There must be something in that lunch pail that has been a symbol of Virginia Tech’s success under defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
The Hokies surely had something cooked up for East Carolina in a 54-17 win at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg on Saturday.
You can believe that Central Florida defensive coordinator Erik Chinander will be poring over last week’s tape of the Pirates and Hokies to figure out how Foster constricted an ECU offense that averaged 33.3 points in its first three games.
The Pirates (2-2) host UCF (2-2) at noon Saturday in the American Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
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When Foster can see what’s coming and scheme for it, he’s as good as there is. It shows Virginia Tech had a grasp of his importance by assuring that he would be retained when Justin Fuente followed Frank Beamer as head coach after last season.
The Pirates fooled Foster in 2015, getting a career day from James Summers, who ran 21 times for 169 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-28 ECU win in Greenville. Foster had only a few vanilla snaps against Florida to evaluate Summers a year ago.
One snapshot from Saturday’s lopsided tilt was a sack of Summers for a safety and a 40-7 Hokies lead in the third quarter. It was one of six sacks for 40 yards for the hosts.
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Summers ran 10 times for 34 yards as the Pirates’ six-game winning streak against Atlantic Coast Conference teams came to a halt.
With Florida State rolling past South Florida 55-35 and Syracuse topping Connecticut 31-24, the AAC was 0-3 for the day in matchups with the ACC.
Virginia Tech aggressively put ECU in some disadvantageous down and distance positions on the Hokies homecoming, which drew 63,712 mostly orange-clad fans for the contest on Worsham Field.
“Number one, we got them behind the sticks (long yardage situations),” Foster said. “That gave us some indicators that gave us the opportunity to play anticipatory football by their stances and that type of thing. When you get those indicators, it allows you to pin your ears back a little bit.
“I felt like their skill kids were outstanding and I felt like if there was an area we could gain an advantage, it was up front. They try to help their kids with slide protection. . . . We got them behind the sticks and when we did that, they got into their true spread and they weren’t as much a slide protection group.
“We were able to make them hold the ball a little bit. Good coverage made for good rush.”
More than once, ECU quarterback Philip Nelson tucked and ran when he couldn’t see a passing lane. Nelson was a minus-11 in net yardage on seven keepers.
“Physically, we thought they were great,” said Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery. “We tried to move the pocket. We tried to do a lot of things. They were just very good at defensive end and the interior. Even when we slid to get to them, they were splitting the double teams. They play with great pad leverage. . . . We thought we had some good one-on-one matchups but the hard part about one-on-one matchups is that you’ve got to hold up [protect] long enough for the one-on-one matchups to occur.
“We couldn’t do that today.”
Virginia Tech improved to 88-4 at Lane Stadium under Foster when holding an opponent to 17 or fewer points. It was the 200th career win for him as a Hokies coordinator, dating back to 1995.
Virginia Tech (3-1) lost five fumbles after taking a 14-0 lead against Tennessee at Bristol Motor Speedway and fell 38-24 in week two.
But the Hokies’ new offense has the potential to keep helping ECU’s strength of schedule if it doesn’t beat itself.
“This is the best I have seen Virginia Tech,” Montgomery said. ” . . . They have so much talent on the perimeter. The quarterback [Jerod Evans] is such a big tackle. He is huge [6 feet, 4 inches, 235 pounds]. He can put his foot in the ground [run and cut], and he also can place the go-ball. . . . You have to pick your poison a little bit.”
A potent offense can be a defense’s best friend. Foster has been through some conservative seasons in terms of play calling and production.
Zay Jones once again was an offensive leader for ECU with 10 catches for 115 yards but he felt like it wasn’t enough.
“I didn’t do what I needed to do,” Jones said. “I had an opportunity to make a catch in the end zone and I didn’t get it done.”
Foster’s unit held Jones significantly below his 22-reception, 190-yard performance in a 20-15 loss at South Carolina a week earlier.
“They had a great scheme,” Jones said. “We knew coming in they were going to throw some stuff at us. They did a great job of putting us in some tough situations. They mixed up their coverages really well. Hats off to Bud Foster. It’s his job to do that. He even told me after the game he was looking to stop me so he did a great job. Those guys executed and their defensive backs came to play.”
The attention the Hokies gave Jones was a factor that allowed Nelson to find Jimmy Williams for scoring receptions of 75 and 70 yards after Virginia Tech had built a 38-0 halftime lead. The bombs were shades of Shane Carden and Cam Worthy in a 28-21 Pirates win at Lane Stadium in 2014 when Justin Hardy was the featured receiver.
“They were really getting two guys on Zay,” Nelson said. “That left Jimmy one-on-one so that’s just kind of how it goes and that’s why it’s good to have both those guys out there.”
With a punt block, a field goal block and a punt return for a touchdown, the Hokies were brilliant on special teams, too — outshining ECU on all three sides of the ball.
It was a complete loss but the next meeting with the Hokies will be in Greenville, Sept. 16, 2017. Then the throng’s energy will be on the Pirates’ side, just as it will be this Saturday. ECU has the ability to adjust, correct, heal, learn, refocus, regroup, retool and go forward. Iron sharpens iron and the Pirates have been through what can be characterized as two highly-developmental experiences in as many weeks.
“We’ve got to correct what we did wrong and come back and get ready for conference play,” Jones said.
At least ECU won’t have to deal with Bud Foster at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this week.