Marshall notebook: Slick conditions no help for kickers
BLACKSBURG, Va. - The decision to put Marshall's first-overtime fate on the foot of Justin Haig in dismal conditions Saturday will be discussed by Thundering Herd fans for some time.
After the Herd stopped Virginia Tech on the Hokies' possession, MU coach Doc Holliday essentially had Essray Taliaferro center the ball with three rushing plays. Haig tried a 39-yard field goal, only to have it blocked.
"At that point, it was sloppy out there," Holliday said. "And I felt he's been relatively consistent inside the 25-yard line [point of snap], we felt we could get him into position to win the game and, unfortunately, we didn't get it done.
"Kind of like them, when they set up their guy [Ethan Keyserling] to win that game [in the second overtime], same deal. Didn't happen."
Rakeem Cato threw for two touchdowns Saturday afternoon in Marshall's 29-21 triple-overtime loss at Virginia Tech, but the Hokies had to adjust to his running ability.
Certainly, Hokies defenders saw plenty of video on Cato, but couldn't stop him on first-half runs of 22 and 19 yards, plus a 4-yard dive for a touchdown off a wicked pass fake. By halftime, Cato netted 53 yards on seven carries.
That opened some lanes for Taliaferro, who rushed for 71 of his 105 yards.
But yards became tougher in the second half. A 19-yard run helped bring Cato to 69 after three quarters, but that figure melted to 46 by game's end. Four sacks will do that.
Taliaferro had more trouble, as well. He had 98 yards on the ground after three quarters, but gained just 7 yards on 10 carries the rest of the way. That helped lead to Cato's struggling in the air - he went 8 of 24 with two interceptions, though he gained 130 of his 228 yards.
So what did the Hokies do different?
"They weren't really doing anything different," Cato said. "They just tightened their coverage and played 'man' across the board and forced our wideouts to beat them. The secondary did a hell of job on that."
Bud Foster, Virginia Tech's 19th-year defensive coordinator, pretty much agreed.
"We made no adjustments," he said. "We just need to play our scheme, play our technique and fundamentals and do what the game plan was, from the start. If we go execute it, we'll be all right. We did that in the second half."
If you talk to Herd receiver Tommy Shuler, who accounted for 10 of 19 Cato completions, Tech wasn't grasping at straws. Jerseys may have been another story.
The home fans weren't always impressed with the officiating, but Shuler really felt he got a raw deal in the third overtime, on a second-and-9 pass to the end zone. After failing to rein in Cato's pass he showed the nearby official his shoulder pad, arguing the defender pulled his jersey to expose it.
Shuler did not get the call, during or after the play.
"They weren't calling that, I guess, because [mumbles]. I really don't know," Shuler said.
Taliaferro was just about the only back used Saturday. Remi Watson played after a two-game absence and carried once for no gain; Steward Butler suffered a 4-yard loss on his only carry.
Kevin Grooms was dressed, but sported an orthopedic boot.
"Biggest part of our decision at running back had to do more with protection than anything else," Holliday said. "Better be able to stick your nose in the 'A' gap and block a blitzing linebacker, or something. Taliaferro does that a little better than the other two kids."
On the offensive line, left guard Josh Lovell was a scratch despite practicing on Tuesday. Michael Selby spelled Sebastian Johansson. Receiver Craig Wilkins also did not make the trip, as well as Jeremiah Taylor, who was injured in the Ohio game a week ago.
There were several injury stoppages in the physical game, including those to tend to defensive linemen Ra'Shawde Myers and Jarquez Samuel, as well as linebacker Evan McKelvey.
Unlike Virginia Tech, which plays at Georgia Tech on Thursday, Marshall has two full weeks to heal before its Oct. 5 home game against Texas-San Antonio.
"I'm glad we have an open week before we get into conference play," Holliday said.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.