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Staff Roundtable: What We Learned From The Marshall Game

The Gobbler Country staff shares some thoughts about the ridiculous triple-overtime Marshall game.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Ty Hodges

The word "ugly" isn't a strong enough adjective to describe this game, whether that's describing the weather or the play on the field. And to call this game a rousing success would be disingenuous. Was this game pretty? Far from it. Was it even entertaining? That depends on your definition of entertainment. What I do know for certain, though, is a win is a win. The adage goes, "I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty." That's fairly apt when describing this game.

The game against Marshall marked only the second triple-overtime game in Virginia Tech history, with the other game being an away loss at Syracuse in 2002. This isn't to say this group is inexperienced when it comes to overtime games, though. Last season alone the Hokies played three overtime games, including their bowl game against Rutgers. Above all else, a team learns a lot about playing through adversity in a triple-overtime game. While the play on the field might not have been spectacular throughout the game, the heart that was shown by the players was. Say what you want about the talent level of this group of players, but don't ever question their heart. It takes a lot of energy to grind out a three-overtime game in sloppy conditions like those.

As for something more tangible, this group gave us not one, but two game-changing Beamerball plays (and not the sarcastic ones that we've become accustomed to seeing). Kyle Fuller's blocked punt to start the game set the tone early, and seeing Derek DiNardo scoop the ball and score was a thing of beauty. In overtime, Derrick Hopkins saved the Hokies' skin by getting good elevation over the guard and blocking a potential game-winning field goal. If Hopkins doesn't get his arms up on that play, we're talking about a dramatically different result. Not to be outdone, though, the ugly Beamerball reared its head when it was announced shortly before kickoff that Cody Journell had been suspended for the game for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Journell projects to be back for the Georgia Tech game, but this put reserve punter Ethan Keyserling in a rough position. Keyserling had never attempted a field goal coming into the Marshall game, and the wet conditions did him no favor. Keyserling missed all three field goal attempts, bringing the Hokies' straight-miss streak to five (or six) field goals over the last two games. In the last round table I mentioned how against a better team those missed field goals would cost the Hokies. Well, once again, the Hokies got by on the skin of their teeth. You know what they say about tempting fate.

Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said he didn't want to run Logan Thomas as much as the Hokies did last season. Consider that notion scrapped. Thomas ran the ball 22 times against the Thundering Herd, including the game-winning touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion. Thomas is a major asset when he runs...sometimes. He is doing better when making reads, especially on the inverted veer play that Loeffler loves. However, Loeffler has to do a better job of putting Thomas in a position to be successful running the ball. The now infamous failed shotgun-quarterback sneak drew the ire of fans and media alike. Perhaps Loeffler was trying to keep the defense honest against a read-option sweep of some kind, but everyone else in the stadium, including Marshall, knew Thomas was taking that ball over the center. When you have a quarterback as large as Thomas, there's no need to be cheeky or cute with a call like that. Let the big men up front do their jobs and let Logan lean. Thomas threw some rough passes against Marshall, probably due to a combination of the weather and the fact that Logan Thomas was the one throwing the passes. He threw his usual bad interceptions, but made the plays when they mattered down the stretch. We may just have to come to grips that this is who Logan Thomas is. He's going to be inconsistent at times, but he has the ability to make the big play to keep the Hokies in games. There's nothing particularly wrong with this, it's just not what fans want from their quarterback.

Bud Foster's group started out rough, allowing 21 points in the first half, but rallied in the second half and overtime periods to hold Marshall scoreless. Foster and his players insist that there were no schematic changes and the only thing that changed was execution. Take that for what it's worth, but I don't necessarily buy that. Either way, you have to commend the job that J.R. Collins did. Collins has proven to be the best defensive lineman thus far through four games.

There's no sugar coating it - the Hokies caught some breaks, literally, against Marshall. Like I said earlier, a win is a win. There are some positives that can be build upon and things that can be fixed. This is a short week for the Hokies, so I hope they're well-rested and ready to go for Thursday. And fun fact - this win was the 700th in school history.

ChicagoMaroon (Aka Chris Hatcher)

Virginia Tech Offensive Coordinator Scot Loeffler termed the triple-overtime win over Marshall on Saturday, "the most mistake filled effort of the year offensively." I don't know if I would say it was more mistake filled than the Alabama game, but I do know that it was up there. Honestly, the Hokies have played four games, and with the occasional exception, the offense has been pretty bad for the majority of all four games. So it's not like the Hokies were otherworldly bad against Marshall more so than they had been in other games.

The biggest issues I saw were the push (or lack thereof) from the offensive line, and the inability of Logan Thomas to connect with receivers and the inability to convert on third down. The field goal issues put a lot of undue pressure on the offense, and I think may have negatively affected their performance and the play-calling, knowing they HAD to score a touchdown when they got down in the red zone.

I think the offensive issues continue for Virginia Tech unless they are able to get protection for Thomas and create holes like they did for Trey Edmunds and co. against Alabama, and if receivers are where they're supposed to be, making the kind of effort to catch the ball (or break it up should it be a bad throw) they should be. At that point, if Thomas can't connect with the receivers, it's all on him. Regardless of the play-calling and the other team's defenses, senior quarterbacks should be able to make plays under those circumstances.

As for the kicking game, there are still plenty of questions. Trevor mentioned in his kicking game post this weekend, the biggest detriment of Journell's absence due to his one-game suspension, other than what Tech obviously missed from him in-game, is that without seeing him in pressure situations and game action, there is no guarantee he's shaken off whatever cobwebs that caused him to miss four kicks against ECU (3 field goals, 2 of which counted, and an extra point).

Defensively, as always, I'm less concerned. Marshall was obviously the worst game so far for the Tech defense, but they still only allowed 361 yards. If that's the worst game they're going to have all season (and in all likelihood it will not be), what are we even talking about? Especially as you would expect that number to be much higher considering the Hokies had to defend three overtimes as well. It's not like the Hokies were flat out bad defensively. They had their lapses, and it was certainly their worst game. But they WON, and made some pretty big plays to do so, as Ty pointed out in his Ranking Things post from Monday night. So I'm not worried going forward. This defense will keep the team in every game this season, unless the offense decides otherwise. They'll make their adjustments and be fine, even if they happen to give up a ton of yards to Georgia Tech on Thursday.

Trevor S. Greene

I'd like to address the elephant in the room - namely fan attendance.  While the stands were almost full, I would estimate somewhere in the upper 80-percent range, it wasn't a sellout like we have grown accustomed to. Yet, by halftime, the stands began to empty out as fans left due to rain and cold, and possibly the halftime lead Marshall had over Virginia Tech. Then of course the beleaguered North End zone was pretty much thin, and that brought some ire from fans. I am starting to tire from hearing about how horrible student attendance has been and I would be so bold as to say I left at the start of the 4th quarter because it sucked sitting in the rain, and was not getting enthusiastic about how sloppy the offense had been playing. I think we may have to accept the new reality that with a new generation of college students who may have caught the tail end of Beamer's era, they just aren't into the game day atmosphere as in the past, and we all operate with free will. We all will decide to either stay or go, and it should be nobody's business to call out the others for leaving. After all, they decided to fork over some money to pay for admission to Lane, and probably felt they were not getting their money's worth in term of performance and enjoyment, which is subjective at best. 

With that, I'll move on to address the offense. As I have stated in the comments section on the site and elsewhere, the offense left me rather underwhelmed. At least Logan said that he knows they left a lot of points on the field Saturday, and I agree with him. It's downright frustrating to know the offense has a clear direction, but repeatedly find themselves in 3-and-outs repeatedly, to the point some fans wonder out loud if this is just a continuation of Stinespring's play-calling. I disagree with those fans. Loeffler clearly knows what he wants to do. The players have to execute what he calls, whether it is the hated wide receiver screens,  a skinny post, a pass to the flat, or an outside stretch run play, the whole personnel on the field have to carry it out. There will be busted assignments, that's to be expected during a football game, but, with apologies for using a tired cliché, they've got to execute. During the course of the game, I got to the point where I wearily waited for Thomas to screw up. The explosive plays became so few and far in between that it took a truly great play to get me out of my seat, or to vehemently protest calls. I have serious doubts that the offense will generate enough drives and score points to beat Georgia Tech Thursday.

Defensively, I got frustrated with the defense giving up 3rd-and-long situations by allowing Cato to buy time with his feet. There were some plays where somebody would be this close to sacking Cato, and he would somehow slip by and scramble to find an open receiver. Now I can understand how opposing fans felt whenever Tyrod busted loose to find somebody open, or get the first down himself. I'll give Cato props because he was a good player, very accurate with his passes (and his wide receivers outperformed our wide receivers, think about that), and found seams to run through Foster's defense. Thankfully, Foster's defense was able to hold the fort and make key stops in overtime. Of course, Derrick Hopkins provided the most entertaining play by rumbling after recovering a fumble, and came close to providing the best Fat Man Touchdown. I expect to see this defense get pushed to their limit against Georgia Tech, possibly to the point they may break.

Finally, I simply don't know what to make about special teams  anymore. It was thrilling when Kyle Fuller blocked the first punt, which lead to the first Hokies' points, and later a blocked field goal attempt, but I simply do not think BeamerBall is back in vogue yet. I was glad when Andy Bitter blogged Shane Beamer's thoughts on kickoffs and said that he expects for Knowles to be more assertive. It cannot be overstated how Knowles looked very tentative coming out of the end zone, almost as if he was not sure what to do. If he continues to do this, I would expect for blood pressures to be off the charts, because special teams used to be...well, something special. Now, it has continued to be a liability by pinning the offense deep in the opposing defense's territory, and that is not acceptable.

Casey Richey

To a certain degree, this game actually played out the way I thought it might. I imagined that Tech was going to have difficulty trying to deal with the quick passes of Marshall. Our defense thrives on getting to the quarterback, but when the time to get to him has been shortened it puts a lot more of the burden on your secondary. Don't get me wrong, I freaking love our secondary, but I like neither defending quick passes nor the  idea of Bonner and Jarrett having to play so much man coverage. As the game progressed though I think the secondary was getting a better read of Cato and you saw more pressure on Cato due to the pass rush.

Offensively, we still have miles to go and for the life of me, I can't figure out why we run Edmunds to the inside so much. Sure, he gets to the next level and he's gone like against Alabama, but with the way things have been working that's the 1 in the 1-in-50. All three of the top backs are too fast to not run them to the outside more. As for Logan, he's just got to try to simplify the game. I think too often he's looking for the best big play instead of the best play. I saw numerous throws beyond first down yardage that were much riskier than wide open receivers shy of a first down, but with plenty of room to run. Simplify, maaaaan.

In the end though, I feel this game was one that we ended up making much more difficult to win than it had to be.

Thoughts on the game? Share them in the comments below!