In the early bowl season, it’s always a good idea for gamblers to analyze the motivation-levels of paired opponents. For instance, if a proud program like LSU winds up in the Larry’s Laxatives Lexington Bowl, they’re unlikely to play as hard as a MAC or C-USA school that is happy to reach the postseason.
The weather-postponements and “extra” games on championship weekend pose a similar puzzle. In each one, bettors must decide who is best poised to claim the momentum early-on and serve-up a spirited effort for 4 quarters? And if either team falls behind, how long will it take for the doldrums of a weird finish (and a look-ahead to bowl season and NFL Draft prospects) to take hold? Usually the Power-5 program is more ready to give up the ghost if things aren’t ideal.
But there’s a wild card in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech’s Hokies are 5-6 and know absolutely that a bowl bid depends on a win this Saturday. Marshall has already qualified for the postseason at 8-3. Odds-makers don’t seem to be factoring in VT’s motivation quite as much as they should.
Who: Marshall Thundering Herd at Virginia Tech Hokies
When: Saturday, December 1st, Noon EST
Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, VA
Lines: Marshall (+4) at VT (-4) / O/U Total: (53)
The Hokies had high expectations for 2018 after being ranked in the Top 20 in preseason AP and Coaches Polls. After a year filled with demoralizing losses, the Hokies now find themselves at 5-6 and on the verge of missing a bowl game. Their cancelled match-up with East Carolina has been replaced by a tougher scrum against Marshall.
The Thundering Herd will march into Blacksburg with one of the stingiest defenses in the country, looking to end the Hokies season. VT will rely on QB Ryan Willis, who has completed 57.0% of his passes for 2,185 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions since replacing starter Josh Jackson during a 49-35 loss to Old Dominion. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Damon Hazelton has been the most lethal threat for the Hokie offense with 45 catches for 745 yards and 8 touchdowns.
The Hokies have been uncharacteristically bad on defense, however:
The Hokies have given up 45 or more points four times this season after the team’s 52-22 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday night. The Panthers ran up the score putting up a school-record 654 total yards of offense with 492 rushing yards and only needed 47 plays to do it. The numbers would be even more shocking if Virginia Tech hadn’t given up 632 yards earlier this season to Old Dominion and 465 rushing yards to Georgia Tech, but that’s where Virginia Tech finds itself as the season barrels toward a conclusion — as a punching bag in the ACC.
“I can point a lot of fingers, but ultimately they all come back to me,” Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “That’s the bottom line.” Pittsburgh running back Darrin Hall’s 53-yard run in the first quarter was just a preview of things to come. Hall also had runs of 58- and 73-yards in the win while fellow running back Qadree Ollison closed out Pittsburgh’s senior night with a memorable 97-yard touchdown run. It was the longest play from scrimmage in school history. Ollison obliterated Virginia Tech defensive back Caleb Farley on the play with a stiff arm to the ground.
Virginia Tech’s recent spat of injuries has only made the problem worse. The Hokies were down six defensive starters by the end of game. The team has two true freshmen — linebacker Dax Hollifield and defensive back Jermaine Waller — and two redshirt freshmen — defensive end TyJuan Garbutt and Farley — in prominent roles. Farley is the only one that started the season that way. All the injuries have stalled the defense’s progress. Virginia Tech has used 19 different players as starters.
The Thundering Herd will look to cap off an impressive season with a victory against an ACC squad. A win against the Hokies and another in a bowl game will give the Thundering Herd 10 wins on the season.
Redshirt freshman QB Isaiah Green has orchestrated 3 straight victories since returning from injury. The freshman has completed only 55.7% of his passes, though, with a mediocre 14-9 TD to INT ratio. Senior wide receiver Tyre Brady has had a terrific season with 64 catches for 890 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Marshall’s defense has been stout and ranks as one of the best in the Group of 5. The unit ranks 18th in the country in total defense and 6th in rush defense. The only sweeter final weekend for the Thundering Herd would be the opportunity to play for the C-USA title, but a victory in Blacksburg would be a substantial consolation prize.
Earlier this season, a resurgent Georgia Southern team looked poised to blow-out Texas State. But the Bobcats were in danger of elimination at 5 losses, played their hearts out, and nearly won.
Bowl eligibility is a big motivational factor. I believe that the ACC team will find a way to win this one at home by 5-10 points…not because they’re from the ACC but because they absolutely need the win while Marshall does not.
Take VT to cover (-4) on Saturday.