2010 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. East Carolina

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  • Date: Saturday, September 18, 2010
  • Time: 1:30PM
  • TV: ESPN3.com (Internet only)

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Chances are you’ve watched Texas Tech on television more than once over the
last several years, and you’ve always been entertained by their high-scoring
style of offense. East Carolina is coming to Blacksburg on Saturday, and they’re
bringing the Texas Tech offense with them.

Ruffin McNeil is in his first season at his alma mater after serving as
defensive coordinator at Texas Tech under Mike Leach. He led the Red Raiders to
victory in the Alamo Bowl as interim head coach, and is now off to a 2-0 start
at East Carolina. He brought a number of Texas Tech guys with him to Greenville.


Texas Tech Flavor

Coach

Pos.

Age

Lincoln Riley

QB/OC

26

Brandon Jones

OL

26

Clay McGuire

RB/ST

28

Duane Price

Defensive Tackles

34

Antonio Huffman

Football Ops

26

Four full-time assistants, plus the Director of Football Operations, are all
former Red Raiders. With Riley, Jones and McGuire on the staff, East Carolina
probably has the youngest offensive coaching staff in the country. At the age of
26, Lincoln Riley is offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and the
offensive line and running backs coaches are under 30 as well.

East Carolina is 2-0 with a 49-27 win over Memphis last week. They escaped
their season opener against Tulsa with a 51-49 win over on a last second Hail
Mary.

The basic scouting report on East Carolina is that nobody has been able to
stop their offense, but the Pirates’ defense has been less than stellar. More on
their young stop unit later. For now, let’s read about that high flying offense.

The East Carolina Offense

If you saw Texas Tech play with Mike Leach as their head coach, then you know
what this East Carolina offense will look like. The Pirates are going to spread
the field with multiple wide receivers and throw the ball 40+ times. They’ll
throw it short, medium and long, though stopping their short passing game will
be the most important. ECU will also have the ability to hit the Hokies with a
very good running back.


East Carolina Offense

Cat.

Stat

Rank

Rushing

164 ypg

59

Passing

317.5 ypg

13

Total

481.5 ypg

18

Scoring

50 ppg

7

Pass Eff.

152.56

27

Sacks

1 per game

28

3rd Downs

46.67%

38

It’s very difficult to lose football games when you are averaging 50 points per
game. That’s what East Carolina has managed to do thus far. They also do a great
job of protecting the quarterback, and he does a good job of getting rid of the
football.

You might remember that quarterback: Dominique Davis (6-3, 215, r-Jr.). Davis
started the ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech in 2008 as an
inexperienced redshirt freshman and went 17-of-43 for 263 yards, with a
touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked five times, and it wasn’t a
very efficient day overall.

Davis transferred to East Carolina in the offseason, where he sat out in
2009. He’s now the full-time starter, and he’s had more success in 2010 than he
had against the Hokies back in 2008. Through two games, Davis is 55-of-85
(64.7%) for 639 yards, with eight touchdowns and just one interception. The
versatile quarterback has also run for three touchdowns on the season, and could
be the early favorite for Conference USA Player of the Year.

He has spread his passes out amongst 11 different receivers this year. The
best is Dwayne Harris (6-0, 205, r-Sr.), a wide receiver who has running back
strength. In the past, ECU has used Harris as a quarterback in their wildcat
formation. Now he’s being used as a traditional wide receiver. Serving as one of
two inside receivers in the starting lineup, Harris has 13 catches for 175 yards
and three touchdowns this year.

The other inside receiver is Michael Bowman (5-9, 165, r-Jr.), who has eight
catches for 61 yards and a touchdown. The Pirates have more size on the outside,
with Joe Womack (6-1, 193, Jr.), Andy Bodenheimer (6-3, 195, So.) and Lance
Lewis (6-3, 200, Jr.) all seeing considerable action.

Another wide receiver to watch out for is Justin Jones (6-8, 252, r-Fr.). It
was Jones who caught the game-winning Hail Mary against Tulsa in the opening
week of the season. At 6-8, he has the size of a big tight end, and is a major
mismatch in coverage against basically any defensive back he goes against.

Despite all their throwing, East Carolina has a balanced offense with two
quality tailbacks. Jonathan Williams (6-1, 196, Sr.) suffered an injury setback
in 2009 after being suspended for half the season as a sophomore in 2008. He’s a
talented tailback that nobody seems to know about. Through two games, Williams
has 32 carries for 201 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry while scoring two
touchdowns. He’s also a very capable receiver out of the backfield.

The other back is Virginia native Giavanni Ruffin (6-1, 215, Sr.). Ruffin did
not play football until his senior year at Hickory High School, and after a good
JUCO career, he ended up at East Carolina. Ruffin is a physical runner who has
51 yards on 10 carries this year. Williams will get the majority of the work,
but Ruffin is a capable #2 option in the backfield.

No offense can be successful without a quality offensive line. East Carolina
has one.


East Carolina Offensive Line

Pos.

Player

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

LT

Willie Smith

6-6

290

r-Sr.

LG

Cory Dowless

6-5

309

r-Sr.

C

Dalton Faulds

6-3

287

r-So.

RG

D.J. Scott

6-6

323

r-Sr.

RT

Grant Harner

6-6

323

r-Fr.

Though Faulds and Harner are new starters, Smith, Dowless and Scott are all
quality linemen with a lot of experience. They are working in a new system this
year, but they’ve faced Virginia Tech for three consecutive years and they won’t
be intimidated.

The Tech defense is going to have to keep their heads this week. They’ll see
a lot from East Carolina. The Pirates will have a lot of receivers on the field
running in every which direction. The Hokies have to keep those receivers in
front of them, and tackle after they catch the pass.

Tackling has been a problem this year, particularly last week against James
Madison. Look for East Carolina to go right after the wide side of the defense,
where Jeron Gouveia-Winslow missed five tackles at the whip linebacker spot last
week, and where Jayron Hosley could potentially struggle against some of ECU’s
bigger receivers.

The East Carolina Defense

Though this is a big day for the Virginia Tech defense, it’s an even bigger
day for the Tech offense. East Carolina’s defense hasn’t been able to stop
anyone this year, allowing an average of 38 points and just under 500 yards per
game.


East Carolina Defense

Category

Stat

NCAA Rank

Rushing

140.5 ypg

68

Passing

355.5 ypg

119

Total

496 ypg

111

Scoring

38 ppg

110

Pass. Eff.

177.18

115

Sacks

2.5 per game

28

3rd Downs

58.62%

115

Even though the Pirates have some older players in the secondary, they haven’t
been able to stop opponents through the air this year. They are allowing a near
60% success rate on third downs. Despite the small size of their defensive line,
they have had some success stopping the run.

East Carolina has a very small defensive front, and they could play as many
as 11 players on the defensive line. On paper, the Hokies shouldn’t have any
trouble blocking them. Of course, on paper Tech shouldn’t have had any trouble
blocking James Madison.


East Carolina Defensive Line

Pos.

Player

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

DE

Matt Milner

6-4

235

r-Fr.

DE

Marke Powell

6-3

198

So.

DE

Justin Dixon

6-1

225

r-Fr.

DE

A.J. Johnson

6-2

241

r-Sr.

DE

Derrell Johnson

6-1

218

Fr.

DT

Josh Smith

6-1

274

r-Sr.

DT

Robert Jones

6-3

260

r-So.

DT

Jimmy Booth

6-2

288

r-Fr.

DT

Maurice Mercer

6-5

264

r-Jr.

DT

Diavalo Simpson

6-3

275

Jr.

DT

Michael Brooks

6-3

280

So.

The four players listed in bold are starters. And no, it’s not a misprint: East
Carolina has a starting defensive end who is 198-lbs. Marke Powell is part of a
young and small group of ECU defensive ends. Behind Matt Milner on the depth
chart are a r-freshman and a true freshman, and they are all undersized.

The defensive tackles are smaller than Tech will face in the ACC, though not
especially small for a Conference USA team. True sophomore Michael Brooks is
expected to be back from a slight injury, and he could end up in the starting
lineup rather than Robert Jones.

Overall, this is a defensive line that Virginia Tech’s offensive line should
be able to control with no problem. Besides all the youth and undersized
players, the other players aren’t particularly talented. Josh Smith is a former
walk-on who didn’t even make the ECU roster when he first tried out for the
team.

East Carolina could start three seniors at linebacker: Wes Pittman (5-11,
203, r-Sr.) on the strongside, Melvin Patterson (6-3, 235, r-Sr.) in the middle
and Dustin Lineback (5-11, 223, r-Sr.) on the weak side. They could also start
Matt Thompson (6-2, 212, r-Jr.) on the strong side and Steve Spence (6-2, 225,
r-Jr.) in the middle. Cliff Perryman (6-1, 231, r-Jr.) will also play at weak
side backer.

Though ECU will probably play six linebackers against the Hokies, this unit
is not particularly talented. Wes Pittman is a former walk-on who has never seen
action on defense until this season. Dustin Lineback is also a former walkon,
and Melvin Patterson, Matt Thompson and Steve Spence have all been mainly
special teams players in the past.

With a small and inexperienced defensive front, and a group of linebackers
that isn’t particularly talented, this should be the week that Virginia Tech
gets the running game going. All of the ECU players in the front seven are new
starters, so they lack size and experience. There’s no reason why the Hokies
shouldn’t be able to block this group.

The only two returning starters on the ECU defense are cornerbacks Emanuel
Davis (5-11, 190, r-Jr.) and Travis Simmons (5-10, 177, Sr.). Both are solid
players and the strength of the ECU defense. However, they certainly don’t have
a talent or size advantage on Tech’s wide receivers, and Virginia Tech shouldn’t
have trouble throwing the ball in this game, especially when you consider the
inexperience of the ECU safeties.

Strong safety Bradly Jacobs (5-10, 190, Jr.) is a JUCO who is playing his
first season of Division 1-A football. Free safety Derek Blacknall (5-11, 185,
r-Jr.) has started two games in his career, but he is still adjusting to being a
full-time starter.

So far, this secondary (along with the linebackers) hasn’t been able to stop
the pass. They are allowing 355.5 yards per game through the air, which ranks
119th out of 120 1-A teams.

Considering the lack of size and experience in the front seven, and the
inability of the ECU defense to stop Tulsa and Memphis from throwing the
football, there is no reason at all that the Tech offense can’t have their way
with the Pirates on Saturday afternoon.

Special Teams

East Carolina is breaking in a new kicker and punter. Michael Barbour (5-10,
175, r-Jr.) is a Maryland transfer who is 1-of-2 on his field goal attempts this
season. He made a 38 yarder and missed a 41 yarder. At this point we really
don’t know how good a kicker Barbour is, because he’s only attempted two field
goals in his entire college career.

Ben Ryan (6-2, 199, r-Jr.) has some experience kicking extra points and
kicking off during his career. He’ll handle the punting and kickoff duties for
ECU on Saturday. Ryan only has one touchback on kickoffs this year, but he is
averaging 41.4 yards per punt. Only five of his 10 punts have been returned,
though opponents are averaging a solid 10 yards per return.

Wide receiver Dwayne Harris is East Carolina’s top offensive player, and he’s
also their top return man. He returns kicks and punts for the Pirates, though
his physical characteristics make him much more suitable for kickoff returns. He
is averaging 23.8 yards per return this year.

Starting cornerback Travis Simmons has also been a very effective return man
during his career with ECU. He could potentially touch the ball on special teams
as well.

ECU returns deep snapper William Smith (5-11, 269, r-Jr.), but they do have a
new holder in true freshman Trent Tignor (6-5, 220, Fr.). As a true freshman,
Tignor has very limited experience, so look for the Hokies to try and put a lot
of pressure on the Pirate field goal team.

Final Thoughts

“Pain or damage don’t end the world. Or despair, or beatings. The world
ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it
like a man … and give some back.” Al Swearengen, Deadwood.

The Hokies, as well as their fans, have taken two beatings in the span of one
week. They’ve felt a lot of pain, and their reputation has been damaged. It was
an embarrassing five-day stretch, bookended by losses to Boise State and James
Madison. But, everybody is still alive. We’re all still breathing. Now it’s time
for them to get over it, put those games in the past, and start “giving
some back”. It’s time for East Carolina, and it’s time to start playing
Virginia Tech football.

We can argue about the offensive coaching staff all year, but that situation
is not going to be resolved until the offseason (if then). What’s important
right now is East Carolina. If Tech doesn’t beat the Pirates on Saturday, then
they’ll start 0-3. Their 10-win season streak would be over (barring a miracle)
and their bowl streak would be in serious jeopardy.

This is a one-game season, as far as I’m concerned. Win it and get back to
playing Tech football, and the Hokies will have a chance to win the ACC. Lose it
and start 0-3, and I think they’re done. Nothing else matters except this
football game. Not 10 wins, not BCS bowls, not ACC Championships, and not
worrying about the offensive coaching staff.

As noted in the preview, there is absolutely no way this East Carolina
defense should be able to stop the Virginia Tech offense. They allowed 500 yards
per game to Tulsa and Memphis, and that was a Memphis team who only scored seven
points in their previous game. No excuses this week. It doesn’t matter if the
ECU defense shows some alignments and some tendencies that the offensive
coaching staff hasn’t seen on film … the Tech offense should slice through
this defense like a hot knife through butter. No excuses. None.

Defensively, I worry about East Carolina matching up all-star receiver Dwayne
Harris against Jeron Gouveia-Winslow. Harris plays in the slot, and could
potentially exploit the inexperienced Gouveia-Winslow. He also has the strength
of a running back, so “GW” has to bring it this week when trying to
tackle. No more diving at ankles.

I figure East Carolina will have some success moving the football, but I’ll
trust that the Tech offense will mow down this Pirate defense with relative
ease. If they don’t, then the voice of discontent from the Hokie Nation will
only grow louder.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, East Carolina 24

Will Stewart’s Take: As the week has progressed, I’ve started to think
more and more that Tech’s epic failure to beat JMU was due in no small part to
the very short layoff after a crushing defeat at the hands of Boise State. Sure,
the Hokies should have been able to dispatch of the Dukes easily. Sure, Tech
didn’t block or tackle or hold on to the football.

But a five day turnaround is tough to manage. The Hokies have done it before,
notably destroying ECU in Greenville on a
Thursday night in 2000
, just five days after opening against
Akron at home. But as outlined in a recent Dave Teel blog post, recent
ACC history is full of nailbiters
for teams coming off a five-day
rest after the big Labor Day night game. The Hokies just took it the one extra
step and lost.

But enough about JMU. The real question is what Virginia Tech does now. The
Hokies haven’t lost three games in a row since 2003, when a collection of
me-first knuckleheads decided to quit playing and just run out the string. The
Hokies have had teams in recent years that have struggled at times, but none of
those teams piled up three losses in a row.

I have wanted to give up on the Hokies a few times during those two-game
losing streaks in recent seasons, but they always seem to right the ship just in
time and get back on the winning track. (Sorry for mixing my metaphors.) That
will probably be the case here yet again, regardless of the specifics of who the
opponent is.

Speaking of which, I see a good old-fashioned shootout in this game. The way
both teams are trending right now, neither one will be able to stop the other
with any consistency. This will be an unusual game, more track meet than
slugfest-in-the-trenches.

But I’ll admit that trying to figure out the 2010 Hokies has been a chore. I
can look backwards and tell what went wrong, but I can’t look forward with any
certainty, particularly when the opponent is an unconventional one such as this
year’s ECU team.

I know the Hokies will turn things around. The only question is, when, and by
how much? So, like anyone else, I’m doing a lot of guessing at this point.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 45, East Carolina 34

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