The Virginia Tech Hokies have a lot of momentum after a 49-0 victory over Boston College, but the Hokies are facing an opponent that has been a significant nuisance over the past two years, the East Carolina Pirates. The Hokies have lost back-to-back games to the Pirates with both losses coming after the big upset victory over Ohio State in 2014 and the blowout of Purdue in West Lafayette in 2015.
This year, the Hokies will be looking to flip the script and get back on the winning side. With that said, here’s a look at the key matchups for the Hokies against ECU.
Virginia Tech’s CBs vs. ECU WR Zay Jones
As soon as we saw that Zay Jones had 22 receptions against South Carolina, it became immediately clear that the matchup between Jones and whichever VT cornerback is guarding him will be critical in this showdown. For the Hokies, it will likely be Brandon Facyson and Adonis Alexander mostly with Quay Johnson (23 receptions on the season) likely being guarded by the other.
Jones has been tremendous in his first 3 games with 39 receptions for 443 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdowns, and an average of 11.4 yards per reception. ECU has had their fair share of talented wide receivers but the senior from Austin, Texas already seems like one of ECU’s best receivers in recent memory.
However, Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks and secondary as a whole have been dominant in 2016 with the Hokies not allowing a single opponent to have over 100 passing yards and leading the nation in passing defense currently. Both Alexander and Facyson have been playing with confidence while Greg Stroman has been fairly reliable other than a couple bad plays against Tennessee.
The matchup between VT’s cornerbacks, and Zay Jones and ECU’s other wide receivers will have a huge impact on this game. ECU has a talented QB in Philip Nelson who will take advantage of mistakes from the Hokies’ secondary and is the best passer VT has faced. If the Hokies can be effective in man coverage on the outside, the Hokies will put themselves in position to win comfortably though a bad day from the secondary has the potential to be costly in this matchup.
VT WR Isaiah Ford vs. ECU CB DaShaun Amos
Isaiah Ford is one of the best wide receivers in all of college football and with ECU having inexperience at one cornerback spot, ECU will most likely have senior CB DaShaun Amos covering Ford with plenty of safety help for Virginia Tech’s potential All-American. Ford has played quite well in the first three games and will be a huge challenge for ECU cornerback DaShaun Amos.
ECU is a much-better offensive than defensive team but the Pirates will need to try and find a way to at least slow down Ford. Amos has plenty of experience as he has only missed one game in his collegiate career and has 9 career pass deflections including 1 this season and 5 in 2015.
However, Ford is one of the most dangerous receivers in college football that has even made Tennessee CB Cam Sutton look bad. Ford has the speed to burn someone over the top while also having the athleticism, hands, and ball skills to go up and make tremendous plays as he did Saturday in double-coverage in Boston College.
While ECU is likely to give Amos plenty of safety help, Ford has the skills to be a nightmare for a Pirates’ defense that is the weakest Virginia Tech has faced since Liberty and will be one of the weakest they face all season. No one should be surprised if Ford ties Antonio Freeman’s career touchdown record on Saturday with a big game being a very real possibility for Ford.
VT DTs Nigel Williams, Woody Baron vs. ECU Interior OL
This matchup includes plenty of experience with Nigel Williams and Woody Baron both being seniors going against two senior OL in OC J.T. Boyd and RG Will Dancy plus sophomore LG Garrett McGhin. ECU has been quite effective on the ground with the Pirates averaging 5.2 yards per carry and ECU’s two top runners averaging over 6 yards per carry.
To help try to contain ECU’s talented running back duo, Virginia Tech will need Woody Baron and Nigel Williams plus backups Tim Settle and Ricky Walker to be effective in this matchup against a couple of veteran linemen to create space for guys like Andrew Motupuaka, Mook Reynolds and Tremaine Edmunds to fill holes in the middle or have less players to deal with on the outside.
Baron and Williams have both played quite well so far this season even though they aren’t putting up big statistic numbers. For the Hokies’ front 7, they will once again need the big boys in the middle to get penetration and put ECU RBs Anthony Scott and James Summers in challenging situations.
ECU will need a running game against a VT defense that is strong in the secondary and that will be built on what happens in the battle in the trenches. ECU hasn’t faced a DL this tough yet this season and the Hokies will be ready to give ECU’s offensive line some nightmares on Saturday that could have a big impact on this game.