The Virginia Tech Hokies will arrive to Dowdy-Ficklen in one week. The Pirates have the weekend off to rest their legs, but once they return to the field there are some key things head coach Ruffin McNeill and his coaching staff will need to emphasize.
After ranking in the top 10 nationally last season in penalties against, ECU has 16 through its first two contests. False starts and block-in-the-back penalties have plagued the Pirates early on in the season and McNeill knows it’s not a secret.
“Any time we have penalties I’m not happy with it,” McNeill said after the FAU win. “We need to stay (working) on that, we were one of the best teams in the country last season. The biggest thing for me is to make sure we win the game, but if I could correct one thing it’d be penalties.”
In the home opener against Old Dominion, the Pirates had nine penalties for 85 yards. Short weeks are tough for a coaching staff, but ECU did see improvement against Florida Atlantic.
Seven penalties for 44 yards won’t kill you against a new Conference USA member like FAU, but Virginia Tech has the talent to exploit any yards the Pirates give them. If ECU plans on getting a win against an ACC school, five penalties in the first half won’t cut it. It is expected to be the first point of emphasis this week.
ECU saw three caused turnovers from their defense against FAU, a good sign heading into the matchup with the Hokies. Virginia Tech has the firepower to get into the end zone, which is why turnovers could be the deciding factor come Saturday.
If ECU gets turnovers that shorten the field like they did against FAU, the Pirates should be able to punch it in or find Davon Grayson or Justin Hardy in the end zone.
Starting fast and controlling the momentum with possession and extended drives could lead to an ECU win. The secondary needs to make plays to get the ball back to Carden and the offense.
Carden has shown confidence on offense early in the season, he had a record setting performance (passing yards in a game: 447) against ODU and has seven touchdowns in two games with no interceptions. The strong point of the team is the offense and to get a win against an ACC school the Pirates need to have the ball.
Special-teams will play a key role in an ECU win and seems to be another unit that is on ‘the come-up’ for the team. Last game, Lance Ray exploded with a 104-yard performance at kick returner including an 85-yarder setting ECU up for a score.
If the Pirates get a similar performance from Ray it would help keep the Hokies on their toes and hopefully backed up in their own end zone.
Senior running back Vintavious Cooper got back to his form from last season against FAU after not having to carry the ball much in ECU’s opener. He didn’t break the 100-yard mark against the Owls, but was close with 98 yards on 20 carries. Cooper also ran in one touchdown and led the team in receiving with 49 yards.
When the trio of Carden, Cooper and Justin Hardy are on the same page the Pirate offense is at its best. ECU will need to be clicking on all cylinders to get a statement win against an ACC school.
A week from today fans will learn more about this year’s Pirate football team than they have from the first two games combined.