Pirates look for marquee win against Hokies
East Carolina has put up big scoring totals in its first two games and is chasing its first 3-0 start in five years. The Pirates will have to add another win against a BCS conference team to reach that mark.
Heading into Saturday's game against Virginia Tech, the Pirates (2-0) haven't won their first three games in a season since 2008, when they started the year with a win against the Hokies (1-1) in Charlotte followed by an upset of West Virginia.
They've lost nine of 10 games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents since, including the past three meetings to Virginia Tech.
East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden said this game is a big opportunity.
"We understand the importance of just getting a win against a big team and what it can do for our program," Carden said. "At the same time, if you come in and you're thinking, 'ACC opponent, we've got to put all these in extra plays in and we've got to play way above ourselves,' you're going to go out there and you're not going to play well.'"
The Pirates scored 52 points in an opening win against Championship Subdivision opponent Old Dominion, then followed with a 31-13 win against Florida Atlantic in a Thursday night game.
It's hard to know exactly where Virginia Tech stands coming into Greenville. The Hokies lost to top-ranked Alabama in the opener, then overwhelmed FCS opponent Western Carolina at home last week.
In the last meeting, East Carolina's maligned defense held the Hokies to 17 points. But the Hokies shut down the Pirates' high-scoring offense and held the Pirates to 112 total yards, including minus-15 yards rushing in the 17-10 win.
Five of the seven meetings between the teams in Greenville have been decided by seven or fewer points. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, now in his 26th season with the Hokies, has been on the sideline for all of them.
"East Carolina is a dangerous team," Beamer said. "They're on that list of non-BCS schools that have beaten BCS schools. They have our attention and respect."
Here are five things to watch in Saturday's Virginia Tech-East Carolina matchup:
CARDEN & HARDY: The Pirates' offensive success could depend on Carden's ability to connect with top receiver Justin Hardy. Carden has seven touchdown passes with no interceptions, while Hardy opened the year with a 16-catch performance. The Hokies, meanwhile, boast the nation's No. 3 pass efficiency defense and held the Crimson Tide to 206 total yards in the opener.
CATCHING ON: The Hokies are still hoping to develop their receivers for quarterback Logan Thomas. His receivers dropped twice as many passes as they caught against Alabama when Thomas posted an ugly 5-for-26 passing day, and they're still searching for a reliable rotation to haul in the football.
PENALTY PROBLEMS: East Carolina has to stop committing penalties. It has 16 in two games and ranks near the bottom of the national stats in penalties and penalty yardage (64.5) per game. Coach Ruffin McNeill said he wants to correct those miscues, but said he's walking a fine line. "I know you can overemphasize something a little bit too much and the kids will begin to hesitate," he said.
DOWNFIELD DEFENSE: The secondary has played well so far for the Hokies, but the Pirates' pass-heavy spread attack will pose its toughest challenge so far. Virginia Tech has lots of youth in the secondary, with two freshmen cornerbacks on the field in the nickel package.
ROAD COMPOSURE: Virginia Tech has played once on a neutral field and once at home, so this is the Hokies' first road test in 2013. East Carolina has long boasted a rowdy gameday environment and a passionate fan base, which has Saturday's game near sellout status. But Beamer's teams have won nine of the last 11 games in the state of North Carolina, including wins in Greenville in 2009 and 2011.