And here we are. Another season. Another matchup with the East Carolina Pirates. Let's get one thing out of the way: This isn't Ruffin McNeil's Pirates. Scottie Montgomery's first 14 games at the helm have gone...poorly...including a 54-17 loss to the Hokies last year in Blacksburg. Former defensive line coach "Dread(ful) Pirate" Robert Prunty has commandeered the DC position from the recently-reassigned Kenwick Thompson, after the latter's unit surrendered 90 points and 1,233 yards of total offense to start the season.
After years of frustrating battles with East Carolina, the Hokies head to Greenville to face a team that has been reduced to little more than cannon fodder. But it's ECU, and they've seemingly always been a problem for the Hokies. In the immortal words of Captain Jack Sparrow, "The problem is not the problem; the problem is your attitude about the problem."
On to the (fake) lines!
Over/Under 299.5 passing yards for QB Josh Jackson
Brian: Y'all notice how much Brad Cornelsen wanted Jackson to chuck it deep early against Delaware? They emptied the backfield, sent guys like James Clark and Sean Savoy straight up the seam to make plays in the secondary. The last time I saw a Tech team do that, I was calling the plays in my NCAA '14 dynasty and I ran four verts 13 times in a row.
Now did it work? Not really. Both guys dropped sure touchdowns as the Blue Hen safeties flailed desperately at throws they couldn't defend. Even though Jackson's a freshman, and even though he doesn't have the arm of Jerod Evans, this offense will still take their chances downfield. That being said, I'll still take the under, partially because I don't trust the pass catchers and partially because I think the Hokies will find more success on the ground than they did last week. Fewer pass attempts, meaning fewer yards.
Pierson: The understandably vanilla offensive gameplan employed by the Hokies last Saturday led to some pedestrian statistics, compared to the win over WVU. But as Brian noted, there were a number of downfield chances that Tech failed to capitalize on. By now, you're aware of how porous the Pirates defense has been through two games.
They surrendered 614 and 619 yards of total offense to James Madison and West Virginia, respectively. JMU did most of their damage on the ground, with only 192 of their yards coming through the air. WVU, on the other hand, lit up the ECU secondary for 403 yards and five touchdowns. Josh Jackson has games of 235 and 222 yards passing under his belt, but the Pirates appear to be...how shall I put this...more generous.
Despite all of the missed opportunities against Delaware, Josh Jackson was still one deep ball away from threatening this line. I continue to be convinced that the staff's focus is on developing the passing game ahead of the ACC slate. I'll take the over.
Which is Greater: Number of completions by ECU quarterbacks or receiving yards by C.J. Carroll?
Brian: Damn, this line is creative. It's weird that we haven't seen Carroll get a ton of action so far this year, considering that he's one of the few wideouts who's a consistent quantity. Against West Virginia C.J. only had 13 yards, but then raised that to 56 on just three grabs last week.
As Jackson continues to find a groove under center, he'll continue to get comfortable with the same few guys who get open. Cam Phillips will routinely be open, and also routinely double-teamed. It seems as if Savoy is a guy who can find holes in coverage, and despite his size, Carroll can do the same. I wonder if this is a jumping off point of routine 50-yard performances from our favorite hobbit-turned-pass-catcher. It'll be nothing fancy nor particularly eye catching, but it'll be a steady chunk of yards week-to-week. Give me C.J.
Pierson: Twelfth year senior and former Duke QB Thomas Sirk regained the starting job during the Pirates' Week 1 loss, only to find himself in concussion protocol heading into this weekend's game against the Hokies. Bud Foster (and the rest of Hokie Nation) knows how dangerous Sirk can be and will certainly be prepared to face him, should he be cleared to play. Through two games, Sirk and incumbent Gardner Minshew have combined to complete 28 and 23 passes in their two losses.
At the end of the day, this line comes down to C.J. Carroll and his ability to get open. Even if the ECU quarterbacks find some success against the Tech secondary — note opponents are averaging 19.5 completions per game against Brian Mitchell's group — this line is one solid pitch-and-catch away from Carroll taking this home. I'm liking his chances in a game where I expect to see Jackson slingin' it. Gimme C.J.
Over/Under 514.5 yards of total offense for the Hokies
Brian: The Pirates are bad at defense. A week after JMU steamrolled them to the tune of 422 rushing yards in a 34-14 (!!!) Dukes win, Will Grier and the cousins set ECU on fire. West Virginia was up 49-3 at halftime, saw their QB toss five scores, and had six scoring drives of six plays or fewer.
On the other hand, Tech's offense isn't good. They did what they had to do to beat the Mountaineers in week one, and kept things relatively vanilla against Delaware last week. But have they done anything to make me think that they can torch a bad defense? Has Jackson and his supporting cast performed well enough to make me assume that they'll run one up in Greenville? Nope. Even in last year's 54-17 thumping of ECU in Blacksburg, they only put up 462 total yards. Give me the under.
Pierson: The Hokies are averaging 386 yards of total offense per game. The Pirates defense is surrendering 616.5 yards per game. Obviously, something's got to give.
For some reason, I'm not 100% confident that we're going to see an offensive explosion by the Hokies on Saturday. Maybe it's because ECU has almost always gotten up for their annual game against Virginia Tech. Maybe it's because, for some unknown reason, midseason coordinator changes often lead to remarkable about-faces — not always, but enough times to worry me, alright?. Maybe it's because I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this enigmatic offense. I'll take the under.
Who Finishes with More Tackles: ECU LB Jordan Williams or Tremaine Edmunds?
Brian: A few years ago, a linebacker from the ACC was destined to go high in the draft. Scouts loved him. Teams loved him. Everyone knew he was a destined to be a great player. But, since I had watched him play against the Hokies on multiple occasions, I thought I knew better. "Yeah, he has great tackle numbers, but it's easy to inflate those when you're making a tackle 12 yards down field." That linebacker? Boston College product and three-time first team All-Pro Luke Kuechly.
The moral of the story is that I don't really know anything about football. But also, that it really is easy to collect a bunch of tackles when you're chasing a running back down the field. Williams has reached double digit tackles in both of his games so far, and it's not like it's because his defense has been super successful (please see above). Tremaine had a great bounce back performance against the Blue Hens, but I'll take Williams to win here.
Pierson: Both players lead their teams in tackles to start the year. Williams is ECU's tackling machine at mike linebacker, posting 25 tackles, 1 TFL and a pass breakup thus far. The Pirates' leading tackler in 2016, Williams is a bit undersized at 6'-0" and 230 pounds but displays a good burst and is a very good open field tackler. But while Williams has displayed a penchant for making plays in the backfield during his career, his move to the mike spot has transitioned him into a stalwart past the line of scrimmage in 2017. With a new defensive coordinator taking the helm on Saturday, it remains to be seen how Robert Prunty will use the senior.
Through two games, ECU has surrendered 638 rushing yards to the opposition, providing plenty of opportunities for Williams to keep people in front of him and make plays. Given Justin Fuente's "take what we're given" approach and the air of uncertainty around the ECU defense, it's tough to tell how much the Hokie tailbacks will be featured in Greenville. That makes me wonder whether Tremaine Edmunds' versatility could give him the upper hand. I'm going to keep things conservative and go with the high volume candidate: I'll take Jordan Williams.
Over/Under 0.5 missed field goals by Joey Slye
Brian: Although I was concerned about him last week, I actually feel better about Slye's chances now. Yes, he went 2-4 in Lane Stadium last Saturday. But three of those four kicks came from distance, including one that was blocked at the end of the half. I don't know enough about kicking to blame someone for a kick being blocked, but I often assume it's the line's fault. He drilled a chip shot, and went one-for-two from over 50 yards. Yes, you'd prefer your senior kicker to hit better than half of his attempts, but it's still a better performance than the week before.
I think he's fine, both physically and mentally. He'll go back to being relatively automatic from 42-and-in, and keep being erratic from deep. It may not be ideal, but at least it's consistency that Tech can count on.
Pierson: Joey Slye has proven that he can boom the football, and last weekend he was finally able to place a 50-yarder between the uprights. But, for a variety of reasons, Slye hasn't been particularly accurate in 2017. Last week I recalled Shayne Graham's comments about the mental aspects of the position. James Shibest was asked about Slye's 3-of-7 start to the season and noted:
"Joey's an analyzer, and I tell him that it bothers me a little bit. I said this last year, 'Get your line, and go hit the line.' Sometimes you can out-think yourself out of what you're doing. But the biggest thing about that position is confidence. Really, there wasn't much on tape, and he would tell you the same thing. It's not that he's not hitting the ball or shanking it or anything like that. We're just not hitting the ball on line. We're going to need him to do that."
So, mechanically, Slye is locked in. Mentally...well...maybe not so much. I'm going to pull out my trusted Jump to Conclusions Mat and say that the last sentence in that quote has a subtle, yet clear message: Joey better get his head right, or Shibest is going to be booting him out of the back of the end zone. I think that the proverbial ship will be righted against the Pirates. I'll take the under.
Matchup Over/Under: 59.5
Brian:Over, pretty easily. No, the Hokies haven't performed very well in Greenville. And yes, the offense definitely has its share of issues. But between the offense and a potential score (or at least very advantageous field position) from either defense or special teams, the Hokies should break 40. And though the D shored things up, a shutout is too much to ask for again. I'm thinking something pretty easy for Tech, like a 45-20 win.
Pierson: Take this nugget with a grain of salt, given the Fuente factor: In their last four games in Greenville, the Hokies have scored 16, 17, 15 and 28 points. Not exactly "heavy metal football", as Jurgen Klopp would say. Last year in Blacksburg, the Hokies obliterated the Pirates, 54-17. It was almost cathartic after back-to-back losses and a decade of frustrating performances against a G5 opponent.
Scottie Montgomery's butt is firmly planted on the hot seat after a 3-9 season in 2016 and two ugly losses to start this year. So his move to replace Defensive Coordinator Kenwick Thompson two games into the season could be perceived as an act of desperation from a coach acutely aware that his future hangs in the balance. Call me crazy, but it wouldn't shock me one bit to see a completely different ECU team on Saturday.
After years of watching the Hokies struggle in Dowdy-Ficklen, what has given me pause this week isn't the thought of Tech taking the Pirates lightly. It's the poor track record the Hokies have in Greenville. I understand that the offensive philosophy is considerably different than what we saw under Bryan Stinespring, Mike O'Cain and Scot Loeffler. But much of the current offense is still wet behind the ears and, as overhyped as it may be, this is the team's first true road game.
Because of the abovementioned factors and the fact that I'm not completely sold on either team's ability to put up enough points to threaten this line, I'll take the under.
Spread: Virginia Tech (-21)
Brian: I already guessed a 45-20 win by the Hokies, so I guess I have to take them to cover the three touchdowns. But 21 is such a big number against an FBS opponent, it gives me caution. To me, this is a hard stay away from a gambling perspective. Because even though the Hokies could easily run one up on ECU, they could very possibly struggle to put things together for a half and come away with a "disappointing" 17-point win. But either way, something would have to go incredibly wrong for them not to come back to the commonwealth 3-0.
Pierson: This line opened at VT -24.5 and quickly moved to -21.5. That rapid movement makes me a little nervous that the sharps feel that ECU is undervalued at this point. At the same time, the Hokies' inability to score more than 27 points against FCS Delaware is likely on Vegas' minds as well. ECU has shown absolutely nothing to lead you to believe they're capable of keep this game close; however, this game has become a rivalry in the Pirates' eyes, it's Virginia Tech's first true road game of the season, and Dowdy-Ficklen can be a tough place to play.
So back to the opening line. The second I saw it drop down to VT -21.5, I messaged TKP's other two degenerate gamblers Brian and Joey and asked, "Who wouldn't take Tech and the over?" Let's say ECU manages to score 14 points on Bud Foster's defense. Don't you feel good about the Hokies' ability to hang 36 on a team that has given up 34 and 56 points to JMU and WVU? Or are we too skittish after last week's pedestrian outing against the Blue Hens? From my perspective, the Hokies should dominate on Saturday. Whether they do or not remains to be seen, but for now I'm taking Tech and laying the points.
Disclaimer: Some of these are real betting lines, but many of them are fake and none of this is real advice that should be taken seriously.