Date: September 9, 2017
Time: 12:00pm EST
Venue: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, WV
TV: Fox Sports 2
Streaming: Fox Sports Go (or the Fox Sports Go app)
Radio: Click HERE for a complete list of radio affiliates in West Virginia. If you live outside of the state, or don’t live close enough to a radio affiliate, you can listen to the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG on TuneIn Radio.
Spread: West Virginia -24.5 (Oddshark)
The Mountaineers are wearing their gold shirts with gold britches and blue lids. Honestly, I really like this look. You have to go gold for the Gold Rush, but the banana suits look a bit ridiculous. The blue helmets give it a much more balanced feel.
East Carolina rocking an extremely sharp white helmet with white shirts and purple pants. I dig. This should look really good contrasted against our gold.
Know the Enemy
Series History: West Virginia leads the all-time series 18-3, including a 35-20 victory over the Pirates in their last meeting in 2009.
Record: 0-1. The Pirates opened the season with a 34-14 loss to reigning FCS National Champion James Madison.
Head Coach: Scottie Montgomery. Montgomery enters his second year at the helm after a 3-9 season in which the Pirates were as prolific offensively as they were poor defensively. He was hired after serving as Offensive Coordinator for David Cutcliffe at Duke, where he helped the Blue Devils to bowl appearances in 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Offensive Coordinator: Tony Petersen. Petersen is by far the most seasoned member of Scottie Montgomery’s staff with over 26 years of experience dating back to before Montgomery had even played in college. He’s entering his second year as OC at East Carolina and will be familiar with Morgantown after both playing and earning a graduate degree from Marshall in the late 80s and early 90s.
Defensive Coordinator: Kenwick Thompson. Thompson enters his 2nd year coordinating East Carolina’s defense looking to right the ship after a horrendous 2016 campaign. He joined the staff following a two-year stint coaching the linebackers at Vanderbilt.
By the Numbers
This section will include a full statistical breakdown in the weeks to come, but right now the sample size is too small for us to learn anything. However, here are a few numbers that I thought deserved a special mention regardless.
412. The number of rushing yards that East Carolina gave up to James Madison last weekend. Seems like a decent opportunity for us to find our rhythm in the ground game.
9.3. That’s how many yards per play the Dukes averaged. Just short of a 1st down every time they snapped the ball.
3. The number of 70+ yard runs conceded by East Carolina last week.
James Madison is a good team, but they don’t have the BFG. I think we should expect some fireworks on Saturday.
When we have the ball
Players to watch: LB Jordan Williams, LB Ray Tillman, NB Tim Irvin, DE Kiante Anderson
Key to the game: Run the ball
The Pirates return 7 starters from 2016, but when you consider that that group finished in the triple digits in three of the four major statistical categories it’s hard to say whether that’s a good or bad thing. Actually, I’ll just go ahead and say it: it’s probably a bad thing. East Carolina hasn’t stopped anybody in two years, and if last weekend was any indication, 2017 will be much the same.
Schematically they’ll look a lot like Virginia Tech did last week with four down lineman and a nickel back, but they won’t be anywhere near as aggressive or athletic as the Hokies were. They do have a few good football players sprinkled around the field, most notably linebacker Jordan Williams (14 tackles vs JMU), defensive end Kiante Richardson (6 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack) and nickel back Tim Irvin (8 tackles, 0.5 TFL), but outside of those three and maybe one or two others there’s just doesn’t seem to be much else. Lots of good athletes; not that many good football players.
With that in mind, I think what we need to do this week is pretty simple: we need to establish the run. We actually ran it well last weekend, gaining 221 yards on 35 carries, but for whatever reason, it felt like we never really got into a rhythm. I understand that having Will Grier makes throwing the ball enticing but I still felt like we gave up on the ground attack a bit too early on a few drives. In my opinion, that’s not this team’s path to success, especially considering reports that our receivers were gassed by the end of the game. You know what might help give them a rest? Running the ball! Justin Crawford was our best offensive player last year; 13 carries isn’t enough. Ditto for Pettaway and McKoy combining for just 10. Those guys are the strength of our team, and this is our chance to get all three of them going.
When they have the ball
Players to watch: QB Thomas Sirk, WR Davon Grayson, WR Quay Johnson, WR Deondre Farrier
Key to the game: Stay disciplined on the outside
Tony Petersen’s offense returns six starters and a couple more contributors from a unit that actually kind of lit it up last year, finishing sixth in the country in passing and 23rd in total offense. Unfortunately for them, the biggest reason for that was the record-setting Zay Jones, and he’s now a member of the Buffalo Bills. That’s not to say they’re without talent though—a couple of Jones’ former PICs are very good players (Grayson and Johnson), and Duke transfer Thomas Sirk did a good job distributing the ball when he got his chance last week. The problem is that, like their defense, there’s just not a whole lot else around them.
From a strategic standpoint, they like to spread it out and throw the ball all over the field. They attempted 53 passes to just 30 runs against JMU last week, and really that’s consistent with who they’ve been over the past five years. I can’t imagine this week will be any different, which means the key for us defensively has to be strong cornerback play. Grayson, Johnson, and sophomore Deondre Farrier are all good enough to hurt us if we have the same kind of mental breakdowns we had last weekend, and you better believe that the Pirates offensive staff took note of those miscues and what caused them. I expect them to go right at our guys on the outside, and I expect them to use a lot of the same route combinations that Virginia Tech did—smashes, tunnel screens, screen-wheels (Cam Phillips’ TD). Ultimately this shouldn’t be much more than a nice challenge for our secondary, especially if we’re able to consistently keep them behind the sticks, but there’s no doubt that East Carolina is going to make our cornerbacks prove that they can cover.
Players to watch: P Austin Barnes, KO Caleb Pratt
Key to the game: Win the field position battle
Let’s be honest here, special teams is usually what provides the fine margins upon which close games are won or lost. This should not be a close game, so we need to use it to practice for the close games we’ll undoubtedly see later in the season. Billy Kinney, eat a banana buddy. Stop cramping when it’s 70 degrees outside and kick the ball further than 40 yards. You averaged 42 per kick last year and a “junior slump” is not a thing. Coverage teams, stay in your lanes; we saw last week what crappy kick coverage can do to the team’s momentum. And for God’s sake, stop letting punts bounce and roll to our three-yard line. This should be an opportunity for us to get things right in a live situation, so let’s go play mistake-free, third phase football.
There have already been like three guys who have come out and apologized to the fan base for letting the state down last weekend (narrator voice: they didn’t). Sounds like we’re motivated. This should be a nice little pick me up.
West Virginia 45 East Carolina 10