At first glance, what Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato said this week about Virginia Tech was more cliche than bulletin-board material.

“They’re a great defense,” he told the Roanoke Times. “We’re a great team and we’re a great offense. May the best man win.”

That, though, was all the ammunition Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster would need for a motivational ploy.

Whether it was true or not, Foster had already begun insinuating that his defense, ranked No. 2 in the nation after a dominating performance in Virginia Tech’s 15-10 win over East Carolina, wasn’t getting its due by the time he met with reporters Wednesday evening.

“I hope they respect our program. You got to go earn their respect, so we’ve got to go do that,” Foster said. “I think they feel good about themselves offensively, and they should with the numbers.”

Marshall represents the third straight spread offense Virginia Tech’s defense has faced, but the Thundering Herd are the best one yet. Everything Marshall does on offense, Foster said, is a little more explosive and a little faster than what East Carolina did.

Last season, only Tulsa and UCLA averaged more plays per game than the Thundering Herd. Through three games this year, they are averaging more than 82 plays per game.

Cato, meanwhile, has matured since facing the Hokies as a true freshman two years ago. In that 30-10 Virginia Tech win, Cato threw an interception and was sacked five times. Foster expects a more grizzled signal-caller than the one the Hokies “rattled” in 2011. He’s currently completing 63.6 percent of his passes and already has seven touchdowns.

“The game has slowed down for him. He knows where he’s going now. He’s getting rid of the ball quicker,” Foster said. “He’s got a lot of experience under his belt. You see a much more improved, polished guy.”

Three themes for the game

A balanced attack

Virginia Tech ran the ball with authority in its season-opening loss to Alabama and then threw it well in last week’s win over East Carolina, but new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is still waiting for both facets to click in the same game. The Hokies expect Marshall to load the box to stop the run this week, although establishing tailback Trey Edmunds will still be a priority. But with sophomore J.C. Coleman out still nursing an ankle injury, it wouldn’t be surprising if quarterback Logan Thomas is asked pace the offense with his arm for a second week in a row.

Slow down the Herd

Marshall is averaging more than 527 yards per game this year, and it’s doing it in a multitude of ways. Quarterback Rakeem Cato is completing better than 63 percent of his passes, while four players -- including Cato -- are averaging more than four yards per rush. The good news is that Virginia Tech’s defense has been dominant early this season and currently sits No. 2 in the nation. Two years ago, when Cato was a true freshman, the Hokies racked up five sacks and two turnovers in a 30-10 win in Huntington, W.Va.

Kick it straight

Virginia Tech place kicker Cody Journell had been fairly reliable for three years, and showed a penchant for clutch kicks last season. But the redshirt senior suffered through the worst performance of his career last week at East Carolina, missing an extra point and three field goals of under 40 yards (one was later negated by a penalty). Coach Frank Beamer isn’t worried about the implosion, although Journell admitted this week his problems were both mental and mechanical. He hit 36 of his 44 career field goals attempts before last Saturday, so Journell can prove it was simply a one-week blip with a strong showing against Marshall.