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Virginia Tech Hokies vs. East Carolina Pirates: Complete Game Preview

Bryan ManningFeatured Columnist IIIOctober 24, 2016

Virginia Tech Hokies vs. East Carolina Pirates: Complete Game Preview

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    Virginia Tech is coming off their first victory of the 2013-14 season, an easy 45-3 victory over FCS Western Carolina. This Saturday, things figure to be a bit more difficult when the Hokies head to Greenville, N.C. to face East Carolina.

    The Pirates enter this game at 2-0, having defeated Conference USA foe Florida Atlantic last week. 

    The two teams last met in 2011, with the Hokies winning 17-10. Before that meeting, they had faced one another four straight years. The Pirates actually defeated the Hokies in 2008. Virginia Tech leads the all-time series, 12-5.

    An intriguing note to this matchup, Virginia Tech's true freshman left tackle, Jonathan McLaughlin, originally signed with East Carolina out of high school. However, after spending one season at Fork Union, McLaughlin committed to the Hokies last December before enrolling in January.

    • When: Saturday, September 14
    • Time: 12:00 p.m.
    • Where: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, N.C.
    • TV: FOX Sports 1
    • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
    • Spread: Virginia Tech -7.5 

     

     

Virginia Tech Keys to Victory

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    Run the football

     

    The Hokies' passing game still isn't where it needs to be. They are currently ranked No. 106 in the country in passing offense, averaging just 142 yards per game. The Hokies can ill afford to try and work the kinks out of their passing game against the Pirates. 

    Fans should expect to see a heavy dose of Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman. With ACC season just two weeks away, Virginia Tech needs the running game to be strong.

    If the Hokies can get out to a lead running the football, quarterback Logan Thomas may try and take a few shots deep. 

     

    Get pressure on Shane Carden

     

    ECU QB Shane Carden is completing almost 80 percent of his passes. Of course, the Pirates offense is centered around the short and intermediate passing game. But, ECU uses their short passing game as a substitute for the running game and it can be tough to stop.

    The key for the Hokies is to get pressure up front. If the Hokies can force Carden to throw the ball quicker than he'd like, they will create turnovers. Slowing down ECU's pass offense is the key to victory for Virginia Tech.

     

    Get better on special teams

     

    This will be an issue until the Hokies clean it up entirely. They lost against Alabama, primarily due to special teams' mistakes that led to two Alabama touchdowns.

    The Hokies had another special teams' mistake against Western Carolina last week. Safety Kyshoen Jarrett, an excellent punt returner, fumbled deep in Virginia Tech territory, which led to the only points of the day for WCU.

    Yes, it didn't hurt the Hokies last week, but if it continues to happen, it will cost them another game. This unit needs to show improvement on a weekly basis. Their coverage was much better last week, but keep in mind the level of competition.  

East Carolina Keys to Victory

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    Shut down Virginia Tech's running game

     

    If East Carolina can shut down, or at least limit, the Hokies' running game, they have a good chance of winning this football game. After two games, the Pirates rank No. 24 in run defense. That's a good number, however, they've played FCS Old Dominion and Florida Atlantic in the first two weeks.

    By limiting the Hokies on the ground, they would force Logan Thomas to be one-dimensional. With his struggles thus far in the passing game, that could present an opportunity to create turnovers.

     

    Keep Virginia Tech's defense off balance

     

    The Hokies' defense is outstanding. They are currently No. 4 nationally in total defense. They are especially strong against the pass. Part of that is due to the Hokies' defensive line creating pressure on the quarterback.

    ECU's fast-paced offense may serve as a good deterrent against the Hokies' pass rush. By taking quick drops, Shane Carden can limit the pressure he will see. It will be important, though, for ECU to mix in the run, especially early in the game. If they keep the Hokies guessing, in addition to their offensive pace, they have the ability to win this game.

     

    Take shots downfield 

     

    Carden may not have the strongest arm, and the Pirates may prefer the short-to-intermediate passing game, but if they want to win against the Hokies, they need to take chances.

    ECU has a plethora of talented receivers. It would be wise for the Pirates to get Justin Hardy deep early in the game. They don't necessarily have to complete it, but the threat of it will keep the Hokies honest. 

Players to Watch: Virginia Tech

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    Quarterback Logan Thomas

     

    All eyes will continue to be on Thomas until he gives a solid, consistent performance for four quarters. Thomas was better against Western Carolina, but considering the opposition, he should be. He did throw two more interceptions, on deep balls, that could have been avoided. 

    Thomas did seem to enjoy throwing to some new targets last week. The emergence of some of these new weapons is big for Thomas on the eve of ACC play. 

     

    Wide receiver Willie Byrn

     

    All summer long, we heard about the emergence of Charley Meyer as a potential receiving threat for Thomas. It was Byrn, however, that emerged as a potential third receiver for the Hokies last week. Byrn, a former walk-on, took advantage of his first extensive playing time of his career.

    Byrn caught four passes for 58 yards last week. He made several tough catches in traffic and along the sideline. When you have a quarterback that is struggling with his accuracy, a receiver like Byrn, who has tremendous hands and runs good routes, is crucial.

    The most important thing for Byrn is that his quarterback trusts him. That will continue to give him more opportunities.

     

    Tight end Kalvin Cline

     

    Cline is an interesting story. He didn't sign with the Hokies until May, having originally planned on walking on at Miami. He played only one year of high school football and was a basketball standout before taking up football.

    At 6'4", 240 pounds, Cline has good size and speed, but needs to add muscle. If the Hokies had their way, though, Cline would have been redshirted this season to acclimate to the college game. Ryan Malleck's injury changed things.

    The Hokies had big plans for Malleck in the passing game this season. After seeing Duan Perez-Means, Darius Redman and Zack McCray, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler clearly felt Cline was already a better option than the upperclassmen. He caught four passes for 46 yards in his college debut. 

     

    The updated Virginia Tech depth chart can be found here

Players to Watch: East Carolina

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    Quarterback Shane Carden

     

    Through two games this season, Carden has completed 63-of-79 passes for 638 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Those are impressive numbers. Carden hasn't been tested yet, though.

    Virginia Tech is one of the better defenses in the nation and Carden will need to be nearly perfect for the Pirates to pull this off. 

     

    Wide receiver Justin Hardy

     

    Hardy is ECU's best weapon and already has 20 receptions for 227 yards in two games. Last season, Hardy caught 88 passes for 1,105 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is a versatile playmaker that can get deep, although ECU prefers the short, quick passing attack. The Hokies will likely assign senior Kyle Fuller to Hardy this weekend.

     

    Linebackers Zeek Bigger and Brandon Williams 

     

    Against Florida Atlantic last week, ECU lost both inside linebackers due to injury. Junior Jeremy Grove, the Pirates' best defensive player, and senior Kyle Tudor, were both hurt and will be out of this week's game. 

    Bigger and Williams both played well against Florida Atlantic last week when the starters went down, each recording nine tackles. But playing a team like Virginia Tech, without both of your starting inside linebackers, will be tough. The Hokies will look to exploit this area by running the ball right at the Pirates. 

     

    The updated East Carolina depth chart can be found here.

What They Are Saying

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    Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, on East Carolina: "They’ve got our attention and have got our respect, they’re a very, very explosive football team.”

    Hokies' senior linebacker, Jack Tyler, on East Carolina's fast-paced passing attack"They remind me a lot of the Patriots. They use their short pass game as their run game." 

    East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill on the Hokies' defense, led by Bud Foster:

    "Defensively, Bud Foster is another person I've known. Bud's reputation precedes him and it's well deserved. He's one of the best in this business and has been for a long time. His defensive units have his personality stamped on them. They've always had athleticism on defense and length in the secondary with rangy and fast DB's. Up front, their defensive-line play is very quick, strong and disruptive. 

     

     

Prediction

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    East Carolina will make a game of this. Their quick passing game will give Virginia Tech fits, especially early in the game. Scoring won't be easy, though.

    The Hokies will run the ball at will, trying to wear down ECU's defensive front and making them have to come from behind on offense. 

    In the end, Logan Thomas will make a couple of big plays in the passing game this week, and the defense will force at least two turnovers to propel the Hokies to a victory over East Carolina.

    Virginia Tech 27, East Carolina 13

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