Keys to the Game and Matchups to Watch: ECU

Finally, football season has arrived and Virginia Tech will open with the
most emotional opener in Hokie history. Lots of storylines surround this game
with ESPN College Gameday visiting Blacksburg and covering the pre-game
ceremonies which will draw a national audience. The initial entrance of the team
to “Enter Sandman” is always an uplifting event, but no entrance will ever mean
as much as this year’s trip through the tunnel.

However, with all the fanfare and emotion of the opening ceremonies, a
football game still must be played. The overall key to this game, for both
teams, will likely be how the players handle the emotion and maintain their
focus on their individual assignments. Virginia Tech has played in many big
games, but no game has had the same impact as this game and the players must
maintain their concentration and not let the emotion of the game overwhelm their
play. Watch the execution for both teams early in the game and see if needless
penalties occur and assignments are missed.

Keys to the Game

When Virginia Tech has the Ball:

1. Control the Ball/Improve Third Down Efficiency

Frank Beamer would like to control the ball and establish field position, so the
foremost key to this game will be the play of the offensive line in dominating
the line of scrimmage. The Hokies need to move the chains consistently by
setting up shorter third down situations and then execute efficiently on
critical downs. First down efficiency, as in every game, will be a key factor to

East Carolina has a solid defensive front with six of their front seven
returning from one of the better defensive units in Conference USA. While Tech’s
offensive line looks to be improved from last year, the Hokies may not find
running the ball on the Pirates to be that easy. The key is to run for enough
yardage on first and second down so that Sean Glennon is placed in third down
situations that are achievable. Avoiding third-and-long situations is imperative
for the Hokies to be successful on offense this year.

East Carolina will likely play conservatively in coverage, using mostly two-
and three-deep zones (Cover-2 and Cover-3) to prevent big plays in the passing
game. The receivers need to find the seams in the zone and Glennon needs to make
good reads. Sean Glennon must be efficient passing the ball this year. He has
looked sharp in pre-season scrimmages and needs to hit the big third-down plays.
Also, if the play is not there, Glennon needs to accept the situation and not
force plays, probably his biggest problem last year.

In conjunction with Glennon’s execution at quarterback, the wide receivers
need to run precise routes and make the plays on critical third down situations.
I believe that a missing ingredient in the offense last year was the lack of a
true possession receiver, and some players need to step up in short yardage
situations. Tech has a number of big-play receivers in Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan,
and Justin Harper, but all of these receivers need to become more effective in
short yardage as well. Josh Hyman looked to be the key possession receiver early
in his career, and the opportunity exists for Hyman to play this critical role
this year. Also, the tight ends need to play a more prevalent role in the
passing game this year.

2. Run the Ball Outside/Control the Line of Scrimmage

While many fans would like the Hokies to dominate the line with a power
running game, I believe the key to the rushing attack for Tech will be the
ability to run outside. Branden Ore is a tremendous zone runner and I expect the
Hokies to run numerous zone stretch plays to get Ore out in space where he is so
dangerous. I see Virginia Tech returning to the zone blocking schemes that led
to so much success with Kevin Jones and Lee Suggs.

A key factor in zone stretch plays succeeding is the ability of the tight
ends and receivers to seal the outside, but last year Tech’s tight ends
struggled blocking at the point of attack. Sam Wheeler and Greg Boone look to be
dramatically improved blocking this year, so a key aspect of the game to watch
will be the ability of the tight ends to seal the outside linebackers and open
up lanes for Branden Ore and Kenny Lewis.

Watch for the push that the Hokies get off the