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Two former coaching comrades will run Marshall's defense and Virginia Tech's offense during today's matchup in Blacksburg.
Courtesy of Marshall
Rakeem Cato takes off with the football. The Thundering Herd quarterback led the country with 350.1 passing yards a game last season.
The Roanoke Times | File March
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas goes back to pass under the watchful eye of new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler earlier this year.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
BLACKSBURG — As a couple of Michigan men, Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater have a special bond, one forged by their time together on coaching staffs at Florida and Temple.
Before today, they last squared off in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, which was Michigan coach Lloyd Carr’s final game. Loeffler, then a quarterbacks coach for the Wolverines, got the better of Heater, a cornerbacks coach for the Florida Gators, in a 41-35 shootout.
“We were healthy. That’s the thing,” Loeffler remembered about a team led by Chad Henne, Mike Hart and Mario Manningham. “That team was a loaded football team and went through some [injuries].”
Both Loeffler and Heater will still be getting adjusted to their new teams this afternoon, when Virginia Tech (2-1) hosts Marshall (2-1) at Lane Stadium in a contrast of styles.
The Hokies want to control the clock like they did last week against East Carolina, when they held the ball for nearly 37 minutes. The Thundering Herd wants to push the pace and run as many plays as possible to tire out the Virginia Tech defense.
How Loeffler, 38, and Heater, 60, handle each other on the field will a big part of how the game plays out. Their shared history — as Michigan grads, plus two years together at Florida under Urban Meyer in 2009-10 and one year at Temple under Steve Addazio in 2011 — adds to the intrigue.
“Obviously we know each other,” said Loeffler, who calls Heater a dear friend and hosted him for a night this summer in Blacksburg. “We were together for so long. So he’ll have something for us, I’m sure. And we’ll have something for him, I’m sure. It’s just part of the cat-and-mouse game.”
Loeffler seems more appropriately cast at Virginia Tech, a pro-style team that would prefer to pound the run, even if it had to abandon that approach last week in the face of eight-man fronts at East Carolina. It appears to be a better fit than his time at Florida and Auburn.
“What he’s doing now is what he really believes in,” Heater told Marshall reporters this week. “There were a couple of situations when he wasn’t really able to do what he wanted or what he believed in totally. He’s able to do that now and you can see that.
“He’s a protege of the [New England] Patriot system and the things that they do, and that’s what you see on tape in terms of running game, passing game and the formations, shifts and movements. All those are things that the Patriots do.”
Heater, who has bounced around at 12 schools in his 37 years as a coach, was brought in to mold a Marshall defense that gave up 456.6 yards per game last year, ranking 101st nationally. Although it has played a soft schedule so far, the Thundering Herd has had a remarkable turnaround, ranking fifth nationally in total defense, giving up 252.7 yards a contest.
“He is an aggressive defensive coordinator. He is a pressure-oriented guy,” Loeffler said. “He’s going to force you to make plays. He’s just like any defensive coordinator. He wants to stop the run and force you to throw it.”
It’ll be one of two chess matches going on in Lane Stadium today. The other will be how Bud Foster’s Hokies defense handles Marshall’s pace and quarterback Rakeem Cato.
The Thundering Herd led the nation with 90.6 plays per game last year, although they’ve yet to get cranked up to that number this year. Cato, who led the country with 350.1 passing yards a game last season, has thrown for 849 yards in three games this year, with seven touchdowns and two picks.
Tech held East Carolina’s up-tempo offense to only 54 plays last week, repeatedly getting off the field on third down and getting help from an offense that managed to consistently move the chains, even if it didn’t always lead to points in the 15-10 win.
“We were fortunate last week,” Loeffler said. “We were able to possess the ball. … But now we’ve got to put points on the board. We’ve got to finish drives, finish plays.”
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