Virginia Tech Hokies 5-3, 3-1 ACC @ East Carolina Pirates 5-3, 4-1 C-USA
Kickoff: 7:45 pm
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, N.C.
Radio: XM 190; Sirius: 213
Series vs. ECU: VT leads, 9-5
Series Streak: ECU, 1
With losses to Georgia Tech and then UNC, the past two games have certainly served up some hard pills for Hokie fans to swallow, but as we come into the home stretch of the regular season, let's hope that our Hokies play with all the same heart as a team marching towards a conference championship. Our boys still have yet to reach bowl eligibility, and finishing strong in the remainder of the regular season increases the chances for a better bowl bid against a formidable opponent.
The rest of the Hokies' season begins today against the East Carolina Pirates. The Pirates upset the Hokies in last year's season opener at Lane Stadium. They gave the Hokies the wakeup call they needed to understand that they'd have to earn the ACC title rather than have it just fall into their laps. This season, the Pirates enter the game with a record of 5-3, same as Virginia Tech. Two of their losses come at the hands of BCS conference opponents West Virginia and the very same North Carolina team who defeated the Hokies last week. ECU plays out of the same conference as Marshall, another Conference USA team on the Hokies' 2009 schedule. Virginia Tech travels to Greeville today to play in an ECU stadium that many expect to fill up with very exited fans who would love to witness an upset against a prestigious team from a BCS conference. The Pirates smell blood in the water because Virginia Tech, who has just taken a mid-season skid, fits that bill very well. Skip Holtz, son of college football commentator Lou Holtz, says, "There is an awful lot of buildup and excitement for this game, venue and atmosphere. I think Greenville will come alive a little bit Thursday. We're really excited to not only play Virginia Tech, but to play the team at home." Expect an ECU team ready to bring their A-game to demonstrate that last year's victory over the Hokies didn't come as a fluke.
East Carolina has demonstrated some strong offense this season, and to no real surprise with 8 returning starters. Quarterback Patrick Pinkey takes the helm as a Senior with plenty of experience dating back to the 2007 season. His numbers have improved since he started playing the position. Haling from Fayetteville, NC, he stands at 6'1" and 205 lbs. He has thrown for 1515 yards, 8 touchdowns, and for a completion percentage of 57%. Dominique Lindsay and Brandon Jackson fill the role of the primary ball carriers for the Pirates. Lindsay has rushed for 570 yards and 3 touchdowns over 99 attempts. The Senior doesn't stand as the largest in the lot of college football running backs at 5'10" weighing 202 lbs, and neither does Jackson also standing at 5'10" and weighing 202 lbs. His numbers fall shy of Lindsay's at 264 yards and 3 touchdowns over 73 attempts. In the area of receiving, Pinkey primarily looks to Junior wide receiver Dwayne Harris. He has made 47 receptions and caught for 521 yards and 3 touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Jamar Bryant has caught for 200 yards, 21 receptions, and 2 touchdowns. Standing at 6'1" and 6'2" respectively, neither creates too much of a height problem for the Hokie secondary. Also, the ECU injury report has Bryant listed as doubtful for today's game with a shoulder injury. In total offense, the team places fourth in their home conference, but the vast majority of their yardage gains comes from rushing. Expect Holtz and ECU to rely heavily on the running game, especially with Bryant sidelined.
On the other side of the ball, ECU's defense also has eight returning starters and also ranks fourth in their home conference. Mirroring their offense, they have a much poorer passing defense than running defense. If you'd chose to have one over the other against the Hokies, a better rushing defense makes for a better bet. However, there does lie a very big BUT here. Hokie Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has begun to turn the page this season as a quarterback who can consistently pass for yardage gains. He has demonstrated that in the midst of some tough mid-season losses, not that that the Hokie offense has looked great as a whole for all this time. This contest may make for the perfect opportunity for him to establish some rhythm with his young receiver core and boost one another's confidence. Something does work in ECU's favor in this aspect on the other hand. Their defense has a high number of quarterback hurries at 35 on the season. Now, they have done that primarily against weaker teams than the Hokies, but they have nonetheless demonstrated their ability to do it. 32 of those hurries happened during games they won, so if that starts happening a lot to Taylor, get worried.
Should Virginia Tech drop this game, it would mark their first three game loosing streak since 2003. At the same time, however, this game offers Virginia Tech a chance to get back on the saddle of winning and handing a defeat to a pumped up opponent on their own field. That could set the tone for a strong Hokie finish to their regular season.