One of college football's emergent head-to-head series picks up again on Saturday, when East Carolina visits Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech. The Hokies and Pirates have treated us to some highly watchable games of late. Here's to another.
This is sort of like a rivalry, but maybe a "mentorship" is a better way to describe it. The Pirates have pulled off upsets in consecutive seasons, something they'd only previously done once, in 1991 and 1992. The teams have played 20 times since 1956, with 19 of those coming after 1986. ECU's won seven of them, a pretty impressive number against a power conference foe. At this point, ECU being competitive against Power 5 teams isn't surprising, even though the Pirates won't get the chance any time soon to be one themselves.
Both teams are 2-1. The Hokies have wins against Liberty and Boston College, plus a loss to Tennessee in the Battle at Bristol. The Pirates have a win against NC State and a loss to South Carolina on their record.
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network. The broadcasters are Tom Werme, Dave Archer and Roddy Jones.
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Spread: The Hokies opened as 9.5-point favorites.
Make friends: Get to SB Nation’s team blog chats for this game at Gobbler Country (for Hokies fans) and Underdog Dynasty (for ECU and AAC fans).
Three big things to know
1. That Virginia Tech defense has been pretty good, but view it with caution. The Lunch Pail D, as the Hokies call it, has allowed 19.3 points and 205 yards per game. But its best efforts have come against FCS Liberty and offensively inept Boston College, while Tennessee put 45 points on it. East Carolina is somewhere between the former and the latter, but the Pirates could score some points behind senior QB Philip Nelson and a generally efficient passing game. Nelson hasn't produced many big plays, but he's completing nearly 80 percent of his throws.
2. The Hokies need to establish consistency on the ground. They've so far ripped off a couple of long runs, but it hasn't been easy for the Virginia Tech ground attack to stay on schedule. Hokie runners have been stuffed on one in five runs, and the lack of ground efficiency has led to a bunch of third-down tries. (They've been good at those, at least, converting 49 percent of them through three weeks.)
3. If ECU can just get a few big passing plays, another upset is possible. Nelson's efficiency is a story, but it's also a story that defenses have been able to put a lid on the Pirate offense. They can rip off 20- and 30-yard plays with some consistency, but the Pirates haven't hit on any deep balls (40 yards or longer) all year. That can often be overcome, but against a pretty good Virginia Tech defense that has more talent than ECU's offense, the Pirates will need a big play or two. We'll see if Nelson can find them.