Hokies welcome Pirates to Blacksburg

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OXVT’s Tale of the Tape

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The Ohio State game is in the past, and how that game is viewed by fans three months from now will largely depend on what Tech does the remainder of the season.

If the Hokies go on to have a great year and get back to 10+ wins for the first time since 2011, then we’ll all look back on the Ohio State win fondly. However, if they don’t close strong and finish with only seven or eight wins, that will take some luster off Saturday’s win in the long run.

Taking advantage of that win starts this Saturday, when a dangerous and tough East Carolina team visits Blacksburg.

The Series

This will be Virginia Tech’s seventh meeting with East Carolina since 2007. Here is how the previous meetings have gone:

2007: 17-7 VT in Blacksburg
2008: 27-22 ECU in Charlotte
2009: 16-3 VT in Greenville
2010: 49-27 VT in Blacksburg
2011: 17-10 VT in Greenville
2013: 15-10 VT in Greenville

What’s wrong with that picture? The Hokies have played ECU twice in Blacksburg, once in Charlotte, and three times n Greenville. The 2012 game was supposed to be in Blacksburg, but it was pushed back so the Hokies could play Alabama instead. Here’s a look at the remaining games of this series:

2015: at ECU
2016: at VT
2017: at ECU
2018: at VT
2019: at ECU
2020: at VT

That’s a whole lot of East Carolina! There are a couple of reasons why I’m fine with the series. First, I like ECU. Tech and ECU basically were basically the same, up until the Hokies got into the Big East. Second, I think the Pirates are better than half the ACC, so playing them as a non-conference opponent is a solid non-conference test.

That remains the case this year. ECU won 10 games last year, beat UNC and NC State, and nearly knocked off the Hokies. They opened the 2014 season with a 52-7 win over NC Central, then lost 33-23 at South Carolina in a game in which they outgained the Gamecocks and only punted once. This is a dangerous football team, they want to pull the upset badly, and they are well-coached by Ruffin McNeill, one of the nicest guys in the game.

Losses up front hurt ECU’s defense, but how much?

East Carolina’s defensive front was dominant against the Hokies last season, but the Pirates will be missing a couple of key pieces that helped whip Tech’s offensive line last year. Defensive end Terrell Stanley (6-2, 266, r-Jr.) is out for the season because of an unfortunate automobile accident, while defensive tackle Terry Williams (6-1, 353, Sr.) missed the first two games of this season with an undisclosed knee injury.

Stanley had 10 TFL and seven sacks a year ago, while Williams destroyed the interior of the Virginia Tech offensive line (he was suspended a week later … bad timing for Tech). Last season Williams was listed at 322, and this year he is listed at 353. I doubt his added weight is helping him get over his knee injury.

Stanley and Williams are both very good players who gave the Hokies a ton of trouble. East Carolina’s 3-4 defensive front is not as good without them in the lineup. Starting end Lee Pegues graduated, as did starting outside linebackers Gabe Woullard and Derrell Johnson. Without those, the Pirates lack depth, and their starters aren’t quite as talented.

DE Johnathon White (6-4, 292, r-Jr.): White was a backup defensive end a year ago who played a role in ECU’s success. However, this is his first year as a starter.

DT Chrishon Rose (6-4, 303, r-Sr.): Rose became the starter when Terry Williams was suspended last season, and he went on to earn Honorable Mention All-CUSA honors.

DE Fred Presley (6-3, 300, r-So.): Presley is a former walk-on who played in 11 games off the bench a season ago.

I think those three starters are capable of playing well, though I think ECU would definitely prefer to have Stanley healthy, and they would probably like for Pegues to have another year of eligibility! Their backups have some question marks as well, though there is potential there.

DE K’Hadree Hooker (6-1, 300, r-So.): Virginia Tech offered Hooker out of high school, but he signed with NC State. However, he transferred after just one season with the Wolfpack and sat out last season.

DT Demetri McGill (6-1, 310, So.): McGill lost his redshirt last season when Terry Williams was suspended. He played well in a backup role.

DE Terry Biles (6-2, 278, r-Sr.): Biles has a totally blank bio on the ECU website, and he has never made it above the scout team until this season. He is probably the weakest link of the ECU defensive line.

Both of East Carolina’s starting inside linebackers return this season.

Zeek Bigger (6-2, 228, r-Jr.) was an Honorable Mention All-CUSA player a year ago, and he had nine tackles against the Hokies. He is ECU’s most active inside linebacker. Brandon Williams (6-1, 230, Sr.) finished with 69 tackles a year ago and was part of the Pirate defense that shut down the Tech offense last September.

The outside linebackers aren’t returning starters, though one is a senior and the other has plenty of experience in a backup role. Montrese Overton (6-3, 220, r-Jr.) made 50 tackles a year ago despite not being a starter, and he also had six sacks. Maurice Falls (6-3, 247, r-Sr.) is a 400-lbs bench presser who was timed at a 4.47 in the 40. Though he hasn’t played much on defense, he has the size to be a standpoint defensive end/OLB.

With all three starters missing from the defensive line that crushed Tech’s offensive line a year ago, not to mention the loss of two starting outside linebackers, it’s tough to see this Pirate defensive front playing as well as they did a year ago against the Hokies. Tech has improved at just about every position on offense, and I can’t see them failing to beat last year’s rushing numbers. To refresh your memory, here they are:

34 carries
53 yards
1.6 ypc
Trey Edmunds: 21 carries, 42 yards
Logan Thomas: 8 carries, 10 yards
Joel Caleb: 1 carry, 2 yards
Sam Rogers: 1 carry, 0 yards
Chris Mangus: 2 carries, 0 yards
Team: 1 carry, -1 yards

That’s as bad as it gets. I expect the Hokies to do better this year.

Susceptible in the secondary

Virginia Tech has a chance to put up some good numbers through the air against the ECU secondary. Three starters are missing from last year’s matchup. Two cornerbacks have starting experience, though the secondary has proven time and time again to be the Pirates’ weakness. The Pirates finished #93 in the country in passing yards allowed, though they were #42 in pass efficiency defense.

At boundary corner, Detric Allen (6-0, 200, r-Sr.) started nine games a year ago, though he barely played at all before his junior season. The field corner is Josh Hawkins (5-10, 186, r-Jr.), who split time with Allen on the boundary last year. He is a former walk-on who had an interception against South Carolina last week.

At the safety spots, the Pirates are breaking in two new starters.

FS Dominique Lennon (6-2, 205, r-Jr.): Lennon played a little on special teams last year, and that was the first college action of his career. 2014 is his first season as a starter. He is originally from Nansemond-Suffolk Academy in Suffolk, VA, so you know he’ll have a special incentive when he comes to Lane Stadium on Saturday.

SS Lamar Ivey (6-1, 196, r-Sr.): Ivey is in his first season as a starter after spending almost all of his first three seasons on special teams.

That’s a very inexperienced secondary, particularly at safety. I think this is the most attackable part of ECU’s team, particularly with Virginia Tech’s new passing game.

ECU vs. South Carolina

South Carolina put up 33 points against the Pirates last week because they were balanced on offense.

Rushing: 38 carries, 175 yards, 4.6 ypc
Passing: 25-of-38, 266 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Overall, the Gamecocks put up 441 yards of total offense and averaged 5.8 yards per play. However, a closer glance reveals that ECU’s offense might have been more impressive. Despite having the ball nearly 13 minutes less than South Carolina (36:19 to 23:41), the Pirates had 12 more yards of total offense and put up an average of 6.8 yards per play. ECU even averaged 6.3 yards per carry. The difference was Shane Carden’s two interceptions.

Of course, South Carolina’s defense is not Bud Foster’s defense. The Gamecocks start seven sophomores on defense, and they were thoroughly abused by Texas A&M to begin the season. Take a look at the numbers they gave up to A&M:

Points: 52
Pass yards: 511
Completions: 44
Rushing yards: 169
Total yards: 680
Yards per play: 6.9

ECU and the Aggies put up almost identical numbers in yards per play. The big difference is that ECU had the ball under 24 minutes, while Texas A&M kept it for over 37 minutes. South Carolina’s defense is pretty bad, and their only hope to stop anybody this year is for their offense to keep the ball as long as possible. They were able to do that against the Pirates.

Tech’s defense is a poor matchup for Shane Carden

East Carolina’s offense does not match up well with the Virginia Tech defense. Bud Foster routinely shuts down these spread, pass-happy attacks, and he has done the same to the Pirates in their most recent meetings.

In 2010, ECU jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead in the first quarter and scored 24 points in the first half. However, they totaled just three points in the second half against the Hokies, and from that point the Pirates have scored only 23 points in the last 10 quarters of football against Bud Foster.

East Carolina relies on a pass-happy attack led by quarterback Shane Carden. Here are his numbers from the last two seasons:

2012: 66.1%, 3116 yards, 23 touchdowns, 10 interceptions
2013: 70.5%, 4139 yards, 33 touchdowns, 10 interceptions

However, Carden struggled against the Hokies a year ago. He went just 19-of-31 for 158 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. Bud Foster, as usual, had a great gameplan. As good and as accurate as Carden is, he does not possess great arm strength. Foster played tight coverage on ECU’s inside receivers to take away the short passes, while playing off the outside receivers. The field corner (wide side of the field) in particular sometimes played as much as 11 yards off the outside receiver.

What did that strategy do? It invited Carden to make throws to the outside, especially to the wide side of the field. His arm strength is not suited to make such throws, particularly against a group of defensive backs who can close as quickly as the Hokies’ can. I’ll include two examples of interceptions in videos below.

Notice how far off the field corner (Brandon Facyson) is playing in both of those plays. He invites Carden to throw to the far hash each time. On the first play, Facyson jumped the route and picked it off. Carden simply didn’t have the arm strength to fire it in there. On the second play, the ball is also late arriving, and it is tipped and intercepted. On both plays, Tech is playing tight coverage against the inside receivers, which further invites a throw to the outside.

Will Virginia Tech use a similar strategy as last year? Also, how will ECU respond to last year’s game? They must know that it’s going to be very difficult for Carden to make throws to the outside against Tech’s defensive backs, so how will they adjust their gameplan?

How will the Hokies handle Justin Hardy?

Justin Hardy (6-0, 188, Sr.) is one of the best receivers the Hokies will see all season. Just check out his career numbers at East Carolina: 285 catches (ECU record), 3,267 yards (ECU record), 27 touchdowns (ECU record)

Carden to Hardy is the best passing combo in East Carolina history, and the Pirates are going to miss those two guys next season. How will the Hokies handle Hardy? Last year he caught six passes, but only gained 31 yards, which shows the Tech defensive backs did a great job of tackling. This year they must again prevent the big run after the catch.

ECU usually plays four wide receivers, and Hardy is one of the inside receivers. If Kendall Fuller plays his usual boundary corner position, that means he will not be matched up with Hardy. Either Chuck Clark or one of the safeties will draw that assignment.

As I see it, Bud Foster has two options.

1: He can move Kendall Fuller to nickel (where he played quite a bit last season) in an effort to get him matched up on Justin Hardy. Chuck Clark would then slide out to cornerback. Note that as far as I can tell, Tech isn’t playing boundary/field corners this year. Sometimes I’ve seen Fuller at field with Facyson at boundary, and vice versa. Sometimes I’ve seen Fuller on the left and Facyson on the right, and vice versa.

2: He can play things straight up, leaving Fuller at cornerback and keeping Chuck Clark at nickel.

Either way, I think we’ll see the Hokies get up tight on those inside receivers in an effort to entice Shane Carden to throw the ball to the outside.

Final Thoughts

In 2003, Virginia Tech blew out #2 Miami 31-7 in Lane Stadium to keep themselves in contention for the National Championship. It was a special night, and the fan base was every bit as euphoric as they were after the win over Ohio State. However, that big win was marred by the fact that Tech tanked the season, with their only win down the stretch coming over Temple in overtime. I really can’t look back at that win over Miami with much fondness because of the way the Hokies closed the season.

If Tech doesn’t finish out the season strong and they go 7-5 or 8-4, the win over Ohio State will feel the same. It was a great “in the moment” feeling, but it won’t have any staying power in the annals of Tech football unless the Hokies use it as a springboard to a big season (think 1995 Miami). We all feel great about Saturday’s win right now. How we feel about it three months from now will be decided by what VT does from here on out.

I believe Virginia Tech has a big matchup advantage with their defensive backs against East Carolina’s passing game. The Tech defensive backs can match up with anybody in the country, and I’m not convinced Shane Carden has the arm strength to beat them. If they tackle well in space and avoid the big play, I don’t see the Pirates embarking on any lengthy, time consuming drives.

Also, I think the Tech offense is better positioned to score points against the East Carolina defense than they’ve been in the past. Although they are still young, there are more weapons on offense, and Michael Brewer is a natural passing quarterback.

I think ECU will put up a fight, particularly with the defense (which I think might turn out to be underrated). However, I think Tech’s defense will shut them down, and the Hokies will steadily pull away and win comfortably.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, ECU 13

Will Stewart’s Take: If the Hokies come out with intensity and play their game, they’ll win, because they are, as Chris pointed out, a bad matchup for ECU and Shane Carden.

ECU wants this game badly. They have a program-measuring three-game stretch against USC-e, Virginia Tech, and UNC, and they have already lost the first one. They’re calculating what kind of season they can put together if they knock off the Hokies and Tar Heels (UNC travels to Greenville) and enter the conference part of their schedule at 3-1. So Tech will get the Pirates’ best shot. They usually do.

It will be interesting to see how ECU attacks Bud Foster’s defense, because they’ve had a year to digest what Bud did to them last season. I DVR’d ECU’s game against South Carolina last night (it was replayed from 4:00-7:00 AM), but haven’t had a chance to watch it. I’m most intrigued by how their top two running backs have piled up 18 carries for 172 yards (9.5 ypc), and I’m wondering if they’ll try to surprise Bud with something different, centered around the running game. It would be out of character, but staying in character hasn’t worked for them against VT.

Defensively, though ECU is starting a bunch of first-time starters, some of the new guys have a lot of experience. And this year’s Hokie offense, with the way it spreads the ball around, is nothing like what ECU saw last year.

It’s heartening that a vastly improved Virginia Tech passing offense will go up against a weak ECU pass defense. The Hokies have exceeded 22 points just once in their last six meetings against the Pirates, but I don’t think that will be the case Saturday. I look for VT to go over 30.

This one is pretty simple. If the Hokies are focused and play hard, it’s a W. If they’re even a little sloppy or lethargic, it’ll get really interesting. I’m going to assume Tech will play well.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, East Carolina 17


What's your prediction for the ECU game? (VT is favored by 11)

  • Hokies win by 20+ (19%, 327 Votes)
  • Hokies win by 10-19 (49%, 848 Votes)
  • Hokies win by 1-9 (19%, 324 Votes)
  • ECU wins by 1-9 (10%, 167 Votes)
  • ECU wins by 10+ (3%, 51 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,717

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7 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Noon game..if history repeats itself, VT comes out flat. I think we win but I gotta say, i am not feeling great about this game. Has trap written all over it.

  2. Per “ecukid79” on Message Boards:

    09/10/2014 7:54PM

    Terry Williams, our usual starting nose tackle, has been cleared to play…

    this Saturday in a reserved role for us…he could see upwards of something like 20 snaps……whether it makes a difference or not we’ll see but it will be nice to have another big body to rotate in on our 3 man line….

  3. Another good breakdown of this game coming up this Saturday, Thank you Chris and Will for your insight. Me…Hokies 35..Pirate Heads 9…Go Hokies .

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