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The Hokies vs the Pirates: Folks, this is a real Rivalry

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The Virginia Tech Hokies vs the East Carolina Pirates, this folks, is a game that is no longer just a non-conference warm-up. It looks like we've developed our very own private rivalry. Well it's time for the rest of college football to acknowledge it. This game means something, to both teams, every season. Let's look at where we are and what's going to be key.

Ford runs after a catch in last season's heartbreak loss to the Pirates
Ford runs after a catch in last season's heartbreak loss to the Pirates
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday September 26th at 3:30 pm the Virginia Tech Hokies will take the field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina.  Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill (six seasons and counting) heads up an American Athletic Conference team that has bedeviled and befuddled Virginia Tech Hokies teams far too often not to call this matchup a serious non-conference rivalry.

With a potential 50,000 plus fans in the stadium, ECU will be pushing hard to challenge the Hokies with a 12th man, as well as giving us a full measure of effort from the football field.  Folks, this is the first contest with a very evenly matched program that we have had this season.  We were on the short end of the stick for Ohio State, with a small outside chance of winning.   Furman and Purdue were both listed as cupcake, to near cupcake status; though with our missing starting QB those outcomes might not have been very satisfying.

Whatever else is in play for this game, the reality is that these teams mean to go out and beat each other; period.  ECU, regardless of its record has its team blood up when they are playing the Hokies.  Consequently, all observations, analysis, or numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt - ok, maybe a spoonful.

ECU Pirates - The Search for ‘New'

ECU is not exactly the same team as we have faced for the last three seasons.  The players who did so much to damage our #DBU self-image (and the scoreboard) are now gone.  The Carden to Worthy and Allen connection isn't there this year.  There are new players with new abilities, so let's look at the current stat-line*

Passing in 2015 to date

NAME

COMPLETIONS

ATTEMPTS

YARDS

PERCENT

YARDS/ ATTEMPT

TD

INT

RAT

Blake Kemp

99

140

893

70.7

6.38

6

2

135.6

James Summers

3

4

13

75.0

3.25

0

0

102.3

Totals

102

144

906

70.8

6.29

6

2

134.7

Rushing in 2015 to date

NAME

CARRIES

YARDS

AVERAGE

LONG

TD

Chris Hairston

45

207

4.6

45 (TD)

4

Anthony Scott

17

60

3.5

16

0

Devin Anderson

2

32

16.0

17

0

James Summers

1

1

1.0

1

0

Totals

76

259

3.4

45

4

Receiving in 2015 to date

NAME

RECEPTIONS

YARDS

AVERAGE

LONG

TD

Isaiah Jones

30

342

11.4

36

1

Bryce Williams

17

161

9.5

19

3

Jimmy Williams

13

102

7.8

19

1

Davon Grayson

7

87

12.4

31 (TD)

1

Chris Hairston

16

83

5.2

12

0

Brandon Bishop

6

45

7.5

11

0

Quay Johnson

5

35

7.0

11

0

DaQuan Barnes

3

24

8.0

9

0

Stephen Baggett

2

14

7.0

7

0

Anthony Scott

3

13

4.3

9

0

Totals

102

906

8.9

36

6

What's plain to see is that Ruffin McNeill has his work cut out for him.  His quarterback is new, and his running game is pretty weak.  The total of 259 yards on the ground for three games, of which 1 was an FCS opponent, is going to be a difficult issue for the Pirate offense to fix.  Since the running game has so much to do with the offensive line, and the play concept design, McNeill has to figure out a way to milk some more ball control and break his team's Offensive single dimension status.

The Pirate Passing game is what's been keeping them alive.  They have a higher passing yardage total with more passes attempted for fewer yards.  Much of this comes from the newness of the quarterback, and the need to give him higher percentage throws. It also speaks of a very inexperienced and challenged offense on the whole.   Coach McNeill is being forced to substitute a short passing game for his lack of running offense.

The Pirate Defense is a real concern; for ECU that is.  We saw Navy's option cut them to ribbons.  That can't last long, and embarrassment is a powerful motivator.  We need to be concerned about it because any defense can turn on a dime, get all hyped up and play like their helmets are on fire.  This is one of those occasions.

Virginia Tech Hokies - Balance Emotions with the Proper Game Plan

Tech walks into this contest with a solid win under its belt at the FBS level, and a slow start shaky first half against an FCS team; Purdue and Furman.  (Notice I am omitting the OSU debacle... it's useless for this analysis and proves nothing.) Brenden Motley has done a credible job at Quarterback, with two decent performances, and better than average statistics earning him a solid ‘B' in many an analyst's gradebook.  That's still a ‘B' and as we head into ACC games it's still too early to be putting in orders for "Championship" Tee Shirts from the Main Street kitsch shops.  He'll need to take another step up this weekend.

The receiver group is still oddly configured for a college football team, with three starting quality tight ends, a combo H-Back/Fullback and, two wide receivers.  The Hokies come to the playing field on Saturday without a solid understanding of how to deploy these resources in an effective manner.  Yes, we put up some yards and some catches, but the passing game is still too tenuous and under developed to put much strain on it.   Here are the Hokie Offensive performance totals:*

Passing in 2015 to date

NAME

COMPLETIONS

ATTEMPTS

YARDS

PERCENT

YARDS/ ATTEMPT

TD

INT

RAT

NAME

CMP

ATT

YDS

CMP%

YDS/A

TD

INT

RAT

Brenden Motley

35

57

489

61.4

8.58

5

1

158.9

Michael Brewer

11

16

156

68.8

9.75

2

0

191.9

Dwayne Lawson

3

8

51

37.5

6.38

0

0

91.1

Sam Rogers

1

1

13

100.0

13.00

0

0

209.2

Totals

50

82

709

61.0

8.65

7

1

159.3

Rushing in 2015 to date

NAME

CARRIES

YARDS

AVERAGE

LONG

TD

Travon McMillian

21

179

8.5

63

0

Trey Edmunds

29

136

4.7

35

1

J.C. Coleman

25

104

4.2

10

1

Brenden Motley

26

79

3.0

20

2

Dwayne Lawson

13

51

3.9

10

1

Shai McKenzie

13

50

3.8

11

0

Sam Rogers

4

38

9.5

16

0

Chris Durkin

4

25

6.3

9

0

Isaiah Ford

1

7

7.0

7

0

Michael Brewer

4

0

0.0

6

0

Totals

141

665

4.7

63

5

Receiving in 2015 to date

NAME

RECEPTIONS

YARDS

AVERAGE

LONG

TD

Isaiah Ford

14

266

19.0

61

3

Cam Phillips

10

116

11.6

29

0

Ryan Malleck

7

99

14.1

40

1

Sam Rogers

5

81

16.2

51 (TD)

1

Bucky Hodges

5

59

11.8

46

2

Kalvin Cline

1

31

31.0

31

0

Travon McMillian

4

16

4.0

9

0

Brenden Motley

1

13

13.0

13

0

Kevin Asante

1

13

13.0

13

0

Trey Edmunds

1

8

8.0

8

0

Demitri Knowles

1

7

7.0

7

0

Totals

50

709

14.2

61

7

The Virginia Tech Hokies have more players posting significant contributions than the ECU Pirates.  Tech's depth (something we are not used to saying, here) is slightly better, and the offensive totals have been much better than many of us expected, given the injury to Brewer.

There are challenges, though.  East Carolina is going to be at home with its blood up.  They desperately need this win for both their program success for the season, and their confidence.  They were beaten by the Gators, but hung in to make it a real game; only to be brutalized on the ground by Navy.  Tech's offense is going to be pressed hard by whatever defense McNeill can glue together.  Virginia Tech's Offensive line is going to be tested this weekend.

Our run game is going to be important, but not completely key.  We have a chance to move the ball and score on ECU, and those risks must be taken.  Yes, the Hokies might well prevail with a running game; but that approach has not worked very well for the first three games of the season.  Tech's running game depends on the passing game loosening up the defense, and not allowing it to load the box to stop the run.

Tech's defense shouldn't see a really successful run operation from ECU.  I do expect them to try to establish some sort of running game, but I think Bud Foster can put the Dime in his hip pocket for the contest, and work the nickel.  ECU's passing game is in much the same shape as ours.  A new quarterback means that regardless of the receiver quality, the idea is to get pressure on the guy chucking the rock.

This game should be a relatively even contest between two evenly matched teams in personnel and capability.  The difference will be in Virginia Tech's better experience at critical offensive positons and the ever present Bear Front backed up by #DBU.

The ECU Pirates win if they can put pressure on Motley to force him to make mistakes.  It must also develop or establish some credible level of run attack so Foster has to go back to Dime configurations.   They have to take full advantage of their better crowd situation, and the fact that Tech has been on the road two weeks in a row.  Of course the Hokies can contribute to a disaster by making more critical penalty mistakes.

The Virginia Tech Hokies win if they run a balanced offense, where Motley is given the plays that he can make.  It also must be efficient and make first downs by avoiding 3rd and long situations.  We need to run the ball off the edges, with one cut counters and sweeps.  We need to avoid obvious plays that go for no meaningful yardage.  Tech must get good pressure on an inexperienced QB, and take advantage of an inexperienced receiver corps to keep the ECU offensive series down to a few plays.  We also need to generate turnovers.  Above all, The Hokies must get the Tight Ends into the game, and stop the penalties.

ECU is more potent and has a real history of being a very painful opponent.  Tech needs to be in control of its emotions, but allow the adrenaline of vengeance for last year's embarrassment to drive them to play mistake free, shutdown defense.

The kickoff is at 3:30.  Parent Weekend will be in full swing in Blacksburg.  I bet the TV lounges around campus are going to be full, and the bars will be busy.

This game isn't going to be easy ECU is NOT a cupcake, but it is one that we can win.

GO HOKIES!!!


*Stats from ESPN:

http://espn.go.com/college-football/team/stats/_/id/259/virginia-tech-hokies

http://espn.go.com/college-football/team/stats/_/id/151