Thursday Night NCAA Preview: Virginia Tech at East Carolina
by Matt Severance - 11/3/2009
Virginia Tech's ACC title and BCS bowl hopes all but vanished last Thursday night when North Carolina's Casey Barth kicked a field goal with no time left to give the Heels the very surprising upset as 16.5-point dogs in Blacksburg.
So, it's not abundantly clear how truly motivated the Hokies, now on a two-game losing streak, will be this Thursday at East Carolina, with Virginia Tech currently a 13-point favorite on Bodog -- approximately 59 percent of the public action is on the visitors. The Hokies haven't dropped three in a row during the regular season since 2002; they are 1-4 ATS in their past five as a favorite overall.
Frank Beamer's club has had its chances in those two losses, to the Heels and Georgia Tech. Against the Jackets on Oct. 17, Virginia Tech started three drives in Georgia Tech territory and didn't score a point. Last week, it scored on only one of three drives that started in Tar Heels territory -- and that possession began at the North Carolina 5. Those past two opponents have dominated time of possession, totaling nearly 75:00 minutes with the ball. Virginia Tech had just 24 first downs in the two games.
On defense, the Hokies are allowing too many rushing yards - 154.1 per game, to rank 79th in the country. It has been very susceptible to big gains on the ground. In defensive coordinator Bud Foster's first 14 seasons, Tech has never had a season average higher than 136.
East Carolina, which will be very jacked up for this national TV game (Tech's first visit to Greenville since 2000), enters off back-to-back routs of Rice and Memphis in consecutive weeks. You probably remember that the Pirates upset Virginia Tech, 27-22, in Charlotte in last season's opening game.
"There is an awful lot of buildup for this game and a lot of excitement," ECU coach Skip Holtz said to reporters. "To have the opportunity to play it in this venue, in this arena and this atmosphere; I think Greenville will come alive this Thursday."
The Pirate defense has been good against the run this year, holding opponents to 108.0 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. West Virginia star Noel Devine was held to 80 yards rushing on 19 carries in the Mountaineers' 35-20 win earlier this year. The Pirates have forced at least one turnover in 24 consecutive games, including seven in their past two contests. But they are lousy against the pass, allowing at least 250 through the air in six of eight games, which could mean a big night for Hokies QB Tyrod Taylor, who struggled against North Carolina. Hokies RB Ryan Williams needs 70 rushing yards to become just the second freshman in Tech history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He was very shaken mentally after his late fumble cost the Hokies last week.
ECU has two common opponents with the Hokies: The Pirates lost, 31-17, at North Carolina in September and beat Marshall, 21-17, in early October. You know about the Hokies and Heels, while Virginia Tech beat Marshall, 52-10, in the second game of the season.
East Carolina has won six in a row at home and three of its past four against ranked teams overall. It is 4-2 at home against BCS opponents under Holtz. Virginia Tech is 2-4 in non-conference regular-season games away from Lane Stadium since joining the ACC in 2004. The Hokies are 15-5 all-time on ESPN Thursday night games and 6-2 in road contests.
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