FOUR DOWNS: VIRGINIA TECH

GREENVILLE, N.C. — East Carolina's 35-28 victory over Virginia Tech Saturday put an end to its two-game skid. Despite sloppy conditions, the Pirates beat their rival in front of a sellout crowd. Here are my four downs from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

FIRST DOWN: SUMMERS DAZZLES

Five weeks of James Summers speculation came to a spectacular climax against Virginia Tech Saturday night. The transfer quarterback rushed for 169 yards, passed for 110 more and tallied three touchdowns while ushering in a new-look offensive attack.

What’s curious about Summers’ impressive debut is the timing of the whole thing. He saw no snaps against Navy while the offense sputtered out of control, yet with the momentum in the balance, and the score tied at 14, No. 11 took to the huddle for his first action since the game against Florida. Blake Kemp, the game’s starter, had just capped off two straight scoring drives to seemingly save the Pirates from the claws of defeat. The sudden switch came as a surprise to some.

“We already had a game plan going in to get me in the game,” Summers said. “Blake (Kemp) got us going and we felt like could hit them a different way, in the running game.”

Summers’ dual threat ability took center stage and offensive coordinator Dave Nichol was quick to put his new quarterback’s rushing ability in the spotlight. 21 rushes was the final number for Summers, but none were as explosive as his 60-yard scamper to the goal line where he shook off two Hokie defenders.

That very reason, combined with his throwing ability, make Summers an ideal candidate to hold down the job moving forward. Simply put, East Carolina’s offense opened up an entirely new dimension and Summers is the catalyst that made it possible.

SECOND DOWN: BROWN MAKES IMMEDIATE IMPACT

The vertical passing game was the difference maker for ECU in last season’s win over Virginia Tech, and if the same held true during Saturday’s rematch, then Trevon Brown’s return to the outside held serious implications.

Perhaps the weather was the blame, but for a majority of the game the Pirates deferred to shorter passes and option runs. The game plan paid dividends as ECU racked up 410 total yards of offense, 228 of which were through the air.

Despite the lack of vertical attack, Brown had a breakout return to the lineup since his suspension after the Towson game. Whatever rust had accumulated during his three-week absence was quickly shaken off after his 11-yard leaping touchdown grab in the first quarter.

“I was just excited to be with my boys. The team means everything,” Brown said. “Just to get back out there and play, not even scoring touchdowns, but just playing means so much to me.”

Brown clearly means a lot to his team as well and from the opening kickoff, the sophomore receiver was a factor in the game. He finished with 44 yards on four catches but gave Isaiah Jones, Davon Grayson, and the other Pirate receivers far more room to work with.

THIRD DOWM: NICHOL OUT-COACHES FOSTER

Former offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley had a breakout performance last season against Virginia Tech, dismantling the vaunted Hokie secondary and downing star defensive coordinator Bud Foster.

New offensive coordinator Dave Nichol had a performance akin to Riley’s, and despite falling behind 14-0 early thanks to turnovers, his offense overcame and, like his predecessor, the first-year coordinator walked away with Foster conquered.

Nichol’s switch to Summers proved to be the difference maker, but even before the quarterback stepped onto the field he engineered back-to-back scoring drives led by Kemp.

From the get-go Virginia Tech’s defensive front was getting the better of the ECU line, thanks in part to key injuries and guard Christian Matau making his first start. Kemp was hit early, forcing the turnovers, but soon after Nichol utilized his short passes and athletic receivers to much success.

He certainly benefited from the absence of Hokie corner Kendall Fuller who was held out of the game because of a knee injury. Instead of facing one of the game’s most elite shutdown corners, the Pirates squared off with sophomore Greg Stroman.

It wasn’t even fair. Stroman was picked apart and keyed on for the entirety of the game. With little help over the top, the sophomore corner stood no chance against whoever he lined up against.

Nichol recognized the weak link and exploited it. At the end of the day, he earned his stripes against Foster, one of the most widely respected coordinators at this level.

FOURTH DOWN: FIVE STRAIGHT OVER ACC

ECU has been no stranger to its closely-related Atlantic Coast Conference brethren. Often left on the outside looking in while in-state schools North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest get the perks of a Power-Five program, the Pirates have made a point of putting their name in the conversation with matchups against AAC teams.

Virginia Tech is just the latest in the string of AAC teams to fall to the Pirates, but ECU now owns a five-game winning streak against said teams, all of which came in the last three seasons.

“I appreciate the fact that coach (Frank) Beamer comes and plays us,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “I’ve said this publicly, I would like our program to be run like (Virginia Tech’s).”

It might be safe to consider two-straight against the Hokies a step towards that goal.


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