Virginia Tech in Carolina, seeking 3-0 start | Sports

Virginia Tech rarely looked uncomfortable on the road in its first season under Justin Fuente. The No. 16 Hokies get their first chance this season on Saturday at East Carolina to show how comfortable they are away from home.

The Hokies went 4-1 on the road in Fuente’s first season, blowing out Atlantic Coast Conference division opponent North Carolina then winning at Pittsburgh, Duke and Notre Dame by three points each time. Their only loss came at Syracuse.

“You kind of take only what you need in order to get the job done,” Fuente said, “and then there’s something pretty personal about going into somebody else’s stadium and playing on their campus that I think is neat and unique about college football and playing on the road.”

Virginia Tech (2-0) opened with a neutral-site win against West Virginia and a home shutout of Delaware. A win against the Pirates (0-2) will give Virginia Tech its first 3-0 start since 2011.

This time, Virginia Tech arrives to face an ECU team hoping to avoid its first 0-3 start since 2004.

“This is a team that’s got their backs up against the wall and has talented players,” Fuente said, “and they’re trying to get it figured out.”

The Pirates lost 34-14 to reigning Championship Subdivision champion James Madison in their home opener. Last weekend, East Carolina fell behind 49-3 by halftime in a 56-20 loss at West Virginia.

That led coach Scottie Montgomery — now 3-11 at ECU — to reassign defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson off the coaching staff. Defensive line coach Robert Prunty is now overseeing a unit ranked 128th out of 129 Bowl Subdivision programs in total defense (616.5 yards).

“Defensively it is really, really important that we start fast,” Montgomery said. “We have got to find a way early to get a couple of stops and I don’t necessarily mean three-and-outs. I mean stops before it turns into one drive for a touchdown, two drives for a touchdown, three drives for a touchdown, because the energy on both sides of the ball are kind of predicated on that.”

Some other things to know about Saturday’s Virginia Tech-East Carolina game:

SIRK’S HEALTH: ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said Duke graduate transfer Thomas Sirk will start at quarterback — if he’s healthy. Sirk has been in the concussion protocol, and Montgomery said Week 1 starter Gardner Minshew would start if Sirk isn’t ready.

JACKSON’S START: Virginia Tech redshirt freshman Josh Jackson is looking to become the first Hokies quarterback to win his first three starts since 2011. Jackson threw for 235 yards and ran for 101 in his debut against West Virginia, and has yet to throw an interception.

PIRATES VS. THE ACC: East Carolina is trying to win its seventh game in eight meetings against ACC teams, part of its annually tough nonconference schedule. The Pirates have beaten at least one ACC team in each of the past four seasons, including the Hokies in 2014 and 2015.

STOPPING PHILLIPS: Hokies receiver Cam Phillips will present a challenge for the Pirates’ struggling defense. The senior had a career-high 138 yards on seven catches against West Virginia, then added a TD catch in last week’s 27-0 against Delaware.

RUSHING DEFENSE: East Carolina has surrendered a 100-yard individual rusher in each game. In the first, James Madison’s Cardon Johnson ran for 265 of the team’s 410 yards on the ground, while Justin Crawford ran for 118 of West Virginia’s 216 yards rushing in Week 2. That could provide an opportunity for the Hokies to find a spark after leaning on their quarterback to move the ball on the ground so far.

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