Preview: Virginia Tech vs. East Carolina
WHEN: 7:45 p.m.
WHERE: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, N.C. (43,000).
FORECAST: Clear, mid 40s.
TV: ESPN. RADIO: WWXT (92.7 FM), WWXX (94.3 FM), WTEM (980 AM), WAGE (1200 AM).
RECORDS: Hokies 5-3; Pirates 5-3.
COACHES: Frank Beamer (182-92-2, 23rd year); Skip Holtz (34-25, fifth year)
WHEN VIRGINIA TECH HAS THE BALL
Virginia Tech's offense has appeared to downshift the past two games, scoring a total of three points in the first half against Georgia Tech and North Carolina. But the Hokies likely will not have an easy rebound game against an experienced Pirates defense. End C.J. Wilson could cause trouble for the Hokies' offensive line, and free safety Van Eskridge plays all over the field (three interceptions). But with a balanced and efficient attack, the Hokies showed promise on offense through the season's midway point. Starting on Thursday, Virginia Tech will look to reclaim some of that potency.
WHEN EAST CAROLINA HAS THE BALL
Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster acknowledged this week that this Hokies' unit is perhaps not as talented as those in past years. Virginia Tech's defense has been susceptible to big plays, has struggled against the run and has shown lapses in coverage. Yet the Hokies should not meet much of a test against East Carolina. Running back Dominique Lindsay is averaging 95 rushing yards per game, but there are few weapons to speak of outside the Pirates' backfield. If the Hokies can snuff Lindsay, they should shut down the Pirates' offense.
East Carolina is sound in special teams, and Virginia Tech can look to last year for evidence. With 1 minutes 52 seconds remaining, the Pirates blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to upset the Hokies in the season opener. East Carolina has another strong unit. Travis Simmons is a dangerous punt returner, averaging 17.7 yards per return but with no touchdowns this season. Matt Dodge is among the country's best punters, ranking fifth nationally at 45.3 yards per punt. East Carolina's strong special teams play could play a pivotal role Thursday.
Among the Hokies' coaches, the buzz about East Carolina's Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is that the place will become "a hornets nest" for a Thursday night game. And Coach Skip Holtz has built up the meeting with the Hokies, telling his players to temporarily disregard the conference schedule for this shot to knock off a ranked opponent. The motivation for Virginia Tech is different. With their hopes for a national and conference title seemingly dashed, the Hokies are playing for pride. Will the coaches have them ready?
-- Mark Viera