East Carolina-Virginia Tech
Start Time: 3:30 P.M. ET, Saturday, Sept. 26
Location: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, North Carolina
Records: East Carolina 1-2, Virginia Tech 2-1. Virginia Tech leads the overall series 13-6.
Live Stats: here.
Betting Line: East Carolina +8, Over/Under: 54.
East Carolina Outlook: The East Carolina Pirates head into this game on a disappointing two game losing streak that included losses to Florida and Navy.
The Pirates’ air raid offense has been up and down in the first three games of the season. ECU has one of the highest passing rates in the nation, throwing the ball over 60% of the time on standard downs. The national average is over 20% lower at 38.8%. Quarterback Blake Kemp has been solid in completing 70.7% of his pass attempts on the season. Wide receiver Isaiah Jones and tight end Bryce Williams have over 500 yards receiving on the season as recipients of 43.1% of Kemp’s pass attempts. The duo have caught 47 of a possible 60 pass attempts headed their way. Since an opening night career high rushing performance by Chris Hariston, the Pirates have been terrible rushing the football. The Pirates, as a whole, are only rushing for 86.3 yards per game.
After three games, it has become abundantly clear that opponents see the East Carolina rush defense as a weakness. Numbers are skewed a bit as week three opponent Navy has one of the highest run rates in the nation. The four starting linebackers (Bigger, Williams, Overton, and Allely) are the leading tacklers for the Pirates defense with a combined 67 tackles on the season. That total is higher than the next seven tacklers on the list combined. In giving up 254 yards per game on the ground, the Pirates have proven that opponents are making the correct decision to run the football. ECU is better versus the passing game, giving up only 161 yards per game in the air. As mentioned before, the defensive pass statistics are more impressive looking due in part to the fact that opponents are running the ball on 71% of all offensive plays.
Virginia Tech Outlook: After losing their starting quarterback in the season opening loss to Ohio State, Virginia Tech has been able to put up a combined 93 points in week two and three victories.
One of the biggest reasons for the success of the Hokies offense is a special teams squad that sets the offense up with great field position. The Hokies average starting position of the 36.9 yard line is seventh in the nation. Va. Tech likes to go with a rush by committee look as Trey Edmunds, J.C. Coleman, quarterback Brenden Motley, and Travon McMillian have all carried the ball 21 or more times. All four have broken the 100 yard barrier on the season. The Hokies have put up good numbers in the passing game with 236.3 yards per game, but have not been very efficient in doing so. Top receiver Isaiah Ford is averaging 19.0 yards per catch with a 56% catch rate. That means that Ford has only caught 14 of the 25 passes thrown his way. Four of the top seven receivers for Virginia Tech have a catch rate lower than 60%.
While the Hokies have only given up 23 points per game, some of that success should be attributed to special teams. Opponents are starting their offensive series on their own 25 yard line in the opening three games of the season. Forcing a team to go 75 yards per drive for a touchdown gives the defense a chance to make a drive killing play. In giving up 363.7 yards per game to opponents, Virginia Tech has been able to rely upon a secondary that can make solid tackles. Six of the top nine tacklers for the Hokies are defensive backs, led by Chuck Clark with 21 tackles on the season. This defense is also among the national leaders in turnovers forced, with five interceptions, three forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. The Hokies are taught to go after the football and cause turnovers as often as possible.
Prediction: Last season was a perfect storm for the Pirates in jumping out to a 21-0 lead and holding on for a 28-21 win. Virginia Tech is not at the overall level of last season’s team, but should put lots of pressure on a reeling ECU offensive line. Do not expect ECU to run the ball much, so Kemp better be ready to throw the ball 40+ times if the Pirates want an upset. Virginia Tech is still working in a new quarterback and trying to form an offensive identity. If the ECU defense is going to live up to their preseason hype, now is a great time to start. Virginia Tech pulls away for a 34-21 win.