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2011 Virginia Tech Football: What to Watch vs. East Carolina

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This week the Hokies hit the road for the first of six away games this season. The venue will be one of the tougher ones Virginia Tech will walk into this year, East Carolina's Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Several ACC teams have gone into Greenville and been sent home with their tail between their legs, but not many of them have been as talented as this Virginia Tech team.

What we saw from the Hokies last week against Appalachian State was improved team speed and a running back that may wind up being truly special. Now, the Hokies have to work on getting more consistency from their quarterback and offensive line and they could be a Top 10 team going into conference play. The next test is their toughest until they face Clemson on Oct. 1  and how they handle it will let us know a lot about this team.

Virginia Tech Offense vs. East Carolina Defense

  • Don't do anything stupid. Pound the rock.
  • Virginia Tech cannot afford to make things hard on itself at Dowdy-Ficklen. That means not turning the ball over and giving the Pirates a short field and not getting behind the chains because of penalties. While how Logan Thomas handles the crowd noise will be important, so will Scott Demler's ability to do the same. Shanked or blocked punts could really hurt the Hokies in this game.
  • East Carolina has switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 this year and while it allows them to get more speed on the field, it hasn't helped their ability to stop the run, at least through one game. South Carolina was able to rack up rushing yards not only with its outstanding running back, Marcus Lattimore, but with its quarterbacks, Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw.
  • Shaw played in just the first quarter, but was able to find running room up the middle while scrambling for 32 yards on six carries (he was sacked once for a loss of six). Garcia's runs were more by design, including a 32-yard touchdown run on a zone-read play.
  • A key for the Hokies will be to control the clock, keep ECU's fast-paced offense off the field and wear down its defense with power running. If Tech can't gain traction up the middle, it could mean trouble for their run game. ECU isn't going to give up nearly as many yards outside the tackles as Appalachian State did because it has more speed and more talent on the outside.
  • One thing I did notice with ECU's defense against South Carolina was that it liked to blitz outside, especially with OLB Marke Powell.
  • The biggest strength for this defense is it's cornerbacks. Without Emanuel Davis in the lineup against South Carolina, Derek Blacknall was forced to cover Alshon Jeffery. He did a pretty good job, defending well on two deep balls down the middle that could have easily been touchdowns had he allowed the receiver to catch the ball. ECU plays a lot of zone, but isn't afraid to leave either corner on an island.
  • While South Carolina struggled to throw the ball down the middle, its receivers were able to find space on the sidelines, especially Jeffery. This was because ECU gave a lot of space off the line of scrimmage to South Carolina's wide receivers. Look for Danny Coale to get a few catches on the outside and for the Hokies.
  • Another thing I noticed about the ECU defense is its tendency to over-pursue, especially the linebackers. South Carolina had a lot of success with counters, zone-read option and draw plays. Hopefully the Hokies will be able to take advantage of this as well.

Virginia Tech Defense vs. East Carolina Offense

  • Blitz Dominique Davis up the middle. Don't miss tackles.
  • South Carolina was most successful stopping the ECU offense when it was able to get defenders in Davis' face, either by blitzing its middle linebackers or getting its defensive ends on the inside of of the ECU tackles. A defensive end with speed should be able to have success against ECU's tackles, who are both sophomores. If James Gayle looks like he's having success getting inside or around the tackles early, it could be a long day for Davis.
  • Where you could run into trouble doing this is when ECU gives the ball to its running back, junior college transfer Reggie Bullock. Bullock's a small back who can hide behind his offensive linemen, but didn't have a great game against South Carolina. One of his first carries went for 18 yards, but he averaged 2.9 ypc on his other 17 rushes.
  • When the Pirates get into short yardage situations, you're usually going to see a swing pass to an inside receiver, some sort of slip screen or tunnel screen to an outside receiver moving toward Davis or a QB draw. In these situations its critical that the first defender to the ball wrap up and not let the receiver or ballcarrier get extra yards. That will make or break the defense's third-down percentage.
  • Davis' primary target is 6-3 outside receiver Lance Lewis. Lewis is at his best when he's in the air and will be a tough match-up for Jayron Hosley and Kyle Fuller.
  • The Hokies have said they'll use a lot of nickel in this game, meaning we'll probably get to see a lot of backup cornerback Cris Hill. 
  • The key against this offense is not to get frustrated. You're going to give up yards and you're going to give up points. It's an offense that's big on timing and momentum and it's tough to stop when both are working well. They key is to disrupt that timing and rhythm and not let them dictate to you. The best way to do that is by getting pressure on the quarterback.

Watch the Box Score

  • Turnovers
  • Penalties
  • VT 3rd Down Percentage
  • VT Sacks

Virginia Tech Players to Watch

  • 4 - David Wilson, Jr., RB
  • 75 - Greg Nosal, Sr., LG
  • 99 - James Gayle, So., DE
  • 9 - Cris Hill, Sr., CB

East Carolina Players to Watch

  • 78 - Jordan Davis, So., LT
  • 1 - Lance Lewis, Sr., WR
  • 10 - Marke Powell, Jr., LB
  • 38 - Emanuel Davis, Sr., CB

Final Score

Virginia Tech 48, East Carolina 28