BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler knows more than most of his teammates about East Carolina. His father, Tim, played on the defensive line for the Pirates and still likes to tell Jack about the time he chased down Louisiana Tech quarterback Terry Bradshaw in a game.
When the Hokies take on East Carolina this weekend, Tim will make the trip from Northern Virginia to Greenville, N.C., for the first time “in 40 years,” according to Jack. And now that Jack Tyler, a former All-Met from Oakton, has blossomed from a walk-on to an all-ACC linebacker at Virginia Tech, Tim will almost certainly be wearing maroon and orange at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.
But the Tyler family won’t need any reminder about just how important this game has become for the Pirates’ faithful.
“This is probably their Super Bowl,” Jack Tyler said Tuesday during Virginia Tech’s weekly news conference. “I mean, this is a big game for them. I’m sure they have Virginia Tech circled.”
The Hokies are treading carefully ahead of their latest meeting against East Carolina, which is the team’s first real test since a season-opening loss to No. 1 Alabama on Aug. 31. Virginia Tech faced the Pirates every year between 2007 and 2011 and held a 4-1 record during that time. But in five of the past seven times the Hokies have traveled to Greenville, N.C., the game has been decided by seven points or less.
East Carolina also appears to have one of its better teams in recent memory, with wins over Old Dominion and Florida Atlantic to start the season and 16 starters back from a team that lost just once at home in 2012.
Unlike two years ago, when Virginia Tech escaped from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with a 17-10 win in quarterback Logan Thomas’s first-ever road start, this won’t be East Carolina’s home opener. Nonetheless, Coach Frank Beamer expects a raucous atmosphere.
“The worst stadiums to me are the ones where no one cares,” he said Tuesday. “East Carolina people care that Virginia Tech is coming to town and they’ll be loud.”
This week, Beamer has lauded East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden, who has completed 79.8 percent of his passes this season. Tyler equated the Pirates’ Air Raid offense, which is predicated heavily on a short passing attack, to the way the New England Patriots use short passes as a form of running the football.
The Pirates are averaging more than 324 passing yards per game through two weeks of the season. Beamer said the Hokies’ scout team will use two huddles during practice to simulate the pace of East Carolina’s attack. Three of Virginia Tech’s next four opponents use pass-happy spread schemes, and the other game is against the unorthodox triple-option offense of ACC Coastal Division rival Georgia Tech.
“It definitely is a measuring stick for us because we know the next couple weeks here, we are going to be going against some of these up-tempo, kind of in-your-face style offenses,” Tyler said. “We’ve got to get prepared for them. We’ve got to start learning how to play good defense against them. I want to go against an offense like this. This is our first chop at playing a team that plays a similar offense to like a UNC.”
East Carolina will also present issues for Virginia Tech’s offense, which hasn’t exactly set the world on fire under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. Though the Hokies put up 45 points against Western Carolina this past week, Thomas threw two first-half interceptions in the end zone and the Hokies had just two offensive scoring drives before halftime.
Virginia Tech won’t be able to recover as easily from such a slow start against East Carolina. The Pirates, who qualified for a bowl game two of the past three years, have won just three games since 2010 when they score 30 points or less.
“We have to go out there and score points and if . . . it turns into a shootout, then we have to keep up with those guys as well,” running back J.C. Coleman said.
Added Beamer: “We’ve got our hands full. There’s no question.”
Hokies notes: Virginia Tech announced that defensive lineman Corey Marshall re-joined the team for Tuesday’s practice after spending the past three weeks away from the program for personal reasons. Marshall, who was expected to be a significant contributor along the defensive line this year, has 39 tackles and 4.5 sacks in two seasons. His status for this weekend’s game at East Carolina remains undecided.
The school also announced that redshirt freshman defensive lineman Alston Smith, the son of former Hokies great and NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, will start working with the offensive line going forward.