— By Bill Cornwell
With its Conference USA season over and a bowl spot secured, Marshall should be a loose and confident bunch Saturday as the Herd takes on Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.
The game kicks off at noon and will be shown 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) is coming off a 28-25 win at Florida International that prevented FIU from playing in this C-USA title game.
Marshall and V-Tech had previously worked out a deal stipulating that if the Hokies defeated the Cavaliers, Marshall would visit Blacksburg 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.
The Herd and Hokies have played each other 12 previous times and Tech has won 10 of the contests, including the last eight.
Here are three things to watch for on Saturday:
Virginia Tech had to stage an amazing comeback last Friday to beat Virginia and keep hope alive for a 26th straight bowl game, but will the Hokies maintain that fire against Marshall, which isn’t a rival like the Cavaliers? Tech coaches hope a large student turnout along with the usual group of fans will keep the Hokies’ enthusiasm up, especially if Marshall is able to jump out to an early lead.
There is a lot of pride in the Tech program and no one involved with it wants to be blamed for ending the bowl streak. The pressure starts at the top, where head coach Justin Fuente has faced criticism this fall for some uncharacteristically poor performances against teams the Hokies usually beat.
A September loss to in-state foe Old Dominion didn’t help matters.
A ‘loose’ Herd
Marshall is a winner even if it doesn’t come out on top against V-Tech. The Herd is being paid cash for providing the Hokies with a 12th game as well as with a new home-and-home series.
That lack of risk should free head coach Doc Holliday, offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey and defensive coordinator Adam Fuller to dig deep into the playbook and give the Hokies a few looks they’ve not seen from past Marshall game tapes.
This week might be a good time to run some gadget plays that have been buried during Conference USA play or possibly insert second-string quarterback Alex Thomson for some run-pass option plays in order to challenge Tech’s defense.
Marshall owes Tech nothing more than being a solid opponent and putting a good effort on the field.
Lane Stadium mystique?
The five-decade home of Virginia Tech football, Lane Stadium is full of traditions such as players touching the “Hokie Stone” as they reach the field and entering to the strains of “Enter Sandman.”
The last time Marshall played in Blacksburg, five seasons ago, the Herd showed that those traditions and crowd noise were not a distraction. It took Tech three overtimes that day to shake a pesky Marshall team led by quarterback Rakeem Cato.
This year’s Tech team is not of the same quality of that 2013 squad. There is a quiet confidence among Herd players that they can accomplish the rare feat of a win over a Power 5 Conference opponent, the first since the Herd’s 2015 victory over Purdue in Huntington.
This week’s game will be especially meaningful for several Marshall players hailing from Virginia or from areas near the Tech campus, as it marks a chance to prove themselves to a program that may not have considered them good enough to play in Blacksburg.
Marshall will learn its bowl destination Sunday afternoon. Possibilities include the New Orleans Bowl, a trip to Florida to play in Boca Raton or St. Petersburg, Dallas or even a return to the New Mexico Bowl, where Marshall picked up a win last season over Colorado State.