Pirates set to host Hokies

Published 11:21 pm Friday, September 9, 2011

East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis (4) throws a pass against South Carolina last Saturday. Today, ECU plays its home opener against Virginia Tech. (AP Photo)

GREENVILLE — Last week East Carolina’s upset bid against No. 12 South Carolina came up two quarters short as its 24-14 halftime lead evaporated after three third-quarter fumbles left the Pirates trailing 35-24 less than five minutes into the second stanza. ECU would never hold the lead again as it fell 56-37 to the Gamecocks in both teams’ season opener.
Once again, East Carolina’s margin for error will be extremely narrow, as the Pirates (0-1, Conference USA) will host No. 11 Virginia Tech (1-0, ACC) today in their home opener.
The Hokies moved up two spots in the AP poll this week after they trounced Appalachian State 66-13 in the their season opener.
Against South Carolina, the Pirates new 3-4 defense had its moments and caused four turnovers while registering four quarterback hurries and one sack. However, on offense, the team committed five turnovers to negate that effort, making ball security a major theme this week at practice.
“The game was evident of the turnovers. We led 4-1 in the turnover ratio in the first half,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. “In the second half it was reversed. We didn’t take the ball away defensively and didn’t take care of the ball on offense. We have to get that corrected and we will.”
Aside from the turnovers, the ECU offense held its own against a staunch USC defense that boasts one of the best D-lines in the country.
Quarterback Dominique Davis hit on 37 of his 56 pass attempts for 260 yards, four TDs and one interception.
Freshmen wide receivers Justin Hardy and Danny Webster looked good in their debuts. Hardy caught 11 passes for 91 yards and scored his first touchdown as a Pirate, while Webster had four receptions for 18 yards.
Going against one of the top corners in the nation in Stephon Gilmore, Lance Lewis looked sensational as the 6-3, 210-pound receiver grabbed 13 balls for 108 yards, both game-highs, and scored two TDs.
ECU will need another big effort from its receiving corps today, and will get a boost by the return of speedy senior WR Michael Bowman from a one-game suspension. That unit will face a strong Virginia Tech secondary led by all-American candidate CB Jayron Hosley.
One of the real encouraging signs last Saturday was the play of the Pirates’ offensive line. Heading into the USC game, ECU had the third most inexperienced group in the FBS as it tallied a mere15 starts among all five players, with sophomore RT Grant Harner accounted for 12 of them.
Facing a loaded Gamecocks’ D-line, ECU allowed zero sacks and five QB hurries.
“When you’re not here everyday you don’t see how hard these guys work,” ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “I’m not that surprised by it. I know people outside of here might have been surprised, but I’m not.”
Virginia Tech’s 4-3 defense is guided by junior LB Bruce Taylor, who tallied a team-high 91 tackles last season as the team won the ACC championship. Sophomore D-end J.R. Collins is a player the school thinks has a ton of potential, and he will be joined up front by brothers Antoine and Derrick Hopkins, who both start at tackle.
For the second week in a row, the ECU defense will be tested by a top-flight offense that features a top-shelf running back in David Wilson.
Buried behind future NFL backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, Wilson made the most out of his opportunities last season as he rushed for 619 yards and five TDs. The junior back, who was clocked at 4.29 in the 40, also returned two kickoffs for scores and caught four TD passes. Last year, Wilson scored twice against the Pirates during Tech’s 49-27 victory in Virginia.
The Hokies return four starters on their O-line and also bring back their top three receivers from a year ago in seniors Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts. That group is anchored by the steady Boykin, who is two receptions and 134 receiving yards away from being the school’s all-time leader in both categories.
Triggering that offense is 6-6, 252-pound sophomore tight-end-turned-QB Logan Thomas, whose rocket arm has been well noted.
“They’re talented. They’ve got physical wide receivers that go the distance, they have an offensive line that has great power and athleticism and they have a running back that I think is probably going to be the best one we see all year,” ECU defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said.
The debut of the Pirates’ 3-4 defense went relatively well last week and was led by ILB’s Daniel Drake and Jeremy Grove, who had 14 and 12 tackles, respectively. That unit will get some help today as preseason all-conference CB Emanuel Davis returns from his one-game suspension.
It could be argued that the ECU defense had an initial advantage because there was no game film of them leading into the South Carolina game. This week, the Hokies have something to look at, but Mitchell doesn’t feel that should make too much of a difference.
“There are some things that (Virginia Tech) may pick up but there are no tendencies in what we do. You don’t know which guy or guys are coming and we want to keep that deception up,” Mitchell said.
Of course, playing against Hokies head coach Frank Beamer, special teams will always be a factor. Tech kicker Justin Myer has a strong leg, while Dyrell Roberts is the school’s all-time leader in kickoff return yards. Doing punt returns will be Hosley, who is always a threat to bring one back.
McNeill was not pleased with his special teams last week as it fumbled a return and allowed Ace Sanders to bring back a punt 68 yards for a score.
McNeill vowed to solve those woes.
“I was disappointed in our coverage teams to say the least,” McNeill said. “We’ll get that fixed. We’ll get that done. We try to directional kick as much as possible to pin returners, so we need our experienced specialists to place the football where we need to.”