ECU defense must contain Hokies duo|Pirates will focus on Taylor and Williams

Published 3:05 am Thursday, November 5, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — It was a moment that has now overshadowed everything else that happened before it. Once T.J. Lee swatted Virginia Tech’s punt and returned it for the game-winning touchdown to hand East Carolina a 27-22 win over the No. 14 Hokies, the preceding events became footnotes.
When people think of the 1986 World Series the first thought is Buckner’s botched grounder that allowed the winning run to score. Everybody always forgets about the two-out, two-run rally that put the Mets in a position to beat the Red Sox in that memorable Game 6.
Well on Aug. 30, 2008 the Pirates defense was that two-out rally.
East Carolina slammed the door on the Virginia Tech attack, holding the Hokies to 243 yards of total offense.
The Pirates picked off Tech quarterback Sean Glennon twice, and kept their freshman sensation running back Darren Evans to 37 yards rushing. Tech as team ran for just over 100 yards for the entire game.
Tonight when ECU (5-3, 4-1) hosts No. 22 Virginia Tech (5-3, 3-2 ACC), the Pirates’ defense will be counting on heavily once again.
Like last year, the Hokies head into their matchup with the Pirates led by a freshman runner. Evans, who became only the sixth freshman in ACC history to run for over 1,000 yards, is sidelined due to a knee injury sustained in the preseason.
Taking his place is Ryan Williams, who has 930 yards in eight games to give Virginia Tech the 26th ranked rushing attack in the country.
Pirates’ senior linebacker Nick Johnson, whose interceptions during the 2008 matchup set up a Jonathan Williams 1-yard TD run, said that ECU will focus heavily on the running game.
“We need to stop the run, it’s the same thing every week when we play, we want to stop the run,” Johnson said. “If you can stop the run it makes it hard for teams to beat you unless they have a dynamic pass offense.”
Johnson, who leads ECU in tackles with 60, said that Williams has a lot of skills, but hopes the Pirates can capitalize on the runner’s inexperience.
“He’s good, I think he has good vision and makes good cuts,” Johnson said. “But he’s young so he might make mistakes, you never know. We just have to wrap him up, and get him on the ground and gang tackle.”
Williams made one of those youthful mistakes in the Hokies’ last game, a 20-17 loss to UNC. The freshman running back fumbled late in the fourth quarter deep inside VT’s own territory, which led to a Tar Heels field goal with two seconds left in the game.
With a strong running back steering the attack, Johnson anticipates tonight’s contest will be a smash-mouth style game, which is just fine with him.
“Playing against teams like this, offenses that like to run the ball and pound the ball, that’s what I like to play against,” Johnson said. “I like real football. I don’t like this backyard football (spread offenses) that everybody else is playing.”
Aside from Williams, the ECU defense must be on the lookout for Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is a mobile QB and will no doubt be a major concern for the Pirates’ defense.
In the second week of the season West Virginia’s escape artist Jarrett Brown gave the ECU defenders fits as he torched them for 334 yards and four TD passes.
Johnson said his defense has come a long way since Week 2, and that the unit has increased its quickness.
“We have definitely had trouble with mobile quarterbacks more than pro-style quarterbacks,” Johnson said. “I think our defensive line has lost a lot of weight since the beginning of the season, so we are a little bit more athletic. I think the whole team was just too bulky in the beginning of the season. We lost a little bit of weight, we are a lot quicker. It’s still going to take a team effort. We have to have good coverage and everybody running to the ball.”
One good thing that came out of the Pirates 34-20 loss to the elusive Brown and the Mountaineers was that it taught ECU a lesson in dealing with quick QBs.
East Carolina was able to get some pressure on Brown, but kept missing. Johnson said that he has learned to take a new, more aggressive approach when dealing with mobile quarterbacks.
“You have to just take your shot,” Johnson said. “When you run up one someone like that who can make you miss within a yard you can’t run in and break down, you have to take your shot. If you take your shot, then he has to move and there will be somebody else coming in (to tackle him). It’s a team effort.”
This will be the Pirates last shot at taking down an ACC team this season, unless they face one in a bowl game. After tonight’s matchup, ECU will return to Conference USA action on Nov. 15 at Tulsa, which will also be on ESPN.