We’ve reached perhaps the trickiest game in Virginia Tech’s easy nononference slate, as the Hokies travel to Greenville, N.C., for East Carolina’s home opener.
The Pirates, coming off a 56-37 loss at No. 12 South Carolina last week, will get starting wide receiver Michael Bowman and all-conference cornerback Emmanuel Davis back from one-game suspensions Saturday after the two were arrested this past June.
That should bode well for Coach Ruffin McNeill, especially considering East Carolina led the South Carolina 17-0 at one point last Saturday and even had at halftime lead over Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium last year.
The Pirates averaged 37 points per game in 2010, using the Air Raid attack Texas Tech made famous under former Coach Mike Leach. The four-wide receiver sets and short-to-medium range passing routes should challenge the Hokies’ secondary, particularly the nickel package defensive coordinator Bud Foster will use the majority of the afternoon.
East Carolina wide receivers Lance Lewis and Justin Hardy combined for 24 catches, 199 yards and three touchdowns last week, so cornerbacks Jayron Hosley, Kyle Fuller and Cris Hill will see plenty of action. That, though, could be a good thing considering the Hokies had the second-most interceptions in the country last year (23) and have a pick in eight-straight games dating back to last season.
More noteworthy will be how Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas performs in his first-ever road start. The Hokies put up the second-most points in the country last week (66), but East Carolina presents a different kind of challenge simply because quarterback Dominique Davis is bound to lead the Pirates on a touchdown drive or two.
The Pirates feature a new 3-4 defensive scheme this year and it won’t surprise anyone if they try to stack the box and force Thomas to win the game rather than allow running back David Wilson to run wild again. McNeill even hinted this week at what East Carolina has planned, saying his train of thought when it comes to quarterbacks is “defend the veteran, blitz the young guy.”
Still, there’s a reason the Pirates have given up 45 or more points in six of their last seven games and Virginia Tech is favored by 17.5 in this one – we’re not exactly talking about the ’85 Bears here.
So while it could get uncomfortable for a time Saturday thanks to East Carolina’s explosive offense, expect something similar to last year’s 49-27 victory as the Hokies snag some fortuitous turnovers and pull away in the second half for Coach Frank Beamer’s 200th career victory at Virginia Tech.
My prediction: Virginia Tech 45, East Carolina 27.