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MU Notebook: VT punter changed the game with critical play

Sep. 23, 2013 @ 12:29 AM

There were plenty of big names to remember heading into Marshall's matchup with Virginia Tech.

A.J. Hughes was not one of them.

Now, if you don't know who Hughes is, you aren't alone.

Chances are, there were some people on his own Virginia Tech team that didn't know his full name prior to Saturday.

But they know him now!

Hughes is the punter for Virginia Tech and he contributed a critical play in the Hokies' 29-21 triple-overtime win on Saturday.

In a game that featured a ton of momentum-changing plays, will it be remembered? Not likely.

Heck, it didn't even lead to points for the Hokies.

However, it completely changed the dynamic of the game on both sides.

With just over six minutes left in the second quarter, Marshall's defense thought it had gotten a big stop after forcing a third-down incompletion.

Back in punt formation, Hughes bobbled the snap and took off down his left side, avoiding a tackle and scrambling for 12 yards and a first down.

At the time, Hughes' run was the longest of the game for Virginia Tech, but the importance for the Hokies wasn't that the offense got back on the field.

It was that Marshall's offense didn't.

Had Hughes not picked up the first down after the fumbled snap, Marshall would've taken over the football inside Virginia Tech's 30-yard line with an offense that had produced 21 points, 205 yards and a touchdown lead in the first 25 minutes of football.

With possession, Marshall would've been in prime position to take a two-score lead into the locker room and likely change the gameplan of Virginia Tech at halftime.

Instead, the Hokies continued to drive deep into Marshall territory where Ethan Keyserling missed a field goal, but the Herd did not have a chance to counter offensively with just seconds remaining before the half.

It took all the momentum away from Marshall's offensive side and Virginia Tech was able to get back into the locker room and regroup with defensive coordinator Bud Foster.

Although Foster said he didn't make any major adjustments, the halftime session proved its worth as the Hokies limited Marshall to 156 yards and zero points in the second half and three overtime sessions.

For Virginia Tech, Hughes is normally making a difference with one foot by flipping field position in the punting game.

In this game, it was both feet of Hughes that proved to be the biggest worth.

KICKING THEMSELVES IN THE FOOT: Virginia Tech has prided itself on special teams for a long time and a blocked punt for a touchdown and blocked field goal to preserve the game certainly paid dividends in the win over Marshall.

However, there is one statistical oddity that is very eye-opening for Virginia Tech.

In the last six quarters of action, Virginia Tech has missed five consecutive field goals and an extra point.

Cody Journell, who was suspended for the Marshall game, missed an extra point following a touchdown with 4:09 left in the third quarter against East Carolina.

Following the kick, Journell proceeded to miss field goal attempts of 38 and 40 in the game while having another miss wiped out due to a roughing the kicker penalty.

In Journell's absence, backup punter Ethan Keyserling was called on to assume the kicking duties and Keyserling missed his three attempts of 36, 50 and 32.

It's a really odd streak for a team that prides themselves on a solid all-around game on special teams.

Grant Traylor covers Marshall football for The Herald-Dispatch. He can be reached by email at gtraylor@herald-dispatch.com or by phone at 304-526-2860. Follow him on Twitter (@GrantTraylor).

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