Pirates look to duplicate 2008 upset|Take on No. 22 Virginia Tech tonight

Published 3:04 am Thursday, November 5, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — One team enters tonight’s game riding the momentum of a two-game winning streak in which it posted its two highest point totals of the season. The other team heads into the matchup desperately trying to forget its last two games, both losses, with the most recent one coming on a heart-breaking fumble which led to a last-second field goal by the opposition.
One team is East Carolina, the other team is No. 22 Virginia Tech.
In years past it would have been easy to decipher which team was up and which was down, but this is a new era for Pirates football, thanks in large part to the Hokies.
It was least season’s 27-22 upset over then No. 17 Virginia Tech that launched ECU football into relevance. While the Pirates (5-3, 4-1 Conference USA) still have a long way to go before they are even close to being mentioned in the same breath as the Virginia Tech (5-3, 3-2 ACC) which has been prominent for a long time now, they are on the right path. They are also the team that will come on to the field feeling confident after two straight high-scoring wins.
East Carolina coach Skip Holtz he greatly admires Hokies head coach Frank Beamer, who is in his 23rd year at Tech and possesses a .663 winning percentage. Holtz said he is trying to use Beamer’s business model at ECU.
“I have great respect for Frank Beamer for the job that he has done in building that program,” Holtz said. “I have said this the last couple of years that we have played them, they are kind of the blueprint of where we would like to go and how we would like to build this program.”
The admiration will have to be put aside when the two team’s kickoff at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in front of a nationally televised audience (ESPN).
The Pirates main focus will be stopping Tech’s tandem of quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back Ryan Williams.
Taylor, a junior, won the starting job midway through last season and has looked solid since. The 6-2, 216-pound QB has hit on 79 of 143 pass attempts (56 percent) for 1,315 yards and nine TD passes and only three interceptions. The junior is ranked 12th in the nation in pass efficiency (151.18).
Though Taylor has nearly half the number of completions of ECU QB Patrick Pinkney (140), he has only 200 less passing yards.
Aside from a strong arm, the Pirates’ defense must focus on his mobility. Taylor is a nimble quarterback who has more career rushing yards (1,317) than former Hokie great Michael Vick (1,202).
“The guy that makes it all go is their quarterback, Tyrod Taylor is special,” Holtz said. “He is truly a special athlete with what he can do with his feet and with his arm.”
The last time ECU played anyone along the lines of Taylor was in the second week of the season when elusive West Virginia QB Jarrett Brown routinely escaped from pressure to rack up 334 passing yards.
If the Pirates want to suppress the reigning ACC and Orange Bowl champion Hokies offense it must keep Williams in check. The redshirt freshman has taking over running back duties from last year’s breakout star Darren Evans.
Evans set a freshman record at Virginia Tech for rushing yards when he tallied 1,265. However, Evans sustained a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, which left the void to be filled by Williams.
Williams, who dons the number 34 in honor of his idol Walter Payton, is ranked 13th in the nation with an average of 116.25 rushing yards per game. The 5-10, 205-pound speedster has already rushed for 930 yards (5.7 ypc) and 10 touchdowns, and is only 336 yards short of breaking Evans’ record.
The Hokies are also very high on true freshman RB David Wilson, who is averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Wilson returns punts along with fellow freshman Jayron Hosley. The two form a dangerous duo that must be held in check.
Kick returner Dyrell Roberts leads the nation in return average with 40 yards per attempt, and is fifth all-time on Tech’s career kick-return yardage list.
The Hokies’ return units have potential to cause nightmares for ECU. Holtz said the most important thing his team must do in tonight’s game is to not let up the big play, no matter where it comes from.
“The key in this game is that we can not give up the home run ball,” Holtz said. “We have been saying that now for I don’t know how many weeks. I would like to play one game where we don’t’ give up a 30 or 40 yard play for a touchdown.”
Williams runs behind a big line that is anchored by two 6-5 tackles that weigh over 300 pound in LT Ed Wang and RT Blake DeChristopher. Jumbo freshman Michael Via (6-7, 284) will get his first collegiate start of his career tonight at center in place of Beau Warren who is injured. It will be interesting to see how the rookie handles the pressure.
LG Sergio Render (6-3, 315) might be Tech’s best lineman and was listed as a preseason all-American in several publications.
The Hokies O-line will no doubt give C.J. Wilson and the rest of he Pirates front four a tough time.
Taylor’s two top targets are sophomores Jarrett Boykin (6-2, 215) and Roberts (6-2, 190). Boykin leads the team in receptions (23) and yards (403).
While the Pirates defense will have their hands full, the offense will face an equally tough challenge. Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is one of the best in the business.
Foster loves to use a lot of pre-snap action, walking linebackers up and off the line of scrimmage to confuse quarterbacks out of his 4-3 defense.
The Hokies are led up front by defensive ends Jason Worilds (3.5 sacks) and Nekos Brown (3.5 sacks), along with ILB Barquell Rivers whose 71 tackles lead the team.
Freshman linebacker Lyndell Gibson will be making his first start of his career tonight. The 5-10, 220-pounder played the second half of the loss to UNC and has supplanted sophomore Jake Johnson.
In the secondary, corner Rashad Carmichael is a game-changer and has four interceptions this season.
Pinkney acknowledged Tech’s tough defense, but said he is not disturbed by all the linebackers dancing back and forth off the line.
“It’s not very hard (to pick up on what they are doing),” Pinkney said. “All you have to do is look at their safety structure, that will tell you what’s going on. … I don’t care what the linebackers do, it’s all about the safety structure. If it’s one safety it might be a potential blitz, if it’s two safeties the blitz is not a high tendency. If it’s one safety and the linebacker is up, I’m thinking blitz.”
East Carolina must be able to run the ball if it wants to win this game. Senior running back Dominique Lindsay has been great the last two games, battling everything from the flu, to a bad shoulder and a sprained ankle to be the Pirates’ leading rushing with 570 yards.
If Lindsay, and ECU’s all-everything wideout Dwayne Harris can make some big plays, the Pirates have a chance at stunning the Hokies for the second straight time.