Virginia Tech will face a much different team this Saturday than they did last weekend. Instead of playing a team that employed more backs and tight ends like Boston College, the Hokies play East Carolina, who wants to spread the ball to their receivers.
“I think their backs are very good, I don’t want to slight them, but this will be the best corps of receivers that we have faced to date,” said Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster.
East Carolina’s new head coach, Scottie Montgomery, has brought some of the stuff with him he used while working as Duke’s offensive coordinator for the last two seasons.
“They’re still wide open, they’re similar to what they’ve been,” Foster said. “They’re fast tempo, up-tempo, probably a bit more tight end in there than they’ve had in the past, but they did have that big tight end in the last couple years. Very similar. I see a little bit of carryover from Duke and I see a little bit of carryover from ECU. I know, right now, they have the ability to play two quarterbacks in the game, which Duke had done that in the past too.”
East Carolina quarterback Philip Nelson will likely start for East Carolina, but the biggest X-factor in this game could be his backup, James Summers. In last year’s game vs. Virginia Tech, Summers accounted for 279 yards and three touchdowns.
Foster said that Nelson reminds him of Shane Carden, who led the Pirates to a victory in Lane Stadium in 2014.
“He’s a gunslinger, very accurate, knows where he wants to go with the ball. He seems to be a very mature kid, has a lot of poise,” Foster said.
Fortunately for Foster, his defense is more experienced and is able to be more versatile in their play calling. Last season, due to injuries and youth, Foster’s defenses were more predictable than in years past.
“What I think what’s different is just our structure,” Foster said. “I think having more eyes on the ball, guys knowing exactly where they need to fit, know where the ball is being spilled to or being hammered to, those types of things. It’s just important that guys can get there, get there in a hurry and get there in the right spot. A little window that may open up can close pretty quickly.”
The return of Adonis Alexander has reinforced Foster’s secondary, which will be tested this weekend. Foster said that Alexander’s size — 6-foot-3, 193-pounds — allows him to hang with bigger wideouts.
“We’re all looking for those big corners,” Foster said. “Receivers are getting bigger and stronger and faster, and over the years we’ve had some length at our corner spot, for the most part. Greg is probably one of the slighter guys that we’ve had in the last few years. I think anytime you can have a longer guy and a bigger guy, you don’t get moved around as much, and you have the ability to play through receivers’ hands, especially when you get to playing a 6-foot-2, 6-foot-4 receiver, that’s got that height and that catch radius and Adonis has that same radius when it’s all said and done.”
“Adonis has had a good camp and he’s playing right where he needs to be,” Foster said. “He’s improving every day. I like the way he’s working at it. He’s an extremely talented guy, a lot of abilities, always still working to develop that skill set and sharpen the tools in his toolbox.”
Virginia Tech preparing for creative, flexible defense
Offensively, the Hokies are preparing for a defense that gives a variety of looks and makes a lot of movements pre-snap.
“They move all around the place,” said Jerod Evans. “They’re very talented, don’t mistake that. It’s just a lot of things they throw at you. They have their ends stand up, they move around, they blitz, they twist their linebackers, they plan man-free, they play cover-3 a lot. Just got to see it. I mean, I play against a defense (in practice) that does the same thing when it comes to (exotic) things.”
East Carolina currently ranks 66th in total defense, allowing 400.9 yards per game. Their defense has allowed just 19 points per game in their three games, but haven’t played a stout offense just yet. The Pirates allowed seven points to Western Carolina, 30 points to NC State and 20 points to South Carolina.
“They have very good football players. You watch them play, they’re athletic defensively, they’re moving all over the place,” Head Coach Justin Fuente said on Monday.
Shibest looking for consistency from Mitchell Ludwig, Joey Slye
While the offense has certainly improved this season, the punt team has improved as well. Punter Mitchell Ludwig struggled in the Hokies’ game vs. Tennessee, averaging less than 35 yards per punt. However, Ludwig looked much better vs. Boston College, landing four punts inside the 20-yard-line.
“It was nice to have some of those short fields,” Fuente said on Monday. “We’ve worked really hard, we do it every Tuesday, our redzone punt, punts in the redzone. I think those are big plays. My only criticism of our team is that we didn’t celebrate them enough. We didn’t act like they were big plays. I mean, those are… the feeling an offense gets when that ball bounces into the endzone and you know they’re pulling it out, the sense of relief you get as opposed to when you’re down at the 8-yard-line or the 6-yard-line, is dramatic.”
“He’s done a good job in the redzone,” said special teams coordinator James Shibest. “(Ludwig)’s got to get better, more consistent, just punting the ball normally. The one thing he has done, when he’s had a bad one, he’s responded. He came back and it didn’t roll into two or three, which can happen sometimes. Again, he’s a guy that hadn’t played and hopefully through more and more experience, he’ll continue to get better and more consistent, which we need.”
Shibest said that Ludwig will only get better with time, as he gets more in-game reps.
“You got to throw him in the pool and just let him keep swimming, you know what I’m saying? Because he does have the ability to get it done,” Shibest said. “We’ve seen it in practice and he’s just got to be able to handle the game time and do it on game day.”
In the kicking game, Shibest said that he’s not worried about Joey Slye, who’s 3-5 this season, with both misses coming outside 40 yards.
“It’s a shame, because he’s got such a strong leg,” Shibest said. “He’s just got to do a better job of seeing that target and not worrying, he don’t need any extra leg strength, he’s got plenty of that. It’s just hitting his line. Sometimes there is wind and things that can affect things, but that’s our job, to be prepared for that in pregame. He needs to be more consistent also. We’re counting on him.”
Shibest said that Slye has plenty of reasons to be confident mentally, especially after his finish to last season, where Slye hit 19 of his last 22 field goal attempts, including five straight to end the season.
“That’s why I try not to mess with them a lot, because they’re all a little bit different in their fundamentals and their technique,” Shibest said. “There’s little things I can help him with, a lot of it, they’ve already been trained to do this and they just need to go do it. The minute they start thinking about this and that, I don’t know if that’s always a great thing. You need to know what you did wrong, if your hips came through too quick or whatever, but get out there and kick it baby.”