Preview: Virginia Tech at East Carolina
by Dave Congrove
No matter what happens the rest of the year, this is a disappointing season for Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech's national championship drive crashed and burned at Georgia Tech. The Hokies are mathematically, but not realistically, alive for a Coastal division title after last Thursday's home loss to North Carolina.
So, after two straight ACC losses, the Hokies have to find some inner incentive to get pumped up for a revenge game at East Carolina. The Pirates stunned them in Charlotte in last year's season opener with the late return of a blocked punt. Yep, ECU went 'Beamerball' on Virginia Tech.
This is a team that was the hands-down favorite to win the ACC for a third consecutive season, largely on the basis of an offense that was expected to show significant improvement in QB Tyrod Taylor's junior season. Taylor has played much better, and the running game has been more than sufficient with redshirt freshman Ryan Williams exhibiting Virginia Tech's depth at that position after Darren Evans was lost for the season in August workouts. Still, the offense has lacked continuity - it came away empty on five first-half trips into UNC territory in last Thursday's debacle.
The biggest concern, however, has to be the defense. Bud Foster's group isn't playing anywhere near the level that everyone has come to expect from the defensive mastermind whose units are almost always top-10 material in virtually every statistical category. This year's group ranks 29th in total defense and scoring defense, 9th in pass defense, and a dismal 79th in run defense. The pass defense ranking is misleading, though, as they simply haven't faced strong passing teams.
Offensively, Virginia Tech ranks 79th overall, 26th rushing, and 103rd passing. However, Williams ranks 13th in rushing and Taylor is 13th in passer rating. Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring has been under intense scrutiny from restless fans for more than two years for running a vanilla offense. Head coach Frank Beamer has ignored calls to replace him, and who can argue with the man when he has taken the program to unprecedented levels of success with relatively few changes in key staff positions.
East Carolina, on the other hand, has had a resurrection under Skip Holtz. The son of Lou Holtz took over in 2005 and is 34-24 in 4-plus years at the Greenville, North Carolina school. The Pirates have been to three consecutive bowl games after going bowl-less from 2002-2005, and last year's squad captured the CUSA crown.
This year's East Carolina team enters Thursday night's game with the same record as Virginia Tech at 5-3, but unlike the Hokies, the Pirates lead the east division and already hold victories over two of their four closest challengers.
You won't find much evidence of their success in national statistical rankings. The Pirates are 80th in total offense and 60th in total defense. UCF and Marshall are the only FBS teams they have defeated that currently possess winning records.
On paper, this should be a blowout win for Virginia Tech. After all, one team is measured in terms of national ranking, and the other is merely measured against the other members of a non-BCS conference. But that's no different than last year and we all know what happened in Charlotte.