Countdown to Kickoff: Virginia Tech

GREENVILLE, N.C. — ECU will face its second consecutive nationally-ranked opponent when it travels to Blacksburg, VA. to meet No. 17 Virginia Tech Saturday.

The last time the East Carolina football team lost consecutive games was in 2011 and the Pirates have not left Lane Stadium at Virginia Tech with a victory since the magical 11-1 season in 1991.

One of those streaks will come to an end Saturday afternoon when the Pirates meet the Hokies for their 19th all-time meeting.

No. 17 Virginia Tech (2-0), who is a week removed from its upset road victory of No. 8 Ohio State, has won 10 of its last 11 games against ECU (1-1), which includes an ugly 15-10 win in Greenville last September.

The Pirates’ experienced offensive line surrendered seven sacks at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that afternoon and quarterback Shane Carden struggled mightily, throwing three interceptions as ECU amassed just 205 total yards against Bud Foster’s stingy defense.

Two years prior to that, Foster got the best of ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley again by limiting the Pirates to an astounding 112 yards in a 17-10 Virginia Tech win. However, in his fifth year calling plays at ECU, Riley played down the chess-match element to this Saturday’s game between him and Foster.

“It’s not as much as you guys think,” Riley said when asked about Saturday’s result will be about Foster and himself. “Virginia Tech is a lot like us, they don’t try to fool you. We do very few things that fool you. Our deal is to try to out-execute you and be better at what we do than you are, and that’s how Bud and those guys run that defense.”

Fifth-year ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill added, “That’s the beauty of being a play-caller. Lincoln and Bud both play to their strengths.”

Similar to McNeill and Riley, Virginia Tech’s starting quarterback, junior Michael Brewer, is a Texas Tech transplant that played in 13 games during his two-year stint in Lubbock, TX, before arriving in Blacksburg. Although he tossed two interceptions last week in Columbus, OH, Brewer passed for a modest 199 yards with a pair of touchdown throws.

The Hokies rushed for 125 yards against the Buckeyes with five different ball carriers — including Brewer — eclipsing double-figure rushing totals. Freshmen Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams have been given the bulk of the carries in the first two games, but it purely a running back by committee in second-year coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense.

The most intriguing individual matchup Saturday is between the Pirates’ decorated senior receiver, Justin Hardy, and Hokies’ sophomore cornerback Kendall Fuller, who is the youngest of three Fuller brothers to play at Virginia Tech.

Hardy caught just six passes for 31 yards in last year’s meeting and Virginia Tech is one of three opponents (Marshall, Houston) he has faced multiple times in his career without catching a touchdown.

Despite his struggles, Hardy appeared unconcerned and claims he has learned plenty from his first two run-ins with the Hokies.

“You just have to capitalize and do everything you can with the opportunities you get. You’ve got to take advantage of what you get,” he said.

McNeill told reporters following Wednesday evening’s practice at the Cliff Moore Practice Complex that sophomore inside linebacker Devaris Brunson would miss the rest of the 2014 season due to gruesome knee injury he suffered against South Carolina last weekend.

Brunson joins former inside ECU linebacker Jeremy Grove, who was forced to end his football career early with lingering neck injuries, as inside linebackers to unexpectedly drop out of the Pirates’ rotation, in addition to May graduates Kyle Tudor and Ty Holmes.

Junior Zeek Bigger and senior Brandon Williams are two of the team’s top returning tacklers from 2013 and will have to shoulder more of the load defensively now that the center of the Pirates’ linebacking corps has become considerably thinner. “Devaris was a little bit of a blow, said inside linebackers coach John Wiley. “Right now, we’re able to weather the storm. I don’t know how many more hits we can take, but we’re doing okay right now.”

Cameron White and true freshman Ray Tillman are listed as the immediate back-ups to Bigger and Williams.

In potentially positive injury-related news, ECU’s senior nose tackle Terry Williams will likely play against the Hokies after missing the first two games of the season with a knee injury. Second-year defensive coordinator Rick Smith told Inside ECU Sports that Williams’ playing time would be limited, but that he could play up to 20 snaps Saturday.

Television: ESPN (Dave Pasch, Brian Griese, Tom Luginbill), Radio: Pirate IMG Sports Network (Jeff Charles, Kevin Monroe, Marty Feurer), Kickoff time: Noon.

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