#11 Virginia Tech @ ECU - The Edge

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Welcome to the second part of our three-part, Virginia Tech-ECU preview. Here we take a look at who has "The Edge" in some key matchups going into the game.

Virginia Tech Running Game vs. East Carolina Rush Defense

#4 RB David Wilson (VT)/#92 DT Michael Brooks (ECU)

It seems as if Virginia Tech always has a great running back and this year is no different with David Wilson taking over the full-time job. Sure, they lost Ryan Williams and Darren Evans to the NFL, but Wilson is more than capable of filling their shoes. In fact, when Williams went down last year with an injury against ECU, Wilson had his collegiate coming-out party versus the Pirates, rushing 12 times for 89 yards and two scores. Last week against Appalachian State, Wilson picked up right where he left off at the end of last season, carrying the rock 16 times for an impressive 162 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Backing up Wilson will be senior Josh Oglesby. Although he isn't flashy, Oglesby provides a much-needed veteran presence.

In the trenches is where it all starts for most run-oriented teams and the Hokies are no different. Four seniors anchor the offensive line for Virginia Tech, with all of them having started multiple games in their career prior to this season. Right tackle Blake DeChristopher (6'5", 320 pounds) is probably the best of the bunch, while the rest are All-Conference caliber as well. The only non-senior on the line is sophomore center Andrew Miller, but even he has shown a lot of potential, leading the entire Hokies' OL last weekend in knockdown blocks with five.

For the Pirates, their young rush defense did a solid job of containing arguably the best running back in the nation in South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore a week ago. Junior defensive tackle Michael Brooks had a great game in the middle, continually blowing the opposing interior line off the ball while he was in the game on his way to notching four tackles. Terry Williams, a 6'1", 324-pound freshman, did a nice job backing up Brooks in his first collegiate game with four tackles, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

On the outside at defensive end, second-year starters Matt Milner (1 tackle) and Derrell Johnson (1 sack) both had solid games against the Gamecocks and appear much more physically ready than they were a year ago as inexperienced freshmen. Rotating in and out with those two are sophomore Lee Pegues and senior Antonio Allison, both of whom are upwards of 280 pounds and will be used heavily this week with Virginia Tech's strong rushing game.

At inside linebacker, Jeremy Grove (Fr.) and Daniel Drake (Jr.), two players making their first career starts, thrived in the new 3-4 defensive scheme. Grove racked up 12 tackles, while Drake notched a game-high 14 hits. Sophomore Ty Holmes and freshman Brandon Williams will provide depth at ILB.

Who has the edge? Virginia Tech

Although ECU's defense was better last week, they still surrendered 220 rushing yards to the Gamecocks. Even though Lattimore is one of the best power RB's in the game himself, Wilson is one of the better speed backs. It will be another challenge for the ECU run defense, especially against what is one of the best OL's in the country.

Virginia Tech Passing Game vs. East Carolina Pass Defense

#3 QB Logan Thomas (VT)/#38 CB Emanuel Davis (ECU)

Gone is former mainstay Tyrod Taylor, but rising to follow in his footsteps is highly-touted sophomore Logan Thomas. Thomas, who stands at 6'6", 254 pounds, has been compared to Cam Newton due to his unique size and mobility. Thomas also has very impressive arm strength that has some thinking he can be the best quarterback the Hokies have had since Michael Vick. Last week in his first career start, Thomas went a modest 9-of-19 for only 149 yards, but did toss his first two career touchdowns. This Saturday, he will start his first ever road game in what will be a hostile venue. How he responds to the challenge could say a lot about the kid's makeup going forward.

Lucky for Thomas, he has a great offensive line to stand behind and a plethora of experienced receivers to get the ball to. Starting seniors Jarrett Boykin (2 catches, 16 yards, 1 TD vs. App St.) and Danny Coale (2 catches, 25 yards) led the team in receiving last year and are back for more in 2011. Fellow senior Dyrell Roberts is another explosive receiver and junior Marcus Davis broke out last week with a three-catch, 140-yard performance, while also punching it into the end zone twice. Other potential pass-catchers to watch for the Hokies are junior WR D.J. Coles and senior tight end Chris Drager.

Even without All-Conference corner Emanuel Davis in last week's game, the pass defense more than held their own against a great receiving corps led by future first-round pick Alshon Jeffery. The return of a playmaker like Davis should only help a veteran secondary become even more reliable going forward. Former safety Derek Blacknall made the transition to cornerback look relatively easy in his first start there, making play-after-play on deep balls thrown from South Carolina QB's. Blacknall had four pass break-ups and there was only one pass completed against him all game long.

Taking over Blacknall's spot at free safety is rising star Damon Magazu. Last weekend, Magazu picked up where he left off last year, flying all over the field on his way to an eight-tackle performance. Next to Magazu will be senior strong safety Bradley Jacobs. Jacobs was arguably the most consistent performer on defense for ECU last year and did his job well last Saturday once again. Although he only made two tackles, he eliminated any deep balls thrown in his direction.

ECU saw quite a huge boost in the pass-rushing department against South Carolina, as expected, with the return of injured OLB's Justin Dixon (3 tackles) and Marke Powell (1 tackle, 1 FF, 2 QB hurries). Veteran Cliff Perryman (4 tackles, 1 FR) and JUCO-transfer Chris Baker (4 tackles, 1 FR) also rotated in and out at outside linebacker and provided a consistent pass-rush the Pirates hadn't seen since the Skip Holtz days.

As mentioned above, Virginia Tech has a very experienced OL and a QB that isn't easy to bring down. They might not sack Thomas much, but if they can get some pressure on him with various blitzes, they could force the young QB into a few mistakes.

Who has the edge? Neither team

Both teams are really experienced in the wide receiving corps and secondary, respectively, and it should be a fairly balanced matchup in that department. Also, even though the Hokies' OL should be able to protect Thomas well, the crowd noise will make it tough for an inexperienced QB to be comfortable early on.

East Carolina Running Game vs. Virginia Tech Rush Defense

#28 RB Reggie Bullock (ECU)/#56 DT Antoine Hopkins (VT)

It wasn't a great day for newcomer Reggie Bullock, but it was a solid one nonetheless, especially considering it was his first ever Division-I football game. The 2010 junior-college offensive player of the year showed how he rushed for over 1,500 in both seasons at Arizona Western Community College, making a lot of Gamecocks miss despite not having much room to work with on the majority of his carries. Bullock finished the day with 18 carries for 67 yards for the Pirates. Expect him to only get more comfortable as he learns the speed of this level.

Sophomore Michael Dobson will serve as the team's primary backup to Bullock. Dobson carried the ball three times last Saturday, rushing for 15 yards, but did have a crucial fumble that was returned for a touchdown by South Carolina. Fellow classmate Torrance Hunt also saw some time at RB in week one, but didn't record any offensive statistics.

Along the offensive front, the third-youngest offensive line in the country did a good job against a South Carolina defensive line that probably has four or five NFL-caliber players. Senior Doug Polochak did a great job in his first extended action at center, while the only returning starter in sophomore Grant Harner graded out the best of all of the OL. Three sophomores in Will Simmons (right guard), Adhem Elwasi (left guard) and Jordan Davis (left tackle) all had their ups and downs in the running game, but the staff is high on them and they should only continue to improve.

On the defensive side of the ball for the Hokies, they don't have the size that the Gamecocks had, but they probably have more brute strength and are better coached. Defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins is one of the nation's better linemen and he has an impressive sidekick in fellow tackle Derrick Hopkins (5 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 QB hurry). Behind those two however, the Hokies are thin on the interior with two true freshmen listed as the top backups at DT.

At defensive end, sophomores James Gayle (2 tackles, 1 sack) and J.R. Collins (4 tackles, 1 QB hurry) were impressive in part-time roles last year and appear to be ready to move into the starting DE spots this season. Providing depth for the Hokies at DE will be sophomore Tyrel Wilson and freshman Zack McCray.

Junior linebacker Bruce Taylor is one of the best players and one of the leaders on the defense for Virginia Tech. At 6'2", 246 pounds with good speed, Taylor is a force in the running and passing game. He really grew into his own last year and should be an All-ACC first-team caliber player in 2011. Alongside Bruce at LB will be fellow junior Tariq Edwards (5 tackles, 1 TFL) and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (1 interception, 1 QB hurry).

Who has the edge? Virginia Tech

ECU struggled to open up holes in the running game against South Carolina last week and won't have an any easier time improving against a solid Virginia Tech front-seven in week No. 2. The Pirates' one hope is that they can run the hurry-up offense effectively enough to wear down the starters and get some of the inexperienced backups of the Hokies onto the field.

East Carolina Passing Game vs. Virginia Tech Pass Defense

#1 WR Lance Lewis (ECU)/#20 CB Jayron Hosley (VT)

Dominique Davis looked much more comfortable and consistent with his footwork and audibles during the opener against South Carolina than he did virtually at any point a year ago. Davis had a productive day, completing 37-of-56 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns despite seeing a ton of pressure from the Gamecocks' defense all day long. Davis also added a seven-yard TD run in the 3rd quarter, accounting for a total of 30 points on the afternoon. Last year against Virginia Tech, Davis did well in the first-half before falling apart after the break. Let's see if he learns from that experience this time around.

One thing Davis can't do enough of is throw the ball to No. 1, Lance Lewis. Lewis took one of the best SEC corners in Stephon Gilmore to school last week, hauling in 13 receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns. It was just another day at the office for the senior who appears to be on his way to another stellar season after breaking the school's single-season TD record in 2010.

At the opposite end of Lewis, junior Andrew Bodenheimer (3 catches, 10 yards)didn't have a great day catching the ball, but the usually sure-handed receiver should be back to form this weekend. Also, the Pirates get an injured Mike Price (arguably the fastest player on the team) back to go along with junior Joe Womack (2 catches, 14 yards, 1 TD) in the OWR rotation.

On the inside, freshmen Justin Hardy made a huge impact in his first ever collegiate start. Hardy had no fears, going across in middle time-and-time again, bringing in 11 receptions for 91 yards and a TD. Also seeing his first Division-I time was true freshman Danny Webster. Throw in the return of veteran IWR Michael Bowman (47 receptions, 434 yards, three TD's in '10) and the Pirates should have a ton of options to go to on Saturday.

On the Hokies side of things, they will be the first ever opponent to face the Pirates having already seen the "Air Raid" once, something that is definitely worth keeping an eye on. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster figured out how to slow down the offense in last year's meeting during the second-half, limiting the Pirates to under 100 yards of offense for the final 30 minutes.

The leaders of the secondary are senior rover Eddie Whitley (4 tackles, 1 interception) and junior corner Jayron Hosley. Both players really experienced breakout campaigns a season ago and have the talent to contend for All-American honors in 2011. Sophomores Kyle Fuller (CB) and Antone Exum (FS) both saw significant action as freshmen in the Hokies nickel packages a year ago, and enter their first season as full-time starters.

Even with an experienced secondary, don't expect Virginia Tech to let Davis have all day in the pocket to throw. Last year in the second-half, Foster brought the heat seemingly every play straight up the middle with his LB's and the Pirates never found an answer for it. How ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley adjusts his offense to this attack will be a huge key in this game.

Who has the edge? Neither team

This is another matchup that it is really tough to call an edge in. Both of these teams are two of the better squads in the country in these respective areas. The Pirates are stacked with speed and talent at WR and have a fine QB in Davis, while the Hokies are experienced and deep in the secondary and also bring a great pass rush to the table. This is definitely one of the most important in-game matchups of the contest between these two teams.

Special Teams

#48 KOS Justin Myer (VT)/#39 PK Michael Barbour (ECU)

Virginia Tech has always been known for their special teams since the arrival of Frank Beamer more than 20 years ago. Nicknamed "Beamer-Ball," the Hokies' special teams' unit has put up ridiculous numbers over the years. And with dynamic return specialists such as Hosley (3 punt returns for 95 yards against App. St.), Roberts and Wilson, there should be plenty of big returns for Beamer in 2011.

In the kicking game, the Hokies have the advantage of having one of the best kickoff specialists in college football. Out of 11 kickoffs against Appalachian State, Justin Myer booted five of them for touchbacks. That is a significant advantage as kickoff returns can be some of football's most game-changing plays.

One negative for the Hokies is that they did have to replace both their punter and their placekicker. Sophomore PK Cody Journell fared well last week, making has lone field goal attempt of 28 yards and all nine PAT's. Junior punter Scott Demler didn't do so well, only averaging 32.4 yards a punt.

The special teams unit was a rough spot for ECU last weekend against South Carolina. Their senior P Ben Ryan struggled in both the punting and kicking game, booting low-line drives on punts, while not placing the ball where he should've on KO's. One of those bad punts led to a 68-yard return for a touchdown by South Carolina's Ace Sanders in the 4th quarter, all but putting the Pirates away.

Senior PK Michael Barbour, who only missed one PAT all of last year, missed one in the first game of 2011. Although, he manage to make the other four and drilled his lone FG attempt.

Also, the kickoff returns and punt returns were shaky at best for the Pirates. Bullock looked tentative returning kicks and fumbled away a key turnover that helped allow the Gamecocks back in the game. Lewis didn't have any room to return any of the punts, calling fair catches on every ball kicked to him except one where he was smothered as soon as he caught it.

Expect a bunch of work to be done this week during practice as head coach Ruffin McNeill is big on special teams. A few different returners, such as Torrance Hunt and Danny Webster, could see the majority of the plays this time around. The return of Bowman should help give East Carolina another viable option in the return game as well.

Who has the edge? Virginia Tech

This is the area the Hokies are best known for; and while ECU was great on special teams in 2010, their start to this season was lackluster at best. This area must be fixed come gameday for the Pirates, or they could once again be handing their opponent free points.

The Edge - Recap
VT rush offense vs. ECU rush defense - VT
VT pass offense vs. ECU pass defense - Even
ECU rush offense vs. VT rush defense - VT
ECU pass offense vs. VT pass defense - Even
Special Teams - VT

Upcoming in this season opening preview:

1. Setting the Stage
2. The Edge
3. Final Pre-Game Thoughts - Friday, September 2nd
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  1. buccaneer88's Avatar
    Great preview!

    Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh! I can't wait for the game.
  2. controversy's Avatar
    Stop the run and force Thomas to beat us and we win the game. much easier said that done, but we've got to sellout to stop the run. blitz every play, put 8 in the box, do whatever in takes to stop Wilson and made Thomas go up against our D and the crowd.
  3. PirateDude15's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by controversy
    Stop the run and force Thomas to beat us and we win the game. much easier said that done, but we've got to sellout to stop the run. blitz every play, put 8 in the box, do whatever in takes to stop Wilson and made Thomas go up against our D and the crowd.
    That will be the gameplan but it will still be tough to stop Wilson with their OL no matter how many bodies we bring.
  4. Pine Valley Pirate's Avatar
    I agree. Very similar game plan as last week, stop the run, force the pass, and let inexperienced QB make some mistakes.

    Despite the ranking, I am more confident this week than last in an ECU upset
  5. hokiepride's Avatar
    Very good writeup. I wouldn't have thought twice if you gave the ECU passing game an edge against VT secondary but even could be right too. The biggest edge you guys will have isn't mentioned in the form of homefield advantage.

    Good luck to you guys!