GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Virginia Tech's defense is making opponents work for every yard, hitting quarterbacks with regularity and buying time for the Hokies' offense to build some confidence.
The Hokies beat East Carolina 15-10 on Saturday with a defense that sacked Shane Carden seven times and never let the Pirates' pass-heavy spread offense run at full speed.
The defensive totals were impressive for the Hokies (2-1), from the 11 tackles for loss to the three interceptions against a quarterback who hadn't thrown one this year. And that was enough to get Virginia Tech past the Pirates (2-1) on a day when it had its own fight for offensive yards and its normally reliable kicker struggled to put one through the uprights.
"Maybe we're getting more attractive as the year goes along," longtime Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. "We're not pretty right now. We're playing not too pretty."
It was difficult to know what to make of the Hokies coming in. They lost their opener to No. 1 Alabama in an ugly performance full of dropped passes by Hokies receivers that led to a 5-for-26 passing day for Logan Thomas. They followed that with a 45-3 win against Championship Subdivision opponent Western Carolina at home.
The picture is a little clearer after Saturday's win. Virginia Tech is a team that will go as far as the defense can take it.
Virginia Tech allowed just 204 total yards to the Pirates and hasn't allowed more than 206 in a game this season. That came in the 35-10 loss to the Crimson Tide, though Alabama scored on punt, kick and interception returns while its offense managed to reach the end zone just twice.
East Carolina got there just once, after a 75-yard sprint lasting just 99 seconds to open the game. They managed 129 yards for the next 58-plus minutes.
"They have a high-tempo offense and they came out here ready to throw the ball, snap, throw the ball, snap," said freshman cornerback Brandon Facyson, who had two of the team's three interceptions. "We adjusted to it really well. It was survive the initial flurry because it won't happen every single drive of the game."
Thomas' 3-yard touchdown throw to D.J. Coles put the Hokies ahead for good at 13-10 with 4:09 left in the third quarter.
The Pirates had their own chance for a go-ahead drive, getting the ball back at their own 10 with 2:04 left. But the Hokies sacked Carden on first down, then James Gayle — who shook off a shoulder injury — stripped Carden from behind in the end zone for a safety that essentially sealed the win.
"I think even he knew that we weren't the same front that he had seen the previous two games," Gayle said. "We were going to get after him. I feel like we were able to take him out of his rhythm."
Thomas threw for 258 yards and two scores, though the Hokies struggled running the ball (34 rushes for 53 yards). In addition, Cody Journell missed two field goals and an extra-point in a performance he called "probably the worst game I've ever played in my whole career."
The highlight for the offense was the performance of sophomore receiver Demitri Knowles, who had eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. He had four catches in the first two games.
Carden had thrown seven touchdown passes with no picks for the Pirates, but he finished 19-for-31 for 158 yards with a 22-yard TD pass to Bryce Williams on that first drive.
The Hokies also held the Pirates to a meager 3-for-11 third-down conversion rate.
"We were moving the ball," Carden said. "We just couldn't finish drives, which is really unfortunate because the defense was playing great."
East Carolina was going for its first 3-0 start since 2008, when the Pirates opened with a win against the Hokies in Charlotte followed by an upset of West Virginia. The Pirates had lost three straight to the Hokies and nine of 10 regular-season meetings with Atlantic Coast Conference opponents since that start.
ECU got a scare when cornerback Joshua Hawkins was carried off on a stretcher after suffering a concussion early in the third quarter. Hawkins — who motioned to the home crowd to get louder as he was carried off — was taken to an area hospital for observation and was released in the afternoon.