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Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Marshall Thundering Herd: Preview

Under normal circumstances we’d be writing about a home game with Marshall in Lane... not Huntington. The times are no longer normal, and neither are the odds in this one. Big hill to climb on Saturday. GO HOKIES!!!

At least we won’t be wearing Orange on Saturday. That’s not worked out well so far.
John Schneider - SB Nation

The Hits Just Keep on Coming

These previews are getting more difficult as time goes on. Not because of the particular opponent and the obvious chances of a win or loss; but because the status of the Hokies is continuing to degrade to the point where you have to wonder if a team will be left in the final stretch of the season.

The news that ‘Pop’ Watson has been suspended indefinitely is not particularly good. He wasn’t a starter, but he was an important functionary in the depth chart and game preparation. That it was some sort of disciplinary issue is par for the course when it comes to this particular program. Young players violating team rules is a vague sort of nebulous charge is unhelpful to the information gathering set. In this case the rumor is a curfew violation, but an “indefinite” tag on a critical depth slot is unusual. What it speaks of, however, is a breakdown in the discipline level of the locker room. We have seen this before with other staffs, and it always signals something seriously wrong going on.

There will be the excuse makers… he’s young… wants to party… etc. Well, the answer to that involves some amount of bovine scatology that a family-oriented site shouldn’t use. It’s also telling that it’s not a limited suspension or some form of punishment that was more appropriate for being out past bed check. There is something else going on behind the scenes that even the old hand reporters are only getting a piece of – we’ll have to stay tuned on this one.

The Situation (It’s Bordering on Dire)

As if the Watson suspension isn’t painful enough, the Hokies, who haven’t lost to Marshall in nearly my lifetime, are five-point underdogs to the Thundering Herd… AND playing the game in Huntington. Playing a “G5” game in their stadium is nearly an unforgivable scheduling mistake or massive concession that I suspect was made back in the 2019 season rescue.

Under a normal scheduling order, this game would be played in Lane as the 2nd or 3rd non-conference game as a step up from the usual FCS cupcake show. There was no cupcake in the schedule this season. Someone decided to load the schedule up with difficult B1G peers. Of course, neither of those games were successful outings for the Hokies.

That presents us with an absolute must win situation to even the record at 2-2 and set the stage for some sort of rescue in the ACC schedule that starts with the Pitt game at the end of September. Pitt is struggling this season and it’s our best chance to start the ACC season on the right foot. A loss would nearly completely erase the possibility of a bowl bid .500 season.

Let us look at what’s ahead for noon on Saturday, 23 September the first official day of Fall in 2023.

The Herd

Marshall had a bye week last Saturday, so they only have two games. One of which was a real play down against FCS Albany. Their second game was against East Carolina, which is definitely not a play down, but ECU is certainly not the team that it used to be, either.

What’s interesting is that Albany managed to hold the Herd to 21 points and came within a touchdown score of winning a surprisingly tight 21-17 Herd victory. The ECU game looked very much like a copy of our game last week with Rutgers. ECU got little traction, and Marshall managed to pile up some yards in the air and on the ground.

It’s not like they played two cupcakes, but neither opponent was expected to win. Marshall was a 3-point favorite so there’s that. Suffice it to say they racked up some serious yardage on the ground and in the air for both contests.

Marshall’s QB Cam Fancher has 446 yards in the air for two games which isn’t world on fire numbers, but it is consistent. Their leading rusher is Rasheen Ali who has 222 yards which, given last weekend’s disaster with numbers 2 and 5, places a serious strain on the level of confidence regarding the Tech defense. In addition to the run game, Fancher has passed to most of his eligible teammates at least once. His number 1 target is Cade Conley who has 114 total yards and is followed pretty closely by Chuck Mongomery (97), Caleb McMillian (85), and Jayden Harrison (65). The list of targets is even longer. One thing that stands out, though is Fancher has a lone touchdown throw. That’s not necessarily a shining flaw, however. With a combined 52 points, that is a whole lot of 6’s put across the goal line on the ground. That’s 5 by Ali.

What you have is two games of a program operating a balanced attack. They gave up 17 points in each game, but in giving that, they certainly didn’t give away the ‘W’s. Tech has a serious challenge on their hands. Fancher is also the 2nd listed rusher on the team, so Raheem Ali carries the freight, and Fancher adds enough to keep the spy honest.

In short, Marshall looks like it’s going to be a serious balanced threat that will require the Tech defense to play for both the run and the pass. Loading the box to stop the run will likely put too much pressure on an inexperienced secondary, and trying to cover out is going to result in the QB running and Ali getting to the second level to grab serious yardage.

Tech’s Woes Just Keep Coming

Face it, the Hokies need a break. They need some turnover luck, and they really need the offense to begin to burn up yards and clock with Drones behind Center. The question marks are still the offensive line, and now, quarterback depth. The word on the street is that Grant Wells was light on practice, and Drones did the bulk of the work with the starting team. That’s a good thing that will hopefully allow him to build on some of the positive momentum that we saw in the middle of the game last Saturday.

The Watson suspension is likely to cast a bit of a pall in the QB room. Regardless of the potential for him to play, if Wells is still to banged up to go as a backup, it’s a pretty thin remaining tail to wag the dog.

Beyond that obvious problem, there is the continuing issue with the linebacker fits in the run game, and now the secondary is depleted enough that they have Mansoor Delane listed as the backup Safety if it comes down to that.

The odds makers have dropped Marshall’s advantage down to 4.5 and the O/U is still 41.5 so they are thinking that this is going to be a modest, relatively normal game with neither team really exceeding the 24-point mark.

The keys for the Hokies

The defense must Stop the run. Stop the pass. Limit the damage.

The offense needs to drive, not worry about burning clock, get first downs, get touchdowns, be innovative. There is a small bit of good news, though. Jaylen Lane looks like he’s back in for this game, and that gives Drones one more quality target to hit.

The Questions Besides the Poll, are can this defense button down and can this offense finally get moving?

Your Turn


The team is 1-2, Drones will probably start, Lane is back. Will the Defense tighten up and what do you think will happen?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    We are the first "P5" team Marshall has faced this season. Their stats look good, but their opposition was tepid. I don’t think that they will run away with it. It’s going to be a tough fight. Hokies win by 3 with a slight Over on the scoreboard.
    (41 votes)
  • 35%
    Marshall can run, it can pass, and now for whatever reason the Hokies can’t defend the run. It’s going to be a long game. Marshall runs up 100+ on the ground and 100+ in the air to take it by a TD bet the over.
    (66 votes)
  • 27%
    The Tech defense wakes up like in the ODU game and manages some take aways. Drones is more comfortable and quicker with decisions. The offense actually scores. Tech wins by a TD and it’s still wise to be the Over.
    (50 votes)
  • 15%
    It’s a slug fest shootout on the Ohio River. This is a superbowl event for Marshall and they pull out all the stops. It’s desperation for Tech, too. They try everything. Marshall manages one last explosive run and takes a contest. Tech covers, though.
    (28 votes)
185 votes total Vote Now

It’s critical and this is a must win game.