— By David Walsh
BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech made an emphatic statement Saturday afternoon about keeping its bowl streak intact.
The Hokies needed a victory over Marshall in a hastily-scheduled 12th game for the regular season and took charge from the opening play on a chilly, foggy and rainy day.
Thundering Herd quarterback Isaiah Green got hit by Virginia Tech’s Ricky Walker on the first play, fumbled, Virginia Tech recovered at the visitor’s 17 and settled for a 32-yard field goal by Brian Johnson for a 3-0 lead.
After that, Hokies quarterback Ryan Willis took over. Despite the trying weather conditions, Willis lit up the Marshall defense through the air on the way to a 41-20 victory at Lane Stadium to get the Hokies to a bowl-eligible 6-6 record. That extends the nation’s longest active bowl streak to 26.
Willis tossed four first-half touchdown passes, the fourth coming on a 32-yard toss to Eric Kumah, who won a jump ball situation, with 1:12 left to stretch the lead to 31-6. He finished the first 30 minutes 12-of-16 passing for 254 yards and the TD total is a career best. He connected with Hezekiah Grimsley for a 46-yard TD strike on a crossing pattern in the first period for a 10-0 lead. That score came after Marshall got into the Virginia Tech red zone, but Green had a pass picked off by Hokies defender Bryce Watts in the end zone.
Early in the second period, Willis found Tre Turner for a 45-yard TD pass to complete a four-play, 72 yard drive and 17-6 lead. With 4:10 left, he tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Steven Peoples and a 24-6 lead. Then came the touchdown pass right before the half to bring his season TD pass total to 22.
“Early there in the first half we turned the ball a couple of times and put our ourselves in a little bit of a hole and it was too deep to get out of it,” Herd coach Doc Holliday told Chuck McGill of herdzone.com
The Hokies went conservative a bit in the second half and Willis, a redshirt junior, closed 18 of 26 for 312 yards. Coaches don’t want to give up big plays, but the Hokies had four through the air in the first half. Grimsley had a catch for 46, Turner for 45, Kumah for 32 and Deshawn McClease one for 54.
The Herd’s first-half bright spot was a 67-yard run by Brenden Knox down to the Virginia Tech 3 to set up a score. He would go over from 2 yards out for the score and finish the first half with 155 yards on 13 carries. He totaled a personal-best 204 on 27 carries.
“Knox ran for over 200 yards and we moved the ball up and down the field, we just don’t score enough points,” Holliday said. “Give Virginia Tech credit. They played well and we made too many mistakes.”
Marshall (8-4) entered the game already bowl eligible. Virginia Tech, after a win over rival Virginia last week, lined up a game with the Herd knowing a win was necessary to reach six wins. Both teams had mid-September games called off by Hurricane Florence. Marshall got $300,000 for Saturday’s game and future dates with the Hokies in 2023 and 2024. Virginia Tech extended its win streak over Marshall to nine.
Bowl bids come out Sunday.
Virginia Tech didn’t completely shut it down in the second half as the offense drove 44 yards in 10 plays to get a 32-yard field goal by Johnson for a 34-6 lead with 2:41 left in the third period. Marshall did respond to start the fourth period with Green finding Xavier Gaines for a 34-yard TD pass. The Herd drove 75 yards in six plays.
Later in the period, Marshall moved from its own 15 to the Virginia Tech 13 where it turned the ball over on downs after Knox took a 3-yard loss on a fourth and 1 with 12:25 left. Virginia Tech wasn’t through and it drove for a TD on the next possession. The score came on a personal-best 40-yard run by Jalen Holston to push the lead to 41-13 with 4:56 left. The Hokies used nine plays to go 84 yards.
The 41 points are the most allowed by the Herd defense in a game this season. The previous high has was 37 in a 37-20 loss to North Carolina State on Sept. 22. Marshall closed the day with a 75-yard TD drive in 10 plays with Knox getting the touchdown on a 5-yard run with 1:43 to play.
Tyre Brady, the Herd’s leading receiver, had just two receptions for 24 yards. In its four losses, the Herd turned the ball over 12 times. Virginia Tech had 454 total yards to 452 for Marshall. The Herd defense entered the game ranked No. 18 nationally in total defense, allowing 324 yards per game.
Virginia Tech is now 22-5 under coach Justin Fuente when its scores first in a game.