Virginia Tech has dominated the all-time series against East Carolina, but the Pirates always remind the Hokies to take them seriously.
“I consider ECU playing like an ACC team,” defensive end James Gayle said. “They are definitely someone we need to prepare for, or they will beat us.”
The Hokies have been on edge against the Pirates ever since ECU shocked with nearly 400 yards of offense en route to a 27-22 upset in 2008.
The following year, Tech rode Ryan Williams’ 179 rushing yards to a blowout win, but the Pirates scared the Hokies again in 2010 and 2011. In the two most recent matchups, the Hokies have needed second half comebacks to beat ECU.
Though the teams’ rosters are entirely different, ECU still runs the same spread offense that torched the Hokies in 2008, and defensive coordinator Bud Foster is aware of it.
“This is a tremendous challenge,” Foster said. “We’ve played them over the years and the last time we went down there, it’s the same offense we played.”
Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley has essentially re-written the Pirates’ record book for yards and scoring since his arrival, and he’s now working with the best quarterback ECU has had in years.
Shane Carden is completing nearly 80 percent of his passes, and has yet to throw an interception this season.
Foster had high praise for Carden.
“What makes them go is their quarterback right now. I think he’s the difference,” Foster said. “I don’t know if I’ve seen a more accurate guy to be honest with you.”
East Carolina has made no bones about which receivers serve which roles: junior Justin Hardy has averaged over 10 catches and 100 yards per game, while freshman Davon Grayson has caught just six passes — four of them were for touchdowns.
Tech’s secondary will have its hands full, but after his pick-six against Western Carolina last week, junior safety Detrick Bonner says they’re playing with more confidence.
“I felt like (the defensive score) brought some spunk to us. We hadn’t scored in a couple games,” he said. “It was an exciting play, and I feel like if we keep hustling and working hard we can get even more.”
True freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller have opened up their Tech careers strong, and they’ll need to keep it up against the pass-heavy Pirates. Bonner added that the entire secondary is helping the younger guys along.
“I feel like we are making plays as a group already at an early stage, and our young guys are getting the idea that we can all make plays,” Bonner said.
When they last met in 2011, the Hokies held the Pirates to negative 15 rushing yards.
Foster would like to recreate that stat.
“You can’t allow them to have success running the football,” he said. “The run sets up the pass. You’ve got to make them one-dimensional.”
The Pirates will look to earn the majority of their yards through the air, little by little. ECU has yet to have a passing play go for more than 23 yards, rather, they use their excruciating efficiency to string drives together.
For the Hokies to succeed, they’ll need to prevent Carden from establishing his rhythm in the pocket.