2009 Keys to the Game and Matchups to Watch: East Carolina

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The Hokies travel to Greenville, NC to face the Pirates of East Carolina tonight in a critical game for both teams. Virginia Tech needs to turn around the two-game losing skid and regain the momentum lost in a once promising season, while ECU needs a big win over a major BCS team to increase its national presence. The Hokies, of course, will also have revenge in mind for last year’s opening day loss. So what are the keys in this important Thursday night match-up?

Schematically, Virginia Tech and East Carolina are fairly similar, with both teams relying on physical, hard-nosed, power football. Both teams use multiple formations offensively, but rely first and foremost on the power running game. Defensively, each team runs a 4-3 set with an emphasis on stopping the run. Ultimately, this game comes down to the team that is the most physical and can control the line-of-scrimmage.

In an earlier game this year, East Carolina held their own against North Carolina in the trenches, and we saw the trouble that the Tar Heels gave the Hokies last week. In the other two ECU games that I have seen, the Pirates controlled the line, for the most part, against Marshall and Memphis. Few teams will out-muscle East Carolina, but the Pirates can have trouble with speed.

Keys to the Game

When Virginia Tech has the Ball

1. Attack the Wide Side

The strength of the East Carolina defense is right up the middle with two massive defensive tackles in Jay Ross (#90, 6-3.5, 314, 5.13, Sr.) and Linval Joseph (#97, 6-6, 322, 5.29, Jr.) and aggressive middle linebacker Nick Johnson (#44, 6-1, 217, 4.75, Sr.). Ross and Joseph are tough to move and stuff the inside running game effectively, freeing Johnson to make plays. With Beau Warren doubtful for this game with an MCL sprain, the Hokies will start Michael Via (#67, 6-6.5, 284, 5.23, r-Fr.) at center, and he should have his hands full with ECU’s interior defensive line.

However, East Carolina has shown some vulnerability to running outside. Darius Marshall from Marshall was able to pop some runs outside. West Virginia had considerable success running outside against ECU. East Carolina has decent speed outside, but the Pirates have struggled tackling to the strong