Hokies Try to Move to 3-1 Against ECU

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East Carolina has had a nice run in recent years.

2012: 8-5
2013: 10-3
2014: 8-5

Here’s how they’ve fared against ACC teams in that span; overall, the Pirates have won their last four games against ACC competition.

2012: North Carolina (L)
2013: Virginia Tech (L), North Carolina (W), NC State (W)
2014: Virginia Tech (W), North Carolina (W)

ECU and their fans always get up for ACC opponents. Remember that Virginia Tech and East Carolina were once on the same level. The Hokies escaped to the Big East and later the ACC, while the Pirates were left out of conference realignment. They treat ACC opponents exactly as Virginia Tech did before the Hokies joined the league.

Past games mean nothing, of course. Both teams have different personnel this year. The Pirates lost most of the key players that were responsible for beating the Hokies last season, whereas Tech brings back nearly everybody.

Here’s OXVT’s Tale of the Tape…

vt_ecu_tale

Also, for those wondering, here’s how the TV coverage breaks down.  The game will be shown on ABC in the blue area, and those of you in the yellow area can watch it on ESPN2.

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Let’s take a look at the ECU offense and defense.

The ECU Offense

I don’t think there’s much I can tell you about ECU’s offensive system that you don’t already know. The Pirates like to spread the field and throw the ball around. That’s what they’ve been doing for awhile, and this year is no different.

Of course, personnel always dictates how good a football team can be, and the ECU offense lost some of their key cogs from last season. Here’s a look at their starting lineup.

OWR Davon Grayson (6-2, 195, Jr.): 19 career starts
IWR Isaiah Jones (6-1, 197, Jr.): 20 career starts
LT Ike Harris (6-7, 309, Sr.): 27 career starts
LG Quincy McKinney (6-4, 311, Jr.): 16 career starts
C CJ Struyk (6-2, 295, Sr.): 14 career starts
RG TJ Boyd (6-4, 298, Jr.): 15 career starts
RT Brandon Smith (6-8, 341, So.): 2 career starts
QB Blake Kemp (6-1, 207, Jr.): 3 career starts
RB Chris Hairston (6-0, 205, Sr.): 5 career starts
TE Bryce Williams (6-6, 258, Sr.): 9 career starts
OWR Jimmy Williams (5-11, 189, Jr.): 4 career starts

With the exception of right tackle Brandon Smith, the Pirates have a very experienced offensive line. Success on offense always starts up front, and this unit has been a big part of ECU’s offensive success over the last few years. Even though they have been primarily a passing team in that time span, they have also been able to run the ball effectively. That balance helped make them a very dangerous offense.

This year has been different. Despite the experience of the offensive line, the Pirates are averaging just 86.3 yards per game on the ground and 3.4 yards per carry. ECU doesn’t have to rush for a ton of yards to be effective, but they need to do better than 3.4 yards per carry. Here’s how it breaks down per game…

Towson: 192 rushing yards, 4.8 ypc
Florida: -13 rushing yards, -0.6 ypc
Navy: 80 rushing yards, 3.8 ypc

The Pirates are probably better than their performance against Florida shows, but their performance against Navy didn’t exactly stand out either. Running back Chris Hairston ran for 528 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per carry last year, but his average has dropped to 4.6 yards per carry this season. ECU has to improve their running game to support a passing game that is now without Shane Carden, Justin Hardy and Cam Worthy. Hardy holds the ECU record for most career receptions, and he currently plays for the Atlanta Falcons. Worthy had 6 catches for 224 yards against the Hokies a year ago.

Shane Carden’s replacement was supposed to be Kurt Benkert, but he is out for the season with a torn ACL. Instead, JUCO transfer Blake Kemp has been the signal caller. His numbers have been solid so far: 99-of-140 (70.7%) for 893 yards, 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He’s averaging nearly 300 yards per game, and he’s done a good job of not throwing interceptions. Kemp has taken some criticism, but from what I can tell, ECU’s issues this season have not been at the quarterback position.

Isaiah Jones has taken over as ECU’s top receiver. He is currently #3 in career receptions with 173. For the season, he has 30 catches for 342 yards and a touchdown. Against a good Florida defense he had 14 receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown. Jones generally lines up on the inside, so Saturday’s game could be a big challenge for Greg Stroman and Virginia Tech’s safeties.

The Pirates don’t have the overall talent at receiver that they possessed in the past. Davon Grayson played high school football with VT free safety Chuck Clark, and they are still best friends. Grayson has seven catches on the season, while Jimmy Williams has 13. ECU has gotten tight end Bryce Williams involved more this year. He has 17 catches for 161 yards already, and he’s also scored three touchdowns.

It will be interesting to see how Virginia Tech plays ECU defensively. Last year the Pirates had success throwing jump balls to Cam Worthy. This year Worthy is gone, as is Justin Hardy, not to mention the quarterback who threw all those passes. I don’t think they can trust their wide receivers to out-athlete Tech’s defensive backs two years in a row.

Ultimately the Hokies need to make ECU’s running game continue to be a non-factor. If they can do that, I can’t see this year’s version of the Pirate offense scoring enough points to beat Tech. I think Tech’s defense will win the battle. They won the battle last year more times than not, as Shane Carden completed less than 50% of his passes. However, when he did complete one, it generally went for a big play. In the 2013 meeting, he threw for only 158 yards.

I’m not expecting the Hokies to hold ECU to 158 yards passing again, but I do expect them to stop an offense that has been struggling so far this year.

The ECU Defense

The Pirates run a 3-4 defensive, and fortunately Terry Williams is gone. Williams was the ECU nose tackle who wrecked the interior of the VT offensive line over the past two years. Without him, the Pirates have struggled to stop the run this season.

Towson: 179 rushing yards, 4.1 ypc
Florida: 168 rushing yards, 4.4 ypc
Navy: 415 rushing yards, 5.5 ypc

Tech won’t put up 415 rushing yards like Navy did, but averaging somewhere close to five yards per carry would be an achievable goal. If they can do that, they’ll gain a big advantage.

Here’s a look at the Pirate defense…

DE Terrell Stanley (6-2, 268, Sr.): 16 career starts
NT Demitri McGill (6-1, 314, Jr.): 3 career starts
DE Johnathon White (6-4, 282, Sr.): 11 career starts
OLB Montese Overton (6-3, 221, Sr.): 19 career starts
ILB Zeek Bigger (6-2, 216, Sr.): 26 career starts
ILB Jordan Williams (6-0, 230, So.): 2 career starts
OLB Joe Allely (6-1, 230, So.): 3 career starts
FC Josh Hawkins (5-10, 185, Sr.): 21 career starts
FS Travon Simmons (5-10, 185, So.): 4 career starts
SS Terrell Richardson (6-0, 211, Jr.): 5 career starts
BC Rocco Scarfone (5-11, 178, Sr.): 4 career starts

The Pirates have four very experienced players in the front seven, so it’s a little bit surprising that their rushing defense hasn’t been better. Giving up so many yards to Navy is understandable, because it takes a great effort from the entire defense to stop an offense like that. I would not be surprised to see the ECU front seven play their best game of the young season against the Hokies.

When you’re watching the game, pay attention to the interior line play. Demitri McGill and backup Demage Bailey (6-5, 316, So., 1 career start) are a downgrade from Terry Williams. Obviously Wyatt Teller and Eric Gallo are a major upgrade from the VT interior line that Williams annihilated over the last two seasons. If you see the Hokies getting consistent push against the nose tackle early in the game, that’s a great sign. That will free up guys like Teller and Augie Conte to block linebackers, and I’ve yet to see an inside linebacker who can get off a Teller block.

I believe the Hokies have the advantage in the secondary. Josh Hawkins is a First Team All-AAC player, but the other defensive backs are very inexperienced. Though Rocco Scarfone has a great name, I don’t believe he can consistently defend Virginia Tech’s receivers. Tech’s tight ends also have a chance to have a nice game against a pair of inexperienced safeties and two inexperienced linebackers.

From a speed perspective, the East Carolina defense will provide a much greater challenge than Purdue. However, they don’t possess the same type of physical strength right up the middle as the Boilermakers. While we saw the Hokies gain a lot of yards on the outside last week, they were basically shut down up the middle. This week Tech should hold a major advantage on the inside.

Advanced Stats Comparison

Stats don’t mean as much early in the season because we have only a very small sample size, but it’s still worth comparing advanced stats.

First, let’s start with the offense

Explosiveness: VT #66, ECU #103
Efficiency: VT #43, ECU #80
Field Position: VT #7, ECU #90
Finishing Drives: VT #53, ECU #80
Rushing S&P: VT #22, ECU #87
Passing S&P: VT #2, ECU #71
Standard Down S&P: VT #6, ECU #96
Passing Down S&P: VT #41, ECU #44
Overall S&P: VT #29, ECU #70

The advanced stats tell us that Virginia Tech’s offense has been much more efficient than ECU’s. What about defense?

Explosiveness: VT #122, ECU #33
Efficiency: VT #28, ECU #109
Field Position: VT #15, ECU #115
Finishing Drives: VT #109, ECU #75
Rushing S&P: VT #111, ECU #94
Passing S&P: VT #57, ECU #55
Standard Down S&P: VT #118, ECU #65
Passing Down S&P: VT #47, ECU #87
Overall S&P: VT #41, ECU #83

Though Tech doesn’t rank well in rushing defense or explosive plays (thanks mostly to Ohio State), they still own an overall defensive efficiency rating of #41, which outclasses ECU’s rating of #83. Yes, the Virginia Tech offense has been more efficient than the Virginia Tech defense through the first three games of the season. Who would have thought that before the season began?

From an advanced stats perspective, the game breaks down like this…

VT Offense (#29 nationally) vs. ECU Defense (#83 nationally)
ECU Offense (#70 nationally) vs. VT Defense (#41 nationally)

On paper, Virginia Tech has a major advantage in this game.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes stats tell the whole story, and sometimes they don’t. I don’t think ECU is quite as bad as the Navy game suggested. Obviously they will be mentally ready to face an ACC foe, and the crowd will be ready to rock and roll for a 3:30 ABC/ESPN2 kickoff. The Pirates don’t get a chance to play on national television very often, and the 3:30 kickoff time will give the fans some extra time to tailgate.

I have a lot of respect for East Carolina for a few of reasons. First, they’ve been a very consistent program for as long as I can remember. In many years they are better than half of the ACC teams we face, so playing them gets us ready for conference play. Second, their fans are extremely loyal. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Virginia Tech and East Carolina used to be pretty much the same program. There wasn’t much, if any, difference between the two. Part of me feels bad for them that they got left out.

All that aside, I feel better about this ECU matchup than I have in a few years. They don’t appear to be as good as they usually are, and for the first time in awhile, our offensive line has the advantage over their defensive line. I feel like Tech will win this game fairly comfortably.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, ECU 14

Will Stewart’s Take: That’s a great preview by Chris. Lots of research, lots of stats, and good analysis of the matchups.

Now … forget about it. Throw it out the window.

This is all about effort and intensity. The Hokies need to just go down to Greenville and smack ECU in the mouth, and keep smacking them until 60 minutes of football have passed. Then get on the bus and come home, W in hand.

vt_fb_wyatt_teller_pancake_2015_01I’m not advocating that Virginia Tech go down there and match ECU’s intensity; I’m advocating that they go down there and exceed ECU’s intensity. Hit the Pirates hard, and put them out of it early. Tech needs to do to ECU what Wyatt Teller is doing to that defensive tackle in the sequence of pictures to the right.

In 2000, the Michael Vick-led #10 Hokies went down to a rowdy Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for a big Thursday night clash. The ECU faithful were foaming at the mouth, ready to make a big-time statement … and the Hokies Beamerballed ECU to death in the first half, riding special teams and defense to a 31-0 half time lead. It ended up 45-28, Hokies, but it was never in doubt.

Since then … harrumph. The series renewed in 2007, and though the Hokies are 5-2 against ECU since 2007, the combined score has been 157-112, an average of just 22-16 in VT’s favor. Speaking of 22 points, the Hokies have scored more than 22 against ECU just once in those seven games. Just once.

Last year, I boldly predicted the Hokies would have more offensive success than that, and I picked VT to win 34-17. Not so much, as ECU rolled to a 28-21 win that I’m sure none of you have forgotten.

This is a great matchup, one that I’m very keyed up about. Though Purdue was a Power 5 team and it was a road game, a 3:30 roadie at ECU is more of a challenge. Just like we found out a lot about the Hokies against the Boilermakers, I think we’ll find out a lot about the Hokies in this game.

I’d like to think that Tech will play a good, intense football game Saturday. I have no way of knowing for sure at this point, though. But much like last year, I’m leaning on the optimistic side of the equation.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, ECU 14

 

Who will win the Virginia Tech-East Carolina game?

  • Virginia Tech by 1-9 (17%, 331 Votes)
  • Virginia Tech by 10-19 (57%, 1,127 Votes)
  • Virginia Tech by 20+ (22%, 438 Votes)
  • East Carolina by 1-9 (3%, 59 Votes)
  • East Carolina by 10-19 (0%, 8 Votes)
  • East Carolina by 20+ (1%, 23 Votes)
  • I dont know/no opinion (0%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,990

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38 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Very interesting to see the difference in expectations going into the Purdue game versus ECU. Many thought VT would struggle against a Purdue team that isn’t as good as the ECU team they will face on Saturday. With the weather forecast, my hope is that VT can dominate in the trenches and run at will. I’m okay with an ugly game as long as VT crushes ECU in the trenches and gets the W.

  2. I hope the team goes down there with a chip of their shoulders from the loss last year. I am cautiously hoping for the win

    1. “Cautiously hoping” Now that’s an interesting pleonasm. I’m all out hoping for the win, and cautiously predicting a W. Go Hokies!

  3. The biggest loss ECU sustained in the offseason was offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, to Oklahoma. To not address this loss in the preview? Hmm.

  4. As NC resident, can say 1st hand that ECU respects & looks forward VT for their committment for a long term series schedule where other local ACC teams refuse to play them.

    That said, this years team is not nearly as atheltic as teams in the past and loss of their OC, Lincoln Riley to Oklahoma, has hurt their offense.

    Foster & Gray will be able to lock down ECU this year and extract revenge for last years 1st quarter debacle.

    Offensive line, specifically
    Conti-Gallo-Teller have an opportunity to shine by pushing the middle of this 3-4 around. Look for the line to lead the way for our offense in Greenville. VT hangs half a hundred on the Pirates, scoring 50+ two weeks in a row!!!!!

    Let’s Go…Hokies!!!
    Beat THEM Pirates!!!

  5. In terms of gameday atmosphere they really do have great fans, and at least the one time I was there they were “fun”. Surely supporting their team, but in a fun way and respectful of the VT people that came to watch the game. I always enjoy playing ECU because it feels like good rivals trying like crazy to win, but shaking hands afterwards. Hoping we are the team with the smiles on Saturday night.
    On another note…..14 people think ECU will win by 20 or more….?

  6. I was at the 2000 game and their fans were jacked up. After the first quarter, all you could hear were Hokie fans.

  7. Watching the ECU game in person last week, I came to this conclusion: ECU is a shell of last year’s team.

    The game with Navy was a conference game; teams don’t hold back. ECU brought its best, and it was nowhere near last year. Set aside the fact that Navy ran ALL over ECU. Look at the ECU offense and what it had to offer: only short pass-and-run plays. That’s it. They had no running game, and all the receiving yards were YAC. Navy gave ECU all day to pass and ECU could not consistently drive down the field.

    VT will pressure the ECU QB far more than he’s seen before and he will make a lot of mistakes. I foresee- at most-two scores from ECU. 40+ points by VT.

  8. Will, Chris, some discussion here on the weather. It is supposed to be a slop fest in Greenville on Sat. Your predictions are what they are, but how much of a role will weather play this weekend?

  9. While VT had a better pedigree than ECU, both were considered as younger and lesser siblings, absolutely not ready for prime time… and ECU had UNCheat, NCSU, Dook, and Wake, almost none of whom wanted to play them in football compared to our Whoooos.

    VT moved ahead with the Big East and ECU has remained mired in lesser conferences. Fans at both schools are much alike and are now joined by NCSU
    in their disdain for Zimas.

    When we play ECU, we play friends. Think how the other two schools are. The only reason to go to Cville or Chapel Hill us to kick their butts. Greenville is a bit more refined and even friendly except on game day. They do enjoy beating the Hokies.

    1. While we did have some better wins, ECU did have more SoCon championships just before the 1-A/1-AA split, and had 4 bowl wins before we got our first.

  10. Chris, stop saying that ECU and VT were historically on the same level before VT got into the Big East. BS. They were a small teacher’s school much like the Radford of yester year. Tech was in the Southern Conference and a national engineering school with a long history of credible football and basketball history. Do your homework!!!

    1. “with a long history of credible football and basketball history.”

      That’s 1 Bowl win and 1 SoCon title, and 5 NCAA Tourney Bids and 1 conf title

      Compared to ECU’s 1 NCAA trip before 1990. And 4 SoCon titles before the 1-A, 1-AA split in 1978vafter which they went Independent like VT, they also had 4 bowl wins before we even got our first.

    2. That means in the 13 years ECU spent in the SoCon, including the final year of VT’s memebrship, and several years of WVU’s. ECU won it 1/3 of the time. That is right up there with how well VT has done after the 2004 ACC move.

    3. Not so sure about the football history, but the academic histories are much different. VT has long been recognized for leading colleges in Engineering, Architecture, Agriculture, and others.

      For football, it seems that we could have been close to where they are now if we had not gotten in the ACC, but would have more likely taken a path like Louisville or even WVU. Tend to agree that the comparison is not as tight as stated in the article. Go Hokies!

    4. I agree- Chris’s lovefest with ECU- yuck!

      It degrades VT to insist ECU and VT were ever peers in anything except maybe fielding similar caliber football teams over a foregone short period of time. Everything else regarding the schools is vastly different. And the things that are different are far more important. than the football in image and in securing membership in prestigious conferences.

  11. Good take on the game. I don’t think this is a great ECU team and I have more confidence in our running game now than in the previous 5 years.

    CC – you might want to fix that one sentence.

    I have a lot of respect for East Carolina for a few reasons.

  12. Almost assuredly it will be a slopfest; developing subtropical low off the coast appears to be sitting practically on top of S.C. then ; don’t want to see another rainy Cincy scarlet L. Go Hokies!!

    1. Going to see how Motley throws in the rain ??? Its going to pour…. should be limited scoring . I predict a win unless we lose …. Prayers Yogi !!!

  13. Chris, you mentioned some of the reasons you liked ECU and I agree with you. I also will not forget they were our first game of the year after the April shootings on campus. They were VERY respectful and supportive then, not to mention gave $100,000 to the memorial fund. I won’t forget their kindness then.

    1. Thanks for reminding us of the Pirates class and generosity. They are our brethren except for 60 minutes each year.
      Go Hokies Beat ECU!!!

  14. I get nervous when TSL staff pick scores like this for teams that have played us tight in the past , or for big games. Usually their predictions are dead wrong (sorry but hat’s how I remember it. I would be interested in seeing how accurate you guys really are predicting these type of games since we joined the ACC)

    This game could be a lot closer than that. Hokies are looking for some payback, and on the strength of that they shouldn’t have much problem getting up for this game. But the performance of Motley, Mike LBs , and the inexperienced DBs , specifically how they respond to adversity, will go along way in determining how this game plays out.

  15. I haven’t bothered to go back and look, but on the roster card for this week Malleck is listed as starter, and not Bucky. Is that the way its been all year or a change? Insignificant?

  16. Hmm… Chris says 30-14… Will says 31-14… I wonder… where *does* the extra point come from, Will? 🙂

  17. Weather could be a big unknown factor. If it rains, a couple of fumbles here or there and this game could slide to the bad guys. Here’s hoping that any turnovers go in our favor and we have another blow out.

    1. By the box score stats it appears they are just middle-of-the-road/average. They are averaging 22.1yds per kickoff return (excluding touchbacks) with an average field position of 26.3. They’ve only returned 2 punts for an average of 7.5yds (excludes fair catches & out-of-bounds). Field goals they are 2-4, makes of 30 & 37, misses of 37 & 48. Punting they are averaging 42.3yds per punt, most being fair catches or out-of-bounds. No TDs either way on ST. Outside of those stats, I have no idea what they are like.

  18. VT 20+ . Motley has Another Great Game . Our Defense gets off the Bus this Trip.. And ECU gets a good ole Wuppin.

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