Pirates face big test in Virginia TechPublished 6:45pm Friday, September 13, 2013
GREENVILLE — East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill denied that today’s showdown with Virginia Tech is a measuring stick-type game, but it’s hard to see it any other way.
The Pirates (2-0, Conference USA) picked up their first two wins of the season by topping FCS members Old Dominion, 52-38, before beating an inferior Florida Atlantic team, 31-13, in Week 2.
The Hokies (1-1, ACC) fell 35-10 to two-time defending national champions Alabama, the No. 1 ranked team in the country, in their season opener before drubbing Western Carolina, an FCS team, 45-3 last week.
At the very least, today’s matchup pits two teams against one another that are in the same stratosphere and should serve as a good indicator of where each team stands.
McNeill said what’s most important for his team today is that it continues to show progress.
“We have three ACC teams on our schedule, but for us, what I told our team is to worry about what we can control. I want our play to get better this week,” McNeill said. “We want to win each game we play. There is no such thing as an ugly win. I want to make sure we keep developing. I’m looking forward to playing against a really great program and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Today marks the 18th time these two programs will face each other and the Hokies, who are 7 1/2-point favorites, own a 12-5 lifetime record against the Pirates. Virginia Tech currently holds a three-game winning streak against ECU and won their last meeting 17-10.
The Hokies are guided by legendary coach Frank Beamer, who is in his 27th year with his alma-matter and currently sits in sixth place on the FBS’ all-time wins list with 259.
Pirates face tall task
The Virginia Tech offense is led by 6-6, 254-pound senior quarterback Logan Thomas who has been projected as an early-to-mid-round NFL draft pick.
Thomas, who was recruited as a tight end, is a true dual threat QB who has a cannon for an arm and can terrorize teams with his feat.
The redshirt senior heads into today’s game eight completions away from passing Tyrod Taylor as the school’s all-time leader and is 703 passing yards away from overtaking Taylor’s No. 1 spot for passing yards. Thomas’s 20 rushing TDs are four more than Michael Vick’s and four away from the school record.
The Pirates will attempt to slow down Thomas with two first-time starting inside linebackers, Zeek Bigger and Brandon Williams, who will look to fill the void of injured starters Jeremy Grove (chest) and Kyle Tudor (shoulder).
On the season Thomas has completed 22 of his 57 pass attempts for 259 yards and one touchdown and has been intercepted three times. The key for ECU will be to wrap up Thomas and to not allow him to scramble for big gains.
“We have to contain the quarterback and we have to keep him in the pocket,” ECU defensive coordinator Rick Smith said. “They bootleg a lot, which gets him out on the edge. That scares us. If we let him outside the defense and let him run that’s 260 pounds that’s going to be hard to bring down.”
ECU looks to run down Hokies running backs
While Thomas’ arm is a threat, the Pirates are dead set on stopping the Hokies run game today. Virginia Tech may not have a Ryan Williams or a David Wilson on this year’s team, but they have a stable of young backs that they hope will one day reach that level in redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds (203 yards, 5.7 ypc), freshman Chris Mangus (99 yards, 9.9 ypc) and sophomore J.C. Coleman (38 yards, 5.4 ypc).
“The big focus is their running game,” Bigger said. “We know they’re going to run the ball. They’re a power team and they are going to come right at us and we have to be prepared for that.”
Preparing for the Hokies offense will be a bit challenging as it is operating under new coordinator Scott Loeffler, who came over from Auburn and has shown two different styles in the first two games of the year.
“I think the main thing is that I’m not sure what game plan they are going to use because what they did against Alabama they did not do against Western Carolina. It’s a whole different thought process in what they did from the first week to the second,” Smith said. “They were much simpler the second week: less motion, less shifting. They went back to Beamer Ball where they’re going to line up and run the ball.”
Offense going for a complete game
The Pirates pass offense dazzled in Week 1 as QB Shane Carden torched ODU for a school-record 470 yards and five touchdowns, while Justin Hardy had a record 16 catches for 191 yards.
In Week 2, the ECU run game got back on track as senior Vintavious Cooper rushed for 95 yards and a score against FAU.
Today, the Pirates will look to get both aspects of their offense going against Hokies’ defensive guru Bud Foster and his 4-2-5 defense.
That defense is led by second-team All-ACC selection DE James Gayle and senior CB Kyle Fuller, a two-year starter.
“They have over 200 starts on their defense and a defensive line that returns everybody, that’s four really good football players,” ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “There’s a lot of athleticism at the linebacking corps and in the secondary. They’re well coached. They’ve got a great tradition defensively.”