If there were one game in which Virginia Tech defensive line coach Charley Wiles did not want to debut a freshman starter at defensive tackle, he probably would have chosen this weekend against Miami. The Hurricanes, Wiles and defensive coordinator Bud Foster agreed, have the best offensive line the Hokies will likely see this year.
But with junior Antoine Hopkins out for the season after tearing his ACL during the fourth quarter of the Hokies’ 23-3 loss to Clemson, Wiles had no choice but to announce freshman Corey Marshall as the team’s starting defensive tackle when he met with reporters Tuesday evening.
“All that bells and whistles, this ain’t that,” Wiles said, referencing the spread offenses Virginia Tech’s defense has faced so far this year. “We’ve got these monsters up front, so it’s totally different. Bad week to lose Hop.”
The responsibility won’t fall completely on Marshall’s shoulders, though. Wiles said he plans to go with a committee approach at defensive tackle with Marshall and juniors Isaiah Hamlette and Dwight Tucker all getting “10 or 12 plays here or there.” Freshman Luther Maddy could also figure prominently into the game plan, but he’s still recovering from a high-ankle sprain he suffered at Marshall two weeks ago.
“If they play too many, I just think it would catch up to us,” Wiles said.
Marshall is the most talented of the group at this juncture. Originally a defensive end when he arrived at Virginia Tech this summer, he said Tuesday he now weighs 260 pounds, up seven from his listed weight of 253 pounds. Miami’s starting offensive line, meanwhile, weighs an average of more than 314 pounds, and excels with a combination of man and zone blocking schemes. The Hurricanes are averaging close to 170 rushing yards per game.
Marshall has three tackles in limited action through five games, but did have a crucial fourth-quarter sack against East Carolina earlier in the season. Foster said he has faith in Marshall because of his natural instincts and vision, but he worries about how the freshman will hold up against a Miami run game that likes to knock linemen off their gaps.
“These guys are big and athletic,” Marshall said of Miami. “They like to incorporate a lot of side-to-side movement, which actually works in my favor. What we’ll be doing is taking advantage of my lateral quickness, things like that, and it’s just getting off the ball, reading your keys and making plays.”
Maddy is also itching to play if his ankle cooperates. He’s from Delray Beach, Fla., and during the recruiting process he heard “not one word” from Miami. In fact, Maddy said Tuesday he didn’t even get a call from Virginia Tech offering a scholarship until 9 p.m. the night before signing day last February.
Maddy’s burst off the line has already turned him into a recruiting steal, and until this injury setback, he and Marshall had been the Hokies’ primary backup defensive tackles. Western Michigan was the only other Football Bowl Subdivision school to offer Maddy a scholarship, but Wiles has already said Maddy will likely be a starter as he progresses in Virginia Tech’s system.
“I think I showed [Wiles] I was a much better player than he thought I was,” Maddy said. “Well, I don’t know what he thought I was when I came in, but I think I did surprise most the coaches around here.”