Virginia Tech dropped a spot to No. 13 in the AP Poll and moved up to No. 11 in the Coaches Poll following a 62-17 beatdown of William & Mary, and the Hokies have a full week of preparation before they welcome East Carolina University to Lane Stadium at 12:20 p.m. on Saturday.
The two teams first met back in 1956, and Virginia Tech holds a 15-7 advantage in the all-time series against East Carolina.
This year, East Carolina has been a bit of an odd case, losing to FCS foe North Carolina A&T 28-23 before handling North Carolina 41-19 on Saturday, including 20 points unanswered in the second half. The Hokies opened as 29.5 point favorites.
“I don’t want to take anything away from North Carolina A&T as they did a fantastic job, but there were a lot of things that happened to enable them to win that game,” said head coach Justin Fuente. “When you go back to look at how many times East Carolina had the ball inside the five-yard line. Twice they turned the ball over, and a couple more times they came away with just field goals.
“Then they put it all together in the North Carolina game in all three phases. They were ready to play with emotion and intensity. You could see it on their sidelines. Not that they weren’t the week before, but they certainly responded to adversity and played really well in the North Carolina game.”
The East Carolina matchup was typically a game that Virginia Tech fans would mark on their calendar as a dogfight no matter how talented the Pirates were looking that season. However, Fuente has changed that sentiment in the past two seasons, outscoring East Carolina 118-34. Still, the Hokies won’t take the Pirates lightly, especially with all the momentum that East Carolina will carry into Blacksburg following last week’s victory.
“In my opinion they’ve always been a dangerous offensive team, even through their struggles last year,” Fuente said. “When you look at all the plays they made one-on-one against North Carolina on the outside, it’s pretty impressive. To me, they’ve made the most improvement on the defensive side of the ball in the first two weeks compared to last year. They have an identity, they can really run defensively. They’re an attacking defense, and will pose a challenge. We’ll have our hands full on both sides of the ball and the kicking game because I think they’ve always been East Carolina offense, and now they’re getting back to East Carolina defense, which makes them pretty potent.”
All the preparation for East Carolina is assuming the game is actually played. Hurricane Florence is threatening off the east coast, and expected to hit North Carolina hard. East Carolina has already cancelled all classes on campus this week after 12 p.m. on Tuesday, so it remains to be seen how the team’s travel plans may be deterred.
Assuming the game is played, Blacksburg will be wet and rainy on Saturday. The Hokies are no stranger to playing in torrential downpours, though. Fuente’s track record in wet games bodes well for Virginia Tech. Two years ago, the Hokies traveled to Kenan Memorial Stadium and smacked North Carolina in the mouth, winning 34-3. Last year at Lane Stadium, Virginia Tech handled Duke 24-3 in a gully washer of a second half.
“We can probably draw a little bit from the Duke game, in the second half particularly,” Fuente said. “That was some serious rain. Hopefully drive a little bit of confidence in handling the football and understanding that it takes a little more concentration. Because you did it before doesn’t mean you’re going to do it again. You have to do it every single time out. Understanding the focus, concentration, and discipline it takes is important.”
In the William & Mary game, the Hokies were sloppy early. Deshawn McClease lost a fumble on the opening drive, and Tre Turner and C.J. Carroll each put the ball on the ground. Center Zachariah Hoyt was high on quite a few snaps, sailing the ball over the quarterback’s head for the second consecutive game.
“I told them, we’ll pull people out of the Corps (of Cadets) to run the ball before we just go out there and lay it on the ground,” said Fuente during the postgame press conference. “That is poor discipline and poor attention to detail. So I was not pleased with that. If you don’t take care of the ball, it’s hard to trust you on this team.”
Now, with the impending weather, ball security will be even more crucial Saturday afternoon. That includes an extra dose of wet ball drills during the week of practice and an emphasis on controlling the controllable.
“I think it’s important to get the notion across to the team that they can’t worry or assume anything,” Fuente said. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen, and we have no control over that. We’ve got to worry about the things we can control. The first thing that obviously comes to mind is taking care of the football in wet conditions, or handling the football in wet conditions.
“Every Thursday whether it’s supposed to rain or not, we do wet ball drills at the end of practice. Our quarterback exchange, play a little catch, snap, hold, and kick a little bit. I think there is a cumulative effect of that. In addition, this week there will be a special emphasis on that. We’ll certainly have time each day to make sure that we’re working on it.”
- Ricky Walker and Christian Darrisaw were both seen in walking boots on the sidelines at the end of the William & Mary game. Their status remains uncertain for Saturday, and we all know Fuente isn’t one to give much info about injuries. “We’ll know more as the week goes on,” Fuente said.
- Last Saturday was also the first time that a lot of true freshmen got their first taste of college football game action. So how exactly is Fuente monitoring those guys with the new redshirt rule allowing players to play in four games or less and maintain their redshirt? “I have a spreadsheet, and it’s got all the true freshmen on there,” Fuente said. “There’s a guy or two that maybe have played and we feel comfortable that we would like to try to redshirt. There’s guys that are going to play throughout the season. We know that now. I still say it’s going to be something we’re going to have to look at every single week.”