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Game No. 2: Virginia Tech 17, ECU 10


Inside Game Day
Saturday, September 10, 2011

By Al Myatt

Schedule is what it is

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

GREENVILLE — East Carolina's football schedule is not about what it can do for the football program. It's about what the football program can do for ECU.

The Pirates have played a pair of national powers in the first two games of 2011. They've gotten exposure, they've drawn fans and they've made money. They're also off to an 0-2 start.

ECU has worked hard in preparation and played hard and smart for the most part, but neither game was a realistic opportunity to win, given the caliber of the opponent and the disparity of resources between those who rake in BCS revenue and those who nibble on the BCS crust.

This is the path ECU chose when it left the Southern Conference after the 1976 season for major college status as an independent. The Pirates have always preferred to line up against the big boys rather than bide their time against cupcakes.

The games with South Carolina and Virginia Tech have had their drama as ECU had taken early leads. The reality of the situation is that the Pirates aren't quite strong enough just yet to hang in for 60 minutes against the national elite.

They have gotten some attention and the money they've made will pay for a lot of non-revenue sports. That's how the business of athletics has evolved at ECU.

The irony is that the next game, Sept. 24 at home against UAB, is certainly more winnable but less interesting. For that Conference USA matchup, it's a good bet there won't be as many of the faithful flocking to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium as the 49,404 who showed for the Hokies.

The bye week before UAB's arrival isn't even at a good time, according to ECU coach Ruffin McNeill, who would prefer it to be later in the season.

"We're looking forward to the next game," McNeill said after Saturday's 17-10 loss to Virginia Tech. "I wish the off week didn't fall this quick. I don't want off weeks this early in the season. I'd like to have them a little bit later, if possible."

The Pirates held their own for the most part against USC and Virginia Tech. The effectiveness of Jeff Connors' conditioning program was apparent in the heat of a sunny late summer afternoon in Greenville on Saturday. No major injuries have been reported and that's another plus.

Hokies are physical

Virginia Tech was a little too physical and a little too talented to fall victim to East Carolina on Saturday afternoon. The Hokies sacked Dominique Davis five times and hurried him at others to keep ECU from finding its offensive rhythm.

Tech's 17-10 win dropped the Pirates to 0-2 with their second straight loss to a team ranked in the nation's top dozen.

The Hokies not only won but they imposed their style of play upon the game. The positive aspect from ECU's standpoint was that its defense was able to keep the team in the game. The Pirates' defense, as a lot of people have been saying, really is improved. ECU gave up points in waves last season. The Hokies toiled for everything they got on Saturday.

Notably, there were no gimmee scores generated by turnovers as in last week's 56-37 loss to South Carolina. Missed tackles and missed assignments, commonplace in 2010, were minimal.

It was a throwback game to the Skip Holtz days. The unfortunate factor was that ECU's "Air Raid" offense was playing in the Hokies' restricted air space.

Quick hitters

— There have been a few improvements to the Dowdy-Ficklen facility during the offseason. The play clock displays in each corner of the stadium are a nice touch. The bleachers in the student section at the east end, which disintegrated in the opener against Tulsa last season, were none the worse for wear after the Hokies' visit.

— ECU lost 16-3 at home to the Hokies in 2009 and went on to win the Conference USA championship for the second straight year.

— The Pirates had a case of the drops in the second half. What might have been if Michael Dobson had hung on to a Dominique Davis pass on second-and-11 from the Tech 31 in the third quarter? Dobson had nothing but yardlines and green grass in front of him. ECU settled for a 48-yard field goal by Mike Barbour and a 10-10 tie. Linebacker Jeremy Grove had a potential interception that would have provided good field position go through his hands as well.

— There were positives statistically. ECU had a 2-1 edge in takeaways. Ben Ryan averaged 45.5 yards per punt. And the Pirates did not commit a penalty.

— Coach McNeill said the Pirates would have Thursday and Friday off before going into game week preparations for UAB.

— According to the roster flip card, Virginia Tech has a junior tight end from Salem, VA, named George George.

— South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore may be a Heisman Trophy candidate but Virginia Tech's Dave Wilson was more impressive with his running ability from what I saw in the first two games.

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09/11/2011 04:37:30 AM


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