HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall wide receiver Tommy Shuler knew before he took the field this season there would be nowhere to hide, not after he set a school record with 110 catches in 2012. He knew he'd see double teams. He knew he'd be the focus of opposing defenses.
Yet somehow, he's still finding the ball.
Despite being a prime target of other defenses, and the lack of catches for other receivers, Shuler tops the team with 23 receptions. His 7.7 catches per game are fourth in Conference USA and tied for 17th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The junior could find it a lot tougher to find open space Saturday, as Marshall visits Virginia Tech at noon (ESPNU) and Shuler faces one of college football's top defenses.
Shuler said preparation is key in finding the openings, even when defenses are working harder than ever to close them.
"That's what extra film does," Shuler said. "It tells you where the open spots are, how to read the coverages and know what they're playing. Then when they give me something new, I'll just sit in the hole and (quarterback Rakeem) Cato can just find me."
Shuler has led the Herd in receptions in each of the first three games of 2013. He caught nine passes for 67 yards and a touchdown against Miami (Ohio), five passes for 85 yards and a touchdown against Gardner-Webb and nine passes for 95 yards against Ohio.
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said part of it is Shuler's innate ability and part of it is offensive coordinator Bill Legg's scheme.
"He's good at finding openings," Holliday said. "And he's got 'it.' He's kind of got that 'it' factor with him. And Billy does a good job of working to get him one on one, where they can't bracket him."
Holliday also mentioned Marshall's improved running attack - averaging 214.7 yards per game - as another factor. That forces opposing defenses to either load the box to stop the run or walk a defender out to help cover Shuler.