East Carolina is fresh off a tough weekend to Morgantown, West Virginia, but what’s better than family weekend to lift spirits? This Saturday, Dowdy-Ficklen will be decorated with parents and siblings hopefully following the rules of “Paint it Gold,” watching their Pirates take on their toughest opponent of the season, Virginia Tech.
The Hokies are ranked No. 16 in the country and have opened the season 2-0. Their first win came against West Virginia in a game that came down to the wire against the Hokies. Even though the Mountaineers moved the ball for 592 yards, the Hokies were able to keep them off the scoreboard for most of their in a 31-24 win. After watching the tape of that game, Pirates' head coach Scottie Montgomery saw a lot in VT's defense.
"(I see) a lot of National Football League players led by a hall of fame coach," Montgomery said. "They're very good. They're fast with a lot of length and coached well in their scheme."
Montgomery was referring to Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who notched his 32nd shutout of his career last week after his defense blanked Delaware in a 27-0 victory. Foster's built a 30-year career leading the Hokies defense and creating the famed "lunch pail" defense. Symbolizing the mentality his defense brings every week, a rough-and-tough, ‘earn every yard’ defense, the Hokies have been carrying around their pail every week since 1995.
The Pirates desperately need to elevate their play on the offensive line before the Hokies come to Dowdy-Ficklen stadium and add to the six sacks they've tallied already. ECU has yet to establish a run game at any point this season, and to have a chance at hanging in this game, the Pirates' need to get away from being one-dimensional. Tony Peterson, ECU's offensive coordinator, definitely remembers the struggles of his offense last season against VT in that 54-17 blowout, and knows how hard it will be to play against their defense again.
"They'll be the toughest defense we play all year. We got to go out there and do our job," Peterson said. "We got to get a (helmet) on a (helmet) and grind it out, be efficient. And when we get a chance at some shots we have to make sure we make the plays."
It will be a huge change if the Pirates are able to hit the big plays this week instead of being the team who allows them. Against James Madison, Dukes running back, Cardon Johnson, broke off two 80-yard touchdown runs that broke open the game. Then last week, the Mountaineers had three touchdowns longer than 40-yards while they ran away from ECU. The Pirates have to focus on opening the game strong because the deficits they've dug themselves in these first two games have been backbreaking, and because it's made all the difference in these teams past two meetings.
"We have to come out swinging because I know two years ago we came out up 14-0 and last season they came out 14-0," ECU wide receiver Trevon Brown said. "They have a great team and we have a great team and I feel like it's going to come down to the little plays, that'll decide who's up."
So, with ECU's toughest opponent coming up and the Pirates looking to avoid falling to 0-3, this week is as essential as any in Montgomery's first two seasons. People aren't expecting the Pirates to pull off this upset like they did in 2015, but this week is going to be a test to see if East Carolina can put a team on the field that has hopes of competing this year. It’s tough timing to see the toughest opponent ECU will face all year when it’s just trying to find its footing.