College Football Preview: East Carolina vs. Virginia Tech
GREENVILLE ó East Carolina is coming home to a rowdy crowd ready for a big-name opponent. It’s a familiar scenario for the Pirates, who face No. 11 Virginia Tech on Saturday for the fifth straight year as part of a traditionally brutal nonconference schedule.
Yet coach Ruffin McNeill is hoping his players rely on their experience in this setting and not get overwhelmed by what is sure to be a charged atmosphere.
“I hope the kids are thinking about doing their jobs,” McNeill said. “If you want to be a hero for us, do your job. Young guys try to do something extra. I know they’re trying to get an extra yard or cause a turnover, but tuck the ball or make a tackle. Be in your lane, block your assigned guy, make a great read or run a great route.”
Behind senior quarterback Dominique Davis, the Pirates (0-1) ran out to a 17-0 first-half lead on South Carolina last week only to see the Gamecocks capitalize on mistakes. South Carolina converted three straight fumbles into touchdowns, including one on a 25-yard return in the third quarter of the 56-37 victory.
A repeat of those mistakes could lead to another lopsided result against the Hokies (1-0), who arrive in Greenville looking to give coach Frank Beamer his 200th victory in 25 seasons with the school. Yet if East Carolina cuts mistakes, its powerful offense can make things difficult on the always-stingy Virginia Tech defense.
After all, Davis threw for 260 yards and four touchdowns against the Gamecocks, while receivers Lance Lewis (14 catches) and Justin Hardy (11) became the first Pirates to have at least 10 receptions in the same game in more than four decades.
“We don’t lose confidence. We gain it actually,” Lewis said. “We did some good things (against South Carolina). That just builds our confidence to keep doing the good things right and with the negative things we did, get them corrected.”
Still, that’s easier said than done against the Hokies, who have grabbed at least one interception in eight straight games and have grabbed a national-best 214 interceptions since 2000. And considering Davis threw 56 passes last week, there will be plenty of chances for the Hokies to silence a fan base that carries a chip on its shoulder about being overshadowed by BCS schools in the state and region.
“We’re not worried about the crowd,” Hokies cornerback Jayron Hosley said. “We’re not worried about the fans. All we see is purple and gold (on the field), and that’s what we’re there to do. We’re there to take care of business, and we hope they’re ready to take care of business because we will.”
Virginia Tech is coming off a lopsided win against Championship Subdivision power Appalachian State, with tailback David Wilson running for 162 yards and Logan Thomas winning his debut as starting quarterback. The win snapped a three-game losing streak in season openers beginning with a 2008 loss to the Pirates, who returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in the final minutes of a 27-22 upset win in Charlotte.
Virginia Tech won 16-3 in its last trip to Greenville two years ago.
“I think our players in the past have enjoyed that type of situation, people that knew Virginia Tech was coming to town and it meant something,” Beamer said. “We’ll see about this crowd. You never know. We had a lot of first-time guys out there last week and for the most part we did OK. But those first-time guys are going to be in another setting.”
The Pirates will get a boost with the return of receiver Michael Bowman and cornerback Emanuel Davis, who were suspended for the opener after offseason arrests.
But things won’t get easier for the Pirates, who also host Atlantic Coast Conference program and in-state rival North Carolina on Oct. 1, and travel to Navy ó which hung 76 points on East Carolina last season ó later that month.
“Every game is going to be hard,” Davis said. “You don’t want anything to come to you easy. That’s what makes things great.”