Pirates hit the road to play Hokies

Published 5:09 pm Saturday, September 18, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE – Can a team that was ranked No. 10 in the country just two weeks ago really start out the season 0-3? If you are a Pirates’ fan you’re hoping the answer is yes.
East Carolina will be taking its perfect 2-0 record to Blacksburg, Va. Today with the hopes that the blocking and tackling issues that have plagued Virginia Tech (0-2) lingers just a little bit longer.
With dual threat QB Tyord Taylor taking the snaps and handing off to two 1,000 yard rushers in the backfield, the Hokies were legit national title contenders at the start of the season. Virginia Tech also returned three key wide receivers and was expected to field one of its best offensive teams in years, while hoping future NFL corner back Rashad Carmichael can hold together a defense that had to replace seven starters.
Virginia Tech opened up the season with a heavyweight battle against No. 3 Boise State and fought the Broncos down to the wire in a 33-30 loss. No shame in that. However, the same could not be said about Tech’s next defeat.
Most expected the Hokies, who dropped to No. 13 in the rankings, would come out and take out all their aggression on FCS James Madison in their home opener. Instead, Virginia Tech dropped its guard and got smashed in the mouth by the Dukes who won 21-16.
This week the Hokies are not in the rankings. They are 0-2, and like last week, most expect them to come out and take out all their aggression on a non-BCS East Carolina team that is hoping that history can repeat itself for just one more week.
There is absolutely no question the Hokies have the talent, but poor tackling has been a theme for them over the past two weeks and a trend ECU hopes continues.
The Pirates head into today’s matchup with an explosive offense that is averaging 50 points per game and is predicated on throwing underneath to the open man and hoping any one their talented receivers can make a defender miss after the catch.
The Pirates’ offensive line has played extremely well this season and has let up only two sacks in two games. The unit has allowed for Jonathan Williams to rush an average of 100 yards per game and for quarterback Dominique Davis to connect on 58 of his 84 pass attempts for 627 yards and eight TD passes.
Senior wide receiver Dwayne Harris has racked up 13 receptions for 175 yards and three touchdowns, all of which are team-highs. Junior transfer Lance Lewis is second on the team with nine catches for 131 yards and two TDs.
While the Pirates’ offense has benefited from big plays, it has done its best work in the red zone where the team has scored a phenomenal eight touchdowns in its eight appearances.
The red zone hasn’t been so friendly to the Hokies as they have scored on seven of their 10 trips inside the 20, but only four have been touchdowns.
While Virginia Tech’s season opening loss sent them reeling the next week, East Carolina’s 51-49 Week 1 win over Tulsa had the opposite effect, and set the team up for a 49-27 victory over Memphis.
In the first week, the Pirates were all about offense. In their next game, the defense showed up early and created three turnovers that directly led to touchdowns in the first quarter.
That defense will have to play all four quarters with that same intensity as the Hokies’ offensive charge is led by Taylor, who leads his team in passing (310 yards) and rushing (159).
A quarterback like Taylor is always dangerous because he can beat you so many ways. In the past former ECU defensive coordinator Greg Hudson relied heavily on spying a Taylor-like QB with his tackles. Pirates’ first-year head coach Ruffin McNeill said he will use an assortment of tactics to contain Taylor.
“You can’t have any fear, not in this game, you have to do what you do,” McNeill said. “The biggest thing with Tyrod is to contain him. He’s mobile and they do a good job of trying to get him on the edge. You have to be conscious of that and we are. We have some packages that can spy and those kind of things, but you can’t go in there fearing him. We won’t.”
The Hokies also have two phenomenal running backs in sophomore Ryan Williams and junior Darren Evans. Evans rushed for 1,265 yards as a freshman in 2008, but tore his ACL in 2009 which opened up the door for Williams. Last year the freshman rushed for a school-record 1,655 yards and set an ACC single season record with 22 touchdowns. In East Carolina’s 16-3 loss to No. 22 Virginia Tech last season Williams rushed for 179 yards on 26 carries.
Behind those two is another back in which Tech is high on in David Wilson, a 5-11, 200-pound sophomore.
When throwing the ball Taylor has plenty of targets, with the most notable one being N.C. native Jarrett Boykin. Boykin is a 6-2, 215-pound junior who led the team with 40 receptions a year ago and is viewed as the units top playmaker. Other receiving threats include junior Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts. Though third on the depth chart at flanker, sophomore Marcus Davis is a big 6-4 wideout who has impressed with his athleticism and could be a factor.
Playing in its new, predominantly man scheme, ECU corners Travis Simmons and Emanuel Davis, along with safeties Derek Blacknall and Bradley Jacobs will face their biggest test of the year by far.
The Hokies have had issues along the offensive line this season, most notably at left tackle where they had to replace three-year starter Ed Wang. Andrew Lanier, who is 6-5, but only 275 pounds has started at LT in the first two games.
The matchup up front between the Tech offensive line and the Pirates’ D-line may be the most intriguing. Whoever wins that matchup will likely win the game.