Virginia Tech is on their way to Greenville, North Carolina to take on their toughest recent competition from the Tar Heel State, East Carolina. These two have produced plenty of close games in the past, but both teams enter this year's game in completely different situations. The Hokies are rolling thanks to a 2-0 start that has them ranked 16th while ECU has lost their first two games, each by at least 20 points.
ECU also changed defensive coordinators this week as their defense has been one of the worst in America so far this season. Despite their struggles, ECU can't be taken lightly by the Hokies as they've pulled some upsets before including as recently as 2014 and 2015.
With that said, let's take a look at the keys to the game.
Establish the Run
After a strong rushing performance against West Virginia, the Hokies' running game was non-existent against Delaware with only 81 yards on the ground. This week, the Hokies will be looking to find some consistency on the ground and face an ideal defense to do so against.
East Carolina has been terrible at defending the run, ranking 125th nationally in rush defense and allowing 316.5 yards per game on the ground including 7 yards per carry. ECU's rush defense has been atrocious this season and is a weakness that the Hokies should do everything they can to take advantage of.
One thing that the Hokies are likely to run some are their run-pass options that worked quite well for Josh Jackson against West Virginia. Most of Jackson's success on the ground was due to his smart decision-making on those RPOs and it wouldn't be surprising to see Brad Cornelsen call a few of these against ECU's weak rush defense.
However, the Hokies will be looking for a running back to step up again after the struggles on the ground against WVU. Keep a close eye on both Steven Peoples and Deshawn McClease who combined for only five carries against Delaware after being the lead tailbacks against WVU. In that game, Peoples proved he could be the power back while McClease showed that he can be more than just a scat back but that he can make some things happen between the tackles.
Saturday presents a perfect opportunity for the Hokies to establish their running game and against a weak defense that is better in pass coverage (still not good in pass coverage though), it'll be important for the Hokies to run the ball well and create more space in the passing game.
[amazon_link asins='B01MV4H0V3,B06X19FPJ3,B00DTW1B9U,B06Y2DD857,B0189H1FZE,B00J10PACI,B00XLYAJZ8' template='ProductCarousel' store='techlunchpail-20' marketplace='US' link_id='9756616c-9a49-11e7-b8d1-498ef89b505e']
Keep The Defense Rested
During their first two games, Virginia Tech has either lost the time of possession battle (as they did against Delaware) or have been even with their opponent (as they were against West Virginia). That's led to a tired defense that, for example, helped WVU's offense get going in the second half of the opener. The good news on that day was that Josh Jackson also played much better in the second half to lead the Hokies to victory.
However, the Hokies can't afford to get off to slow offensive starts that wear down their defense or have multiple short series in a row to limit their rest. Limiting the early wear and tear on a defense will pay dividends later on in the season, and this game is a great opportunity for the Hokies to do that especially against an ECU defense that is 129th out of 130 teams in total defense.
ECU has been especially bad in rush defense allowing over 300 rushing yards per game. This game presents a great chance for the Hokies to not only run the ball effectively, but also dominate the time of possession battle that they have struggled with so far this season. ECU's poor rush defense presents the Hokies a great opportunity for controlling the clock especially in the second half to give that defense some rest.
The Hokies' defense has had to use a ton of energy over the first two weeks and could use an opportunity to limit their minutes. ECU's poor defense makes this game a great opportunity to do so, but it'll be up to Josh Jackson and company to lead some longer drives as they did in the second half against West Virginia.
Limit Penalties on the Road
This will be the toughest road environment that the Hokies play in all season long as ECU has one of college football's most underrated game atmospheres. While plenty of Hokie fans will be there, ECU fans always have this game marked on their calendar and will be ready to make it a tough environment.
This means that mental focus and discipline will be critical, something that the Hokies have shown plenty of so far.
The Hokies have been excellent at making very few mental mistakes with the Hokies only having 7 penalties for 44 yards this season. Virginia Tech's low penalty rate and yardage helped make the difference against a West Virginia team that outgained them by over 100 yards.
However, the Hokies' mental fortitude will face their toughest test at a hostile Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that has given plenty of teams' challenges in the past. Justin Fuente knows this especially from his time at Memphis when the Hokies faced East Carolina yearly and made a pair of trips to Greenville for some critical AAC games.
In this matchup, it will be critical for the Hokies to play with discipline and avoid giving East Carolina free yardage. So far, the Hokies have proven they can do just that.
[amazon_link asins='B0198KBYBQ,B01FZT3MQO,B003KL5XCQ,B01BYP79PI,B01MFAJ3LI,B00181W3CI,B0000DBO7W' template='ProductCarousel' store='techlunchpail-20' marketplace='US' link_id='bc8d0d79-9a49-11e7-b1ad-f1db89e40204']
Stay up with The Tech Lunch Pail for the latest on the Hokies. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. Subscribe to our email updates.