As a post tomorrow will explain, I've probably watched a little too much of Marshall. Does it make me an expert on them? Nah, but I've got a decent sample size to work with.
The first game I saw Rakeem Cato play in was the Hokies' 30-10 win in Huntington in 2011. Cato was a true freshman, but certainly didn't look like it and was probably the only reason the scoreline wasn't wider. Three years later, Cato has substantially more experience under his belt and has become one of the better passers in the nation. To think that he's going to (likely) be in Huntington for one more year must be exciting for Herd fans.
Marshall runs its offense at a very quick pace, often in no huddle with quarterback Rakeem Cato getting the play call on the run up to the line of scrimmage while everyone else is already set. He basically barks out the call and they go, not much time spent on it. Tech faced a fast-paced offense last weekend at East Carolina, but Marshall's is even quicker and more exact of a science. The crowd noise in Lane could play heavily into Tech's favor SO DON'T LEAVE AT HALFTIME YOU JERKS.
Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the quick pace of the Marshall offense fares based on pre-snap reads of Bud Foster's defense, which often feigns one look before splitting out to another post-snap. I think the opening offensive possession for Marshall will be interesting as the "scripted" first plays of the game could put Tech on its heels. However, we saw how things can change quickly in a similar situation just a week ago against ECU who marched down the field to score on their first possession.
Back to Cato for a bit. He makes a lot of quick throws and in general he's quick going through his progressions. Unless he's having to evade the rush, which he can do pretty well, he usually gets the ball out in quick fashion which is what the Marshall offense is all about. He seemingly has every throw in his repertoire. He can throw with touch, pace and seems fairly accurate at all distances. To me it seems like his throws are there, even when his receivers aren't.
Cato's biggest two offensive threats are his high school teammate and tiny receiver Tommy Shuler (he's 5'7") and tight end Gator Hoskins (which is an awesome name). Hoskins pulled in 10 touchdowns a year ago and has three touchdowns on eight catches this year.
One of the biggest factors I have noticed in Marshall games is the lapses in focus and discipline. A week ago against Ohio, the Herd running backs fumbled twice and an atrocious effort at fielding a kickoff led to an Ohio touchdown. All before halftime. If things go the right way, Tech could be feasting on Marshall turnovers. Which would be strange, as footballs probably taste gross.
The defense is weakest link in my opinion. Their corners tend to play well off receivers and give lots of space for the receivers to work before coming up on the pass. The defensive line gets decent push, but it's not the type of rush that will be incredibly disruptive. James Rouse looks to be the playmaker on the defensive line and is pretty adept at shedding blocks. He missed back-to-back seasons due to injuries, so this year is basically his first full year since 2010.
I think the closeness of this game depends on Cato. If he's in the game and he's on the same page as his receivers, Marshall will prove to be a bigger offensive threat than ECU. Tech still has the edge in every facet of the game, but it has the potential (which I stress, the potential) to be a challenge for the Hokies if they have to try and match points.