Marshall eager to play Virginia Tech in 'Blacksburg Bowl'
By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer
Marshall is getting $300,000 for playing at Virginia Tech on Saturday, but Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday says the bigger payday is more intangible.
“I guess we can call it the Blacksburg Bowl,” Holliday said earlier this week. “The great thing is the exposure we will get because of this game. I think there are only 14 games being played on that day and we are one of those 14. Normally there are a whole lot more than that. There are a lot of teams out there pulling for us.”
And if Marshall can beat the Hokies, the spotlight would be even bigger.
A victory by Marshall (8-3) would end the Hokies’ nation’s-best 25-year bowl streak, and leave one more spot open for other teams seeking the best postseason destination available. But Virginia Tech (5-6) has other plans.
The Hokies agreed to pay the Thundering Herd to come to Lane Stadium before their 34-31 overtime victory against Virginia on Friday, a win that bumped their streak of consecutive victories over the Cavaliers to 15. The Thundering Herd would’ve received $100,000 for its willingness to play the what-if game if Saturday’s game had been canceled.
Making the negotiation pay off after the emotional victory against Virginia won’t be easy.
“We have plenty of motivation and respect for our opponent, but that is an element of what we’ve got to deal with,” Hokies coach Justin Fuente said. He added that he told players that he gave them a day off to enjoy the win against Virginia, “but it’s going to take the same type off effort and intensity, the same type of emotion and discipline to extend this other streak.”
Fuente said he stressed to his team that after the day to enjoy the improbable victory, every moment spent from that point “thinking about or daydreaming about last Friday is wasted time.”
The Hokies are young on defense and have, at times, had trouble stopping the run, but Holliday has faced a Bud Foster-led defense before and is confident that’s what the Hokies will try to do from the outset.
“He is going to force us to throw the ball and put those corners, at times, on islands,” Holliday said. “We have to be able to take what he gives us. You can’t put square pegs in round holes with that defense. We have to be able to take what they give us and make some plays both running and throwing it when we have to.”
Here are some other things to watch when Marshall visits Virginia Tech:
The Hokies’ victory against Virginia was emotional, and somewhat unexpected until a few bounces went their way late, and those kinds of games can be hard to put in the rearview mirror in a week’s time. How Fuente, Foster and the coaching staff impress on their players the importance of extending the bowl streak will be critical.
Marshall’s special teams have contributed heavily in wins the past two weeks. Brandon Drayton recovered a blocked punt in the end zone and Marshall also blocked a field goal in a 28-25 win at FIU last Saturday. In a 23-0 win over UTSA the week before, Marshall recovered a fumble on a kickoff and scored a touchdown on the next play.
Deshawn McClease was finally healthy enough to have an impact in the Virginia victory with 44 yards on seven carries, including a touchdown. He and rushing leader Steven Peoples could go a long way toward giving the Hokies the offensive balance they have been missing at times, and make it easier for quarterback Ryan Willis.
Senior Tyre Brady is coming on strong at season’s end as the go-to receiver in Marshall’s offense. Brady has three TD grabs in his last two games after getting none in the three contests before that. For the season he has nine TD catches and 890 receiving yards as he tries to become the school’s first 1,000-yard receiver since 2014.
ODDS ‘N ENDS
The Hokies are 10-2 against Marshall and won the last meeting, 29-21, in triple-overtime in 2013. … Hokies coach Justin Fuente is 0-1 against the Thundering Herd. His Memphis team lost 38-28 in 2012. … Marshall is one of four teams nationally that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. … The Thundering Herd has outscored its opponents 74-22 in the first quarter. Virginia Tech has been outscored 77-3 in its last five third quarters at home.
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