GREENVILLE, N.C. | For the better part of two decade, the backbone of Virginia Tech’s football program was defense. Appropriately enough, that unit ensured Frank Beamer earned his 200th victory at his alma mater.
The No. 13 Hokies stifled usually potent East Carolina and Josh Oglesby rushed for two touchdowns en route to a harrowing 17-10 victory littered with miscues before 49,404 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
It was not high tide for an all-or-nothing Virginia Tech offense coming off an evisceration of Appalachian State. Yet the Hokies (2-0) capitalized its defensive strength to silence the pass-happy Pirates (0-2) and avoid the sort of early stumble certain to zap any possibility of a sleeper national title run before the middle of September.
“There were a lot of question marks about us coming into this game and coming into this season,” linebacker Bruce Taylor said. “I’m really proud of them and they really stepped up today.”
Indeed, Virginia Tech held the Pirates to minus-15 rushing yards. East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis was flustered all day, completing 20 of 38 passes for only 127 yards and an interception.
Still, not everything was crisp.
Logan Thomas threw for 91 yards and an interception in his first road start, though he managed 66 rushing yards as the Hokies looked at utilizing the burly sophomore out of the option. Virginia Tech went four possessions in the second half without recording a first down.
Then there was a sloppy first half with eight penalties (including two that negated Virginia Tech interceptions), a missed field goal and a Thomas interception in the red zone.
“I think when you play like that, you’re just mentally not quite where you need to be,” Beamer said. “I take the blame for that.”
The Hokies, fresh off a 66-point outing, did not score until less than a minute before halftime. It was still close – East Carolina clung to a 7-3 edge – but hardly pleasant.
After all, where did the dominance of a week earlier go? Facing that question didn’t leave the Hokies in a gleeful mood.
“I would think it would be like any team that would feel like they were supposed to do their job and be up,” linebacker Tariq Edwards said. “You’re down at halftime, and that was just unlike us.”
The defense, though, was perfectly Hokie-like.
East Carolina runs the same offense Mike Leach made famous at Texas Tech. His former defensive coordinator, Ruffin McNeill, is the Pirates’ coach. Lincoln Riley, a Leach protégé, is East Carolina’s youthful offensive coordinator.
The offense is predicated on quick, short passes, plays the Hokies quickly swarmed toward on a consistent basis.
“Early there I thought they hit us on a couple things but after that we got after them pretty good,” said Beamer, who became the 10th coach to win 200 games at one major-college school.
Of Davis’ 20 completions, six resulted in a gain of three yards or less. The Hokies also sacked the elusive Pirate quarterback, who began his career at Boston College, five times.
East Carolina managed only 112 total yards, the fourth lowest total in program history, despite the difficulty in containing an offense last held to less than 300 yards on Nov. 5, 2009 – the last time the Hokies visited Greenville.
“It’s very tough,” cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “Everybody on the defense has to be doing their job. You can’t have guys lagging. You have to have 11 guys going to the ball because you never know who is going to make the tackle.”
Perhaps that guessing game will continue for weeks to come. While the offense sputtered at times – though David Wilson ran for 138 yards and the Hokies crafted a long touchdown drive in the fourth quarter capped by Oglesby’s 10-yard rumble – the defense was stout throughout.
Not that it’s anything new for a Beamer-coached team.
“I think you can throw young guy [thing] out the window,” Taylor said. “We have two games under our belt against two quality teams. They’re young and they’re hungry, they’re green, they’re growing, so they’ll be ready to come out here next week and do it again.”