First Look: Virginia Tech
East Carolina’s budding rivalry with Virginia Tech takes center stage yet again this upcoming season as the Pirates host the Hokies in their fourth non-conference game of the season on Sep. 26. The matchup between the two teams will mark the eighth meeting in the past nine with the Hokies holding a 2-5 advantage over that stretch. While Virginia Tech fans are hard pressed to call the Pirates a rival, ECU is fresh off of a 28-21 victory in Blacksburg a season ago in what would turn out to be one of the Hokies’ more disappointing seasons in recent memory. Virginia Tech’s porous secondary was at the forefront of the loss. ECU quarterback Shane Carden had one of his finest performances of the season, connecting on 23 passes for 427 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver Cam Worthy hauled in six passes for 224 yards and the Pirates jumped out to an early 21-0 lead before tacking another touchdown on in the final quarter of play to stave off the Hokie comeback. This season, however, will be very different for the Pirates as their leading rusher, passer and receiver from that game have all graduated. Conversely, Virginia Tech will be with the benefit of returning most of its starters from last season. Senior quarterback Michael Brewer headlines the Hokie offense. Starting all 13 games last season, he tossed 18 touchdown passes while completing 59.4 percent of his passes under third-year offensive coordinator Scott Loefler. Loefler’s pro-style offense ushered in a new era of Hokie football when he was hired in 2013. The days of Virgina Tech’s high-flying spread offense have since disappeared and now the Hokies rely on playing turnover-free ball. That being said, turnovers were the Achilles heel of the Hokies last season as 26 of them helped propel them to a 7-6 season. In an effort to get back to the winning ways that have become so customary to the Blacksburg faithful since legendary coach Frank Beamer has been at the helm, the Hokies will be returning both their leading rusher and receiver from last season. Leading rusher J.C. Coleman is back and looking to improve on his 475-yard campaign from a season ago. A struggling offensive line didn’t make life easy on Coleman or the rest of the Hokie backfield. Now, with the benefit of another season, the Virginia Tech offensive line has a chance to build on its experience. Last season, Hokie quarterbacks were sacked 48 times and Brewer was left running around the backfield, looking for any kind of daylight. On the rare occasion that Brewer could set and throw, his favorite receiver, Isaiah Ford was usually open. The sophomore Ford’s 56 receptions and 709 yards led the revolving door of Virginia Tech receivers and his return spells trouble for the ECU secondary. In the game between the Pirates and Hokies last season, the hype surrounded the matchup between cornerback Kendall Fuller and receiver Justin Hardy. Then a sophomore, Fuller helped shutdown one of the most explosive receivers in the game to just four catches for 47 yards and even recovered a fumble. Fuller is an exceptional defensive player on a team ripe with them and the Hokie defense should have the upper hand against the skilled but inexperienced Pirates. Last season the Hokies had no problems playing defense and they held their opponents to 20.2 points per game while allowing just 13 touchdown passes through the air. Safety Kyshoen Jarrett, last season’s leading tackler with 88, isn’t returning but outside of him and Detrick Bonner, Virginia Tech is returning three of its top-five leading tacklers. Senior linebacker Deon Clarke, junior corner Chuck Clark and senior defensive end Dadi Lhomme Nicolas combined for 220 tackles and 38 tackles for a loss last season and provide experience at every layer of the defense. The last time Virginia Tech sauntered into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium they left the ECU faithful dissatisfied with a 15-10 grind-it-out win that featured a putrid display of field goal kicking by both side. A low-scoring game seems likely this time around and ECU’s inexperienced offense will have its hands full with what is expected to be one of the best defenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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