No. 17 Hokies: Focus key vs East Carolina
The stakes are higher for No. 17 Virginia Tech.
A victory at No. 22 Ohio State last weekend vaulted the Hokies into the national conversation again.
Their next test comes Saturday when East Carolina (1-1) brings its potent passing game and history of playing Virginia Tech close to Lane Stadium.
Last season, Virginia Tech (2-0) shut down the Pirates in a 15-10 win in Greenville, North Carolina. This week, the veterans made sure the younger Hokies understood the stakes.
''The old guys, obviously, understand that you have to be mentally prepared for this next game,'' senior center Caleb Farris said this week. ''And it's not a given. But the young guys understand that also, which is really important as a team to get the young guys to understand that.''
Pirates QB Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy are the star tandem on offense for the Pirates, and the Hokies held them in check last season. Carden completed 19 passes, but for just 158 yards, and Hardy caught six for 31 yards - paltry numbers in a season of 114 catches for almost 1,300 yards.
Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill spent this week making it about the team and not individuals.
''I see it as 11-man football against 11-man football,'' he said.
The Hokies, under defensive coordinator Bud Foster, against appear to possess one of the nation's top defenses. They have a new spread offense that quarterback Michael Brewer operates with efficiency.
Unlike last season, when the Hokies were raw at tight end, they've been stellar with Ryan Malleck leading the team in receptions and Bucky Hodges already having two touchdown catches.
Their versatility has made Brewer's job easier.
''They're very versatile and multiple in what they can do, which is a big reason why they've been so effective,'' he said. ''Both of those guys will stick their hands in the ground and they can pass block, they can run block, they can go out for a pass. ... We've just got a lot of different things you can do with the offense when those guys are in the game.''
Here are things to watch for when East Carolina plays at Virginia Tech:
PREGAME AGENDA: East Carolina QB Shane Carden was among the Pirates most eager to begin studying game film of the Hokies, probably because they neutralized him last season. He's a skilled QB with a big-time receiver in Justin Hardy, but trying to do too much could burn him against the Hokies' defense.
PASS RUSH: The Hokies have 11 sacks in two games, and the Pirates lost three veterans off their offensive line after last season. Virginia Tech has a knack for turning pressure into mistakes, and if Carden can be coaxed into throwing a few balls up, it could wind up being a long day for the Pirates.
FOCUS: After two subpar seasons by Virginia Tech standards, the Hokies ended Ohio State's 25-game regular season winning streak with their upset victory last week. That vaulted them back into the national conversation, and also made them, once again, a target.
KEEPING MIKE STANDING: Brewer appears to be a gamer, and he took some rough hits last week while scrapping for first-down yardage. Coach Frank Beamer this week praised backup Mark Leal as vital, too, but Virginia Tech went to a hurry-up offense to suit Brewer, and it needs to keep him healthy.
GROUND GAME: The Pirates like to balance their offense by running the ball, and averaged 6 yards per carry in a 33-23 loss at South Carolina last week. The Hokies always look to cut that off first and will be intent on getting freshmen Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie productive running the ball.
Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr