December 15, 2017

Virginia Tech – East Carolina Preview

The East Carolina Pirates are one of the better non-Power Five schools to never make a top bowl game. There’s still a significant talent gap, but the Pirates’ 5-11 record against Power Five opponents the past five seasons shows a school that can surprise a team when given the chance. The Virginia Tech Hokies, however, are all too familiar with the talents of the Pirates, having lost to them 28-21 last season.

The Pirates biggest challange is their Air Raid offense, designed to keep opposing defenses under a constant barrage of quick, hard to defend pass plays. Last season star quarterback Shane Carden and top receivers Cam Worthy and Justin Hardy beat the Hokies’ vaunted secondary time and again in one-on-one to amass a 21 point lead in just 12 minutes.

The good news for the Hokies is that Carden, Worthy and Hardy have all left East Carolina for the greener pastures of the NFL, but the attack that made them look so vulnerable is still in place. The main problem for tech is that they are a defense built for defending the run and using blitzes to support defensive backs on islands in man coverage. Against a quick pass attack the Hokies’ blitzes aren’t as effective and a lot of pressure is put on the defensive backs to not get beat.

Last season Brandon Facyson was hobbled most of the game by a knee injury that would later take him out for the season and was burned badly on many balls. This season, fully healthy, he and preseason All-American Kendall Fuller look to present a tough test for the Pirates.

The Hokies also have significantly more depth among their other corners. Free safety Chuck Clark was an overmatched sophomore trying to adjust to his first significant action at corner. Now he’s played as one of the best all-around safeties in the ACC with great coverage skills. Sophomore nickel back Greg Stroman has gotten his feet under him after a rough start and senior Donovan Riley has proven adept in coverage over his career at Virginia Tech. Providing the Hokies a number of players to choose from the cover the Pirates’ spread attack.

However, the best news for defensive coordinator Bud Foster was the emergence of freshman Adonis Alexander at rover last week against Purdue. A position that was originally supposed to be filled by freshman standout CJ Reavis before he was dismissed from the university and then subject to a protracted position battle in the fall Alexander shined in his first start taking over for the overmatched Desmond Frye. Playing a deep centerfield for most of the game, Alexander was great in getting up in run support and providing help over the top for Tech corners. Most impressive was his read of Purdue starter Austin Appleby to run from one sideline to the other to snag his second career interception in stride.

With 2014 preseason ACC Player of the Year vote receiver Brenden Motley only making his third career start, the Hokies defense has to step up and keep the Pirates off the scoreboard. So far Motley and the Hokies have been successful by staying on the ground running for 238 yards on 56 rushes against Purdue and 299 yards on 41 rushes against Furman. But if East Carolina jumps out to an early, big lead like they did last year a lot more pressure will be placed on Motley to pass the Hokies back into the game.

While the Pirates aren’t the strong, experienced team they were last year, the Florida Gators, who escaped with a 31-24 win two weeks ago can attest to how dangerous they still are. With Pittsburgh and the ACC portion of their schedule just around the corner, the Hokies need to build momentum with a strong showing Saturday.

About James O'Hara

James O’Hara is a Contributor to District Sports Page covering Virginia Tech football. James is a 2014 graduate of Tech and a diehard Hokie fan. He has serious nostalgia for Blacksburg and always gets pumped up by the opening bars of “Enter Sandman”. James also writes about the Nationals for Citizens of NatsTown and general MLB for the Washington Post Fancy Stats blog. Follow him on Twitter @nextyeardc.

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