In their season opener, the Hokies took on No. 1 Alabama. Quarterback Logan Thomas completed only six of 26 throws. In the end, his inability to connect with his receivers led to a 35-10 loss for Virginia Tech.
The passing game came together more in Week 2 against Western Carolina, though. Thomas connected on 17 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown en route to a 45-3 win.
"All I know is we're ready for [Virginia Tech] whether they're going to run the ball or they're going to throw the ball," said outside linebacker Derrell Johnson. "Our secondary, our front seven—we're ready, we're prepared. We're very confident in our ability to stop the run and stop the pass."
Thomas found his groove in the second half against Western Carolina last week. He was behind two long touchdown drives, including a 69-yarder that ended with a 19-yard reception by wide receiver D.J. Coles.
Unfortunately for the Hokies, Coles is still battling lingering effects of the knee injury that cost him all but one game last season. Since Virginia Tech has been rotating receivers in case Coles' playing time is limited, the Pirates have to prepare to defend several different possible receiving targets for Thomas.
Defensive back Damon Magazu says the key lies in conditioning. "We aren't going to rotate as much as them rotating in and out," he said. "We did that all offseason and all summer. Coach [Jeff] Connors and his staff did a great job of conditioning us in the offseason… That's one thing I think we take pride in: conditioning and running to the football."
Coles is arguably the best receiver Virginia Tech has. If ECU's secondary can take advantage of Virginia Tech's receiver situation, Thomas may end up running the ball more. Whether that means him running the ball or utilizing his running backs, the Pirates are prepared.
"I'm still working on my pad level, which makes it easy for me to change direction," said Johnson.
"I see that they run the ball a lot," added nose tackle Terry Williams. "I know I like that a lot. I feel like our front seven likes it a lot, so I know we've been focusing on that a lot. They'll run the ball up the middle, run the ball outside—we just work hard in practice and get everything right so we'll be ready for Saturday."
Thomas is the engine that makes Virginia Tech's offense go. Despite that, the common mindset among ECU's defense is to keep the focus internal.
"We're going to focus on ourselves," said Magazu. "We're going to fix the mistakes we made last week. We're going to roll with the game plan that Coach [Rick] Smith and the defensive staff put together. We're just going to continue to fix those things."
Smith is maintaining a simple mindset, too, as he prepares for Thomas and the Hokies. He said his biggest area of focus is "when it's the run play the run and when it's the pass play the pass."