The Virginia Tech Hokies have begun the 2017 season on an excellent note. After defeating West Virginia in the first weekend of the season, the Hokies shut out FCS member Delaware last 27-0. Now Virginia Tech will visit the East Carolina Pirates looking for a different result than the last time it played in Dowdy–Ficklen Stadium. In 2015, the Pirates defeated the Hokies 35-28.
But this East Carolina team is light years away from that team. The Pirates have begun the season 0-2 with blowout losses to both defending FCS champion James Madison and West Virginia.
The Hokies and Pirates have played one another in each of the last five seasons with Virginia Tech holding a slight 3-2 advantage. In last year’s matchup, the Hokies cruised past the Pirates 54-17 in Blacksburg.
Virginia Tech at East Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 3:30 p.m. EST
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Virginia Tech -21.5
Three Things to Watch
1. East Carolina coaching shakeup
Earlier this week, East Carolina head coach Scottie Montgomery demoted Kenwick Thompson from his defensive coordinator position, replacing him with defensive line coach Robert Prunty. The Pirates' defense ranks next to last in FBS (130 teams) in total defense, allowing an average of 616.5 yards per game.
“The first week, we got off to a slow start and I really challenged everybody to get better in some way and some form,” Montgomery said in a press conference earlier this week. “I didn’t think we necessarily got better. We need a little change in direction.”
Virginia Tech ranks 78th in total offense after the first two weeks of the season, but the Hokies have a ton of playmakers on that side of the ball. The East Carolina defense will have its hands full on Saturday.
2. Virginia Tech offense
As previously mentioned, the Hokies' offense hasn’t been spectacular early on this season, as it took a 61-yard punt return touchdown and two field goals to hold off the Blue Hens last week. Surprisingly, Virginia Tech is struggling to run the football, as the Hokies rushed for only 81 yards on 28 carries against Delaware. Junior Travon McMillian, a 1000-yard rusher in 2015, has had trouble getting things going, as he's averaging 3.5 yards per carry thus far.
One of the positives last week was the play of quarterback Josh Jackson. Against the Blue Hens, Jackson passed for 222 yards and two touchdowns. During his first two career games, Jackson has recorded four touchdowns against zero interceptions.
3. Pirates' quarterback situation
As bad as the East Carolina defense has performed during the first two games, the offense hasn’t played much better. Things could be worse for the Pirates against the Hokies, as Thomas Sirk has entered the concussion protocol, and his status for Saturday’s game remains in question.
If Sirk cannot play against Virginia Tech, East Carolina would then turn to Gardner Minshew, who passed for 137 yards and a touchdown in the opening loss to James Madison. Minshew also completed a 95-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of last week’s game against West Virginia.
Whoever is behind center for the Pirates, he will face a stout Hokies defense. Virginia Tech held Delaware to 223 yards in a shutout victory.
The Virginia Tech and East Carolina series has typically been an exciting rivalry to watch the last few years. But with the Pirates' terrible defense and questions about their quarterback situation, it will be tough for East Carolina to pull out the victory in Greenville on Saturday.
Expect Josh Jackson and the Hokies' offense to excel against one of the worse defenses in college football. Then, Bud Foster’s defense should be able to make life tough for Minshew and the East Carolina offense. This game could get ugly in a hurry.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 48, East Carolina 10
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.