Virginia Tech Up Next for Pirates

GREENVILLE, N.C. — ECU (1-2) will take on the Virginia Tech Hokies (2-1) this weekend in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

NO SHORTAGE OF MOTIVATION

East Carolina and Virginia Tech’s semi-rivalry takes center stage yet again, as the two teams meet for the seventh time in eight years for a national televised, likely rainy event.

ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill holds a 1-3 record against Virginia Tech, with last season’s 28-21 victory in Blacksburg as his only win over the Hokies. In that contest, Shane Carden found the end zone four times through the air, and the Pirates stunned the No. 17 Hokies, just weeks after the hosting team downed eventual national-champion Ohio State.

The game catapulted the Pirates into the national spotlight before the team sputtered down the stretch, and sent the Hokies into a downward spiral, topping off at 7-6.

Implications aren’t quite as heavy this season between the two teams. Neither team is ranked and not much is on the line. But given ECU’s emergence in the series — not much success was found for the Pirates until the past few seasons — the Hokies and Pirates will likely feed off of the frustration that comes with being overly-familiar with your opponent.

RESPECT THROUGH RIVALRY

The familiarity between the two coaches is where it all begins. Virginia Tech headman Frank Beamer essentially carried the torch of the ECU-VT series and has roamed the sideline for 18 of the team’s 19 meetings. He holds an all-time 12-6 record against the Pirates and has owned 10 of the last 12 games.

“Virginia Tech is coming in here. Everybody knows how I feel about Coach (Frank) Beamer,” McNeill said. “He’s a Hall of Famer – one of the best in the business and one of the best people in the business. He felt like this team would be one of his best.”

Beamer said of McNeill, “He’s done a great job there in recruiting, in playing. They came right in here and beat us last year and it wasn’t a fluke. The history of this series tells us that it’s going to be a heck of a ball game.”

The mutual respect is obvious. McNeill, after all, has made it clear that his ultimate vision for the ECU program is somewhat modeled on what Beamer has built in his 29 seasons.

“They play us a lot,” McNeill said. “They keep coming down here to play. I think a lot of coach Beamer. I think a lot of that program. I would like our program to model theirs because they win for seasons and that’s what we’d like to build here.”

INTO THE PRESONELL

Winning for seasons has become a trademark in Beamer’s tenure thanks to his ability to reload his teams. The Hokies return nine offensive starters from last season’s squad, but are without starting quarterback Mike Brewer who was banged up against Ohio State in the season’s opening game. Brenden Motley has since stepped in, and has added an extra dimension thanks to his size and mobility.

Since stepping in during the Ohio State game, Motley has thrown five touchdowns to just one interception and has completed 61.4 percent of his passes. However, Motley largely benefits from large targets like Isaiah Ford, Ryan Malleck and Bucky Hodges.

Tight ends Malleck and Hodges stand at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7, respectively and have 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns between them. Ford, at 6-foot-2 has 14 receptions for 266 yards and three touchdowns. He serves as the team’s best vertical threat while the dual tight ends will likely be overpowering mid-range targets.

“They’re probably the best tight end combination were going to see this season,” defensive coordinator Rick Smith said. “They both run well. (Hodges) probably runs better but (Malleck) is a better blocker.”

Despite moving to a more spread-oriented offensive attack last year, Virginia Tech still boasts a deep core of power running backs. Three Hokies have over 100 rushing yards and the team is averaging 221 rushing yards per game. Travon McMillian leads the pack with 179 yards on just 21 carries, averaging 8.5 per touch.

Virginia Tech’s offense isn’t the side of the ball that the team can accredit its success to. Defensively, stalwart defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been Beamer’s right-hand man and leads the Hokie defense, which has historically been one of the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Last season, then-offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley out-coached Foster and thanks to Carden and receiver Cam Worthy’s connections on the deep ball, the Pirates put up 427 yards through the air. The vertical passing attack was the fix-all for the same ECU offense that managed just 10 points in the meeting before that. Things might not be so different this time around.

“They do a good job, even when they’re blitzing, of gap discipline,” McNeill said. “We know when we’ll have to stretch them vertically and that’s what we had to do last year. I like the way our skill guys are competing downfield. We want to be able to stretch the field on all opponents, vertically and horizontally, with the run game mix.”

This year, however, Foster will attempt to continue to build on his 4-2-5 defensive alignment. The formation allows for more defensive backs to line the field, something favorable against ECU and its pass-heavy offense. Navy utilized the same formation and held the Pirates to just 21 points last week.

“They are aggressive with their blitzes and coverages,” offensive coordinator Dave Nichol said of the Hokie defense. “We have to make them make tough plays. We need to execute because they’re talented up front and on the back end.”

Where the Hokies have had the most production is in their secondary — not totally unsurprising considering the amount of talented defenders they boast. Senior cornerback Kendall Fuller headlines the group but fellow corner Chuck Clark has lead the way with his 27 tackles. Secondary rover Adonis Alexander leads the team with two interceptions.

The matchup between Kemp and his receivers against the tough secondary of Virginia Tech could be the ultimate catalyst in the game.

“It’s probably the best secondary we’ve seen,” Nichol said. “Fuller is a really great player there. They’re long, big, physical guys and that’s what they do.”


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