No. 16 Va. Tech takes aim at ailing ECU (Sep 16, 2017)

BY AP • September 12, 2017

With East Carolina reeling after a shakeup on its defensive coaching staff, the timing could be ideal for No. 16 Virginia Tech to get its struggling offensive unit untracked.

The Hokies (2-0) visit the Pirates (0-2) in their first true road game of the season Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Tech is looking for some offensive consistency after struggling to put up yardage against lower-division opponent Delaware on Saturday. The Hokies won 27-0, but they managed only two offensive touchdowns and 303 total yards.

"Obviously we have a lot of things we need to work on," Tech coach Justin Fuente said.

The Hokies' troubles seem petty compared to what's been going on at East Carolina.

The Pirates opened the season with a convincing 34-14 loss to defending Football Championship Subdivision champion JMU, and then were shown no mercy in a 56-20 road loss to West Virginia on Saturday.

ECU is second-to-last in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense after yielding 614 yards in each of its first two games.

The Pirates defense was so bad the first two weeks that head coach Scottie Montgomery decided to make a change at defensive coordinator, removing Kenwick Thompson from the position in favor of defensive line coach Robert Prunty.

"The first week, we got off to a slow start, and I really challenged everybody to get better in some way and some form. I didn't think we necessarily got better," Montgomery said. "We need a little change in direction."

As bad as its defense has been, ECU hasn't been much better on offense, and things could get worse this week if the Pirates are without quarterback Thomas Sirk, who is in the concussion protocol, according to Montgomery.

Montgomery said he isn't ruling out Sirk, a transfer from Duke who knows a thing or two about beating the Hokies.

Sirk accounted for 379 total yards and four touchdowns in the Blue Devils' 45-43 four-overtime road victory over Tech in 2015. Sirk ran for the winning 2-point conversion.

"If he is healthy and he is ready to go, more than likely he will be the guy that starts," Montgomery said.

Sirk came off the bench to pass for 210 yards in ECU's season-opening loss to JMU and he completed 16 of 34 passes for 191 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in Saturday's loss at West Virginia.

If Sirk is out, the Pirates would turn to Gardner Minshew, who passed for 137 yards and a touchdown in the opener and completed a 95-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Trevon Brown in the fourth quarter against WVU.

If ECU is without Sirk,"we feel very comfortable going with Gardner," Montgomery said. "We thought Gardner came in and was a lot more settled than he was in the first game."

Regardless of quarterback, the Pirates face a big challenge in a Virginia Tech defense that held Delaware to only 223 yards in a shutout victory Saturday.

The Hokies also used some big special teams plays -- a 61-yard punt return touchdown by Greg Stroman and two field goals by Joey Slye -- to overcome a subpar performance by the offense.

"This is a team. We're going to have ups and downs during the game on both sides of the ball. We trust the offense, and we know they're going to do their job," said Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who accounted for 14 tackles, a career-high four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in the win over Delaware.

The Hokies struggled to run the ball against the Blue Hens, but they were encouraged once again by the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson, who passed for 222 yards and two touchdowns.

Through his first two career games, Jackson has accounted for four touchdowns and no turnovers.

"I think we all need to keep in mind that he's a freshman. We are quick to often anoint people and tell them how great they are," Fuente said. "I think Josh has a chance to be a very good player. It's going to be an ongoing process, but I was pleased with how he battled. He didn't hang his head so to speak, but he just kept plugging away."

Jackson faces the challenge of playing his first true road game of the season. The Hokies won their season opener on a neutral field (FedEx Field in Landover, Md.) against West Virginia.

Tech suffered a 35-28 loss the last time in played at ECU in 2015.

The Hokies are sizable favorites heading into Greenville this week, but they know better than to overlook any opponent at this point.

"It's just a little bit more of a personal endeavor to go on the road and go into somebody else's stadium on their campus," Fuente said. "And the discipline and the intensity that it takes to win a ballgame on the road anywhere to me is a little bit different."

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