the visit, Marshall is receiving a cash guarantee and a home-and-home series with the Hokies, starting in 2023 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.
Both teams were also seeking a 12th regular season game after losing contests on September 15 due to Hurricane Florence.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday says was happy with the way his team handled last week’s situation of playing one game and anticipating another.
“I was concerned about our guys being distracted and worrying about the Virginia Tech-Virginia game and not about FIU, but they were able to lock back in and I’m proud of that,” Holliday said. “They played really hard down there in a game that was critical, so I like this team because it’s a bunch of tough guys who like to play football.”
Hokies head coach Justin Fuente understands that Marshall isn’t coming to Blacksburg to collect a check and take a loss.
“They’ve always been a very well-coached team,” Fuente said. “Defensively, they’ve got juniors and seniors across the board and offensively, they’re about what you expect from Marshall in terms of skill players, guys that can run and catch the football.
“Obviously, this is a unique game and we’re excited to get to play in it.”
Marshall and Tech have one common opponent in Old Dominion. The Hokies traveled to Norfolk, Va. on September 22 and lost to the Monarchs 49-35, while the Herd visited ODU on October 13 and picked up a 42-20 Conference USA East Division win.
Holliday says despite Tech’s problems with both youth and injuries this season, Marshall’s challenge on Saturday is daunting.
“They’re a talented team, always have top recruiting classes,” Holliday said. “You look out there and you see good players and they played really well a week ago against Virginia.”
Holliday knows veteran Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster will prepare challenges meant to confuse Marshall’s redshirt freshman starting quarterback, Isaiah Green, who may be forced to beat Tech with his arm.
“Defensively, they’re gonna put nine guys up front and force you to throw, so we’re going to have to make some plays,” Holliday said. “You’ve got to be able to take what he (Foster) gives you.”
Fuente appreciates the circumstance of playing in December with a bowl spot on the line.
“It should be a unique and neat atmosphere because our kids are excited to play in it and, obviously, we’re in playoff made,” Fuente said. “All that being said, it’s going to be a tremendous challenge trying to get this thing pulled off because Marshall is a veteran, well-coached, talented football team as you can see by their record.”
Holliday is also looking at the big picture as it pertains to other teams seeking bowl eligibility.
“There are only 14 games on Saturday, so it’s going to be great for exposure plus there are a lot of teams pulling for us who might be looking for a bowl shot,” Holliday said.
The Herd and Hokies have played each other 12 previous times and Tech has won 10, including the last eight. The teams last met in September 2013 on a rainy day at Lane Stadium in a game nearly won by a Rakeem Cato-led Marshall team. Tech was able to win that contest in three overtimes 29-21.
Neither head coach has beaten the other team as Holliday is 0-2 against Tech and Fuente is 0-1 against the Herd. Fuente lost to Marshall 38-28 in 2012 while coaching Memphis.